Florence Day 2 – San Marco, San Lorenzo & Santa Maria del Fiore tour.

Day 2 in Florence began early. And when I say early I mean we were up and out of the door by 6.15am so we could take advantage of there being no crowds in the Piazza della Signoria. The previous evening we had decided that we would head back to the Piazza so we could film a little vlog of me in front of Savonarola’s execution monument talking about the fateful day in which he lost his life. It’ll be posted both here and on my youtube channel once it’s been properly edited. Once done, we headed back to the apartment for some breakfast.

The plan for our second day in Florence was to visit San Marco and San Lorenzo in the morning before taking part in a guided tour of Santa Maria del Fiore in the afternoon. So an incredibly busy day! We were at San Marco for opening time – and the moment we stepped foot through those doors my excitement knew no bounds. This convent was one of the main reasons I had come to Florence as it was the place where Girolamo Savonarola lived and worked, and where he was arrested in 1498 before his brutal torture and execution.

The convent, now of course a museum, was incredibly quiet when we arrived and for that I was extremely grateful. We knew it would pick up later on in the morning so our first job was to head up to see Savonarola’s cell before the crowds. And I was in awe.

Just outside the little cell is a monument to the infamous friar, topped with a lifelike bust of the man himself. There are also medallions that were struck during his lifetime on display, and above the door is a little sign that states the room belonged to the one time Prior of San Marco.

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Savonarola’s monument, San Marco. Photo by M.Bryan

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Me and the monument, San Marco. Photo by M.Bryan

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Detail of Savonarola’s monument, San Marco. Photo by M.Bryan.

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Me stood in front of relics once belonging to Savonarola and the infamous painting of his execution. Photo by M.Bryan

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Savonarola’s execution, San Marco. Photo by M.Bryan

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Savonarola’s cell. Photo by M.Bryan

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Portrait of Girolamo Savonarola. Photo by M.Bryan

After spending a fair amount of time within the cell, I reluctantly agreed that it was about time to look around the rest of San Marco. A leisurely stroll around the monk’s cells allowed us to see Fra Angelico’s beautiful frescoes that had been painted on the walls. We also had a look around the display set up in what was once the library – it was in here that Savonarola addressed his fellow monks during the Siege of San Marco before his arrest. Now, there is a display of beautifully illuminated books as well as a little display on how the illuminations were carried out.

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Library of San Marco. Photo by me.

Just down the corridor from the library is a set of cells that once belonged to Cosimo de’ Medici, also known as Cosimo the Elder. These were his own private rooms within a religious house that he did a lot of work for – he commissioned Michelozzo to completely redesign the place and put thousands of ducats into the place. The cell was his own personal retreat within the peaceful confines of the Dominican friary.

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Photo by me

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Photo by me

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Interior of Cosimo de’ Medici’s cell. Photo by me

After a very pleasant few hours wandering around San Marco we headed to San Lorenzo, Church of the Medici family. Our walk took us right by the Palazzo Medici, where we would be visiting on the following day.

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Exterior of San Lorenzo. Photo by me.

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Interior of San Lorenzo. Photo by me

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Ceiling of San Lorenzo, showing the Medici coat of arms. Photo by me

I found San Lorenzo to be an incredibly peaceful place, the simplicity of the blues that decorated the walls was so calming. And yet again, it wasn’t busy. There were no massive queues to get in (like what we had seen at the Uffizi the previous day) and the tourists that were inside were so spread out that it really felt as if there was no one there.

Our ticket included entry to the crypt below the church, the crypt that famously holds the tombs of the artist Donatello as well as Cosimo the Elder. Following a quick walk around the church we headed into the cloister (absolutely stunning) and down into the little crypt. There’s a small museum room within the crypt holding some of the treasures of San Lorenzo – beautiful reliquaries holding relics of Saints and beautiful crucifixes that must be worth an absolute fortune. The next room holds the very understated tomb of Donatello. And in that room is a locked gate, behind which you can view the tomb of Cosimo the Elder, his body held within a column.

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Tomb of Donatello, San Lorenzo. Photo by me (slightly blurry as my camera doesn’t seem to enjoy taking pictures in low-level light)

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Tomb of Cosimo the Elder, San Lorenzo. Photo by me.

After finishing at San Lorenzo, we headed back to the apartment for lunch and a bit of a rest as we’d be climbing to the top of the Duomo that afternoon. I, for my sins, ended up falling asleep after going to lay down and rest my very sore feet!

I’d paid for a VIP tour of the Duomo months before and was really excited about getting to head up Brunelleschi’s infamous cupola. We met our tour guide at 2.30pm and headed outside into the blazing heat – we began outside the Santa Maria del Fiore where the tour guide gave us a brief history of the magnificent cathedral, explaining how it had been built over the original church of Santa Reparata and giving us a brief introduction to Giotto’s bell tower. We then headed inside, completely skipping the lines.

