If five days isn’t enough to do justice to all that Milan has to offer, then it was going to be even harder to get much more than a superficial view of Florence in a day. But we decided to give it a go. Having booked our Frecciarossa train tickets well in advance, and tickets for the Pitti Palace and Uffizi, we set out from Milan Central Station on a most unsummery Saturday morning at 8.15, arriving in a sticky Florence threatening rain just before 10.
We weren’t planning to see it until later in the day, but stumbled across the Duomo almost by chance – it’s a stunning creation, although extensive queues meant it was impossible to get to see inside. Brunelleschi’s dome and Giotto’s bell tower were both great to view from outside regardless.
Moving on to the Piazza della Signoria, it would have been rude not to snap this iconic Florentine symbol.
Of all the statues in the square including that of Neptune above, the bronze Giambologna equestrian statue of Cosimo I de Medici was perhaps the most overlooked. Although, thanks to our Villa Medici tour earlier this year, we’d already been spotting the Medici symbols including the lion/ball combination in the Loggia Lanci.
Crossing the river via Ponte Vecchio, we made our way to the rather austere Palazzo Pitti, for which our Villa Medici Cardinal, then Duke, had abandoned Rome.
Palazzo Pitti dates from the late 1400s and was originally the home of Luca Pitti, from a rival banking family to that of the Medicis. The family moved here from