Santa Maria del Fiore’s interior is absolutely breathtaking. From the moment you step foot inside it, you feel so incredibly small and I truly think that was what those who designed and built the cathedral wanted. They wanted you to feel small in comparison to God. Everything about the interior exudes symbolism, from the clock upon the inner wall of the facade (It measures time in hours after sunset), to the differing colour of marble upon the floor, the frescoes and the stained glass windows.

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Outside view of Santa Maria del Fiore. Photo by me.

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Giotto’s bell tower. Photo by me.

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Interior of Santa Maria del Fiore. Photo by me.

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Detail of the marble flooring. Photo by me.

Our tour took us down into the excavations beneath Santa Maria del Fiore where we were able to see much of what had been uncovered from Santa Reparata as well as the remains of paving slabs and tombs from the old cathedral. Following the excavations we were taken back upstairs where we got our first glimpse of the stunning frescoes that cover the inside of the cupola – the dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, still holds its secrets even today. Brunelleschi wrote down nothing, keeping his plans entirely within his own head. His argument, when asked how he would complete his work if he wouldn’t tell anyone, was that if he told them how to build the dome then they would be able to do it too. The Last Judgement frescoes painted around the inner dome were designed by Vasari and started in 1568.

Before beginning the monumental climb up the Duomo, we were taken behind the choir and stood in front of the very room that Lorenzo the Magnificent escaped into after the murder of his brother in 1478. It was a moment that stopped me in my tracks, having read about and written about the Pazzi Conspiracy. To think that just behind me, Giuliano de’ Medici had been stabbed to death and his corpse left on the floor whilst just in front of me was the very room that Lorenzo had escaped into in order to save his life.

Then the climb began. 150 steps up was our first stop where we got to go out onto the terraces, part of the Cathedral that isn’t open for tourists. And the moment I stepped out there, I could see why. To get onto the main terrace you have to squeeze through a tiny little gap and there are no safety rails whatsoever. One wrong step and you’d be a goner! Still, it was worth it. The views from the terraces alone were absolutely stunning.

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VIP Duomo tour. Photo by me

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VIP Duomo tour. Photo by me

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View of the dome from the closed terraces. Photo by me.

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View from the closed terraces. Photo by me

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View from the closed terraces. Photo by me

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View from the closed terraces. Photo by me

The closed terraces were the last part of the tour. After that we were free to climb up the rest of the way (over 300 more steps!!!) or go down as we saw fit. We, of course, decided to head up. Let me tell you, going up was a lot less scary than coming down. But going up we got to see Vasari’s frescoes up close as well as the intricate brickwork of Brunelleschi’s dome. It was a strange experience, walking between the two domes in corridors that had been built for the original workmen. But at the same time it was beyond my wildest dreams. Brunelleschi’s work on the dome was the work of an absolute genius – his use of herringbone brick work can be clearly seen as you make your way up towards the lantern, and it is utterly breathtaking. Sadly, he didn’t live to see the completion of his work. But I think he would be proud to know that his beautiful dome has become a symbol of Florence.

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Closer view of Vasari’s frescoes. Slightly blurred photo due to poor lighting. Photo by me.

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Closer view of Vasari’s frescoes. Slightly blurred photo due to poor lighting. Photo by me.

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View from the very top of the lantern. Photo by me.

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View from the very top of the lantern. Photo by me.

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View from the very top of the lantern. Photo by me.

Getting down was my least favourite part and it definitely took me a lot longer than it did getting up there! Still, by the time it was done I was so very proud of myself. Extreme heights bother me a lot, especially where steep stairs are concerned. But I’d done it. And it was time to celebrate with a nice dinner!

After walking across to the other side of the Ponte Vecchio, we decided that we may as well try one of the restaurants by our apartment. Sadly, it was a mistake going here. Despite rave reviews the service was shockingly poor and incredibly slow. And the food wasn’t even all that great! Baked stuff rabbit…whatever it was stuffed with tasted really weird and gave me some terrible heartburn! Not somewhere we’ll be going back to.

The step count at the end of the day totted up to well over 25,000…that’s well over ten miles! We certainly slept well!

Florence Day 1 – Santa Croce & Palazzo Vecchio

We flew out to Pisa on Monday 8 May but after nearly 12 hours travelling, once we reached the apartment that we were staying in for the week, we weren’t really up for going anywhere too much. So a quick trip to the local supermarket was had, followed by a nice meal out in a sweet little restaurant just opposite the Museum of San Marco. The walk to and from the restaurant had me losing my footing on the paving slabs – one of which was in torrential rain after a whole lot of red wine, straight into a massive puddle. And then it was straight to bed, because the next day would be a busy one.

Our original plan had been to start at the Palazzo Vecchio and move on from there. But once we arrived we found that the tower was closed until the afternoon because of the previous nights rain storm, and a whole lot of the museum was closed up because of some big event, talk thing. So we decided that we would spend the morning in Santa Croce before heading back to the Palazzo later on.

On the way out, we decided to stop by Savonarola’s execution monument located in the Piazza della Signoria. Seeing it for the first time was a very emotional moment for me, given the amount of time I have put into researching his life, and the time I still intend to put into researching his life in the future. The monument itself is placed on, or if not directly on then very near to, the spot in which Fra Domenico; Fra Maruffi and Fra Savonarola were executed for their supposed crimes by hanging and burning.

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Mini Savonarola marking the place of his human counterparts execution. Photo by me.

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Me and Savonarola’s plaque. Photo by M. Bryan

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Lion in the loggia. Photo by me.

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The Palazzo Vecchio, before the weather picked up a bit. Photo by me.

The walk to Santa Croce was a short one, actually half way between the Palazzo Vecchio and our apartment, so it didn’t take us all that long to get there. The church itself is an absolutely stunning example of Italian architecture, consecrated in the fifteenth century. Although the outer facade that we see today wasn’t added until much later, being completed in 1865.

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The exterior of Santa Croce. Photo by me.

I was seriously surprised at the lack of any sort of queue when we finally found the entrance to the little basilica – although with our Firenze Card’s we were able to skip the line anyway, there wasn’t even a queue in sight.

But the moment we stepped inside, I was in awe. I stopped, looked around and tears sprung to my eyes at the sheer beauty of the place. Not only the beauty, but the fact that some of my very favourite Renaissance personalities are buried within this beautiful little church including Machiavelli and Michelangelo. I honestly didn’t know where to look first, it was all so beautiful. And there were so many rooms and chambers off the main church – one of which included the apparent robe of St. Francis of Assisi! After we had finished looking around inside and I had finished getting emotional over Machiavelli, we headed outside and had a looks around the Pazzi Chapel and the cloisters.

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Apparent robe worn by Saint Francis of Assisi. Photo by me

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Me standing in front of Machiavelli’s tomb. Photo by M.Bryan

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Michelangelo’s tomb. Photo by me.

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Detail of Michelangelo’s tomb. Photo by me.

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Santa Croce exterior. Photo by me.

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Cloister of Santa Croce. Photo by me.

After a quick lunch we headed back to the Palazzo Vecchio for the rest of the afternoon, using our special cards to get tickets for both the museum and the tower. I was itching to get up the tower, as it was where Girolamo Savonarola was imprisoned after his arrest, but we decided to do the museum first. And from the word go, I think I spent more time looking up than I did looking anywhere else! The ceilings were so stunningly beautiful that they look my breath away with their frescos and gold leaf. Everywhere you looked you could see the Medici coat of arms and more exciting for me, there were frescos involving the most famous members of the Medici family.

The very first room you enter is the Hall of the 500, a large chamber that was commissioned by Girolamo Savonarola in 1494. The hall, although beautifully decorated now, was incredibly plain during Savonarola’s time – he himself had vowed to have a life of poverty, and had the Florentine’s working towards making their city the New Jerusalem. That meant getting rid of all vanities – so his new Government hall had to reflect that.

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Hall of the 500. Photo by me.

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Giovanni di Bici de’ Medici, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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Palazzo Vecchio ceiling. Photo by me

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Fresco showing Lorenzo the Magnificent, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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Medici coat of arms. Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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Portrait of Machiavelli, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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View of the Duomo from Palazzo Vecchio’s tower. Photo by me.

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Beneath the bells, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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Top of the tower, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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Shocked looking horse, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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Marble busy, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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Close up of Vasari’s Florence, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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Map of Florence, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

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Archaeologists in the Roman excavations beneath the Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by me.

On the way down from the tower, we sat in the Alberghetto for a good long time. The Alberghetto, or ‘Little Inn’ is a tiny cell at the top of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and has played host to some incredibly important prisoners including Cosimo the Elder and Girolamo Savonarola. It was a very moving experience for me, sitting in this plain little cell and knowing that Savonarola spent his last remaining days on earth in that tiny little cell. As we sat in there, others came into the room and simply used the bench within for a rest point before heading up the rest of the tower. They gave little thought for what the room was actually used for or who had been imprisoned there. I doubt they even noticed the plaque above the door stating that this had been the holding place of Savonarola. I haven’t put any photographs up that I took within the Alberghetto as these are being used for my upcoming book on the man himself.

After a good few hours within the Palazzo Vecchio we stopped for a gelato in the Piazza della Signoria before taking a slow walk up to the Ponte Vecchio and heading back to the apartment. Dinner that night involved pizza and wine in a quaint little pizzeria just within sight of the infamous Duomo – which was to be our destination the very next afternoon!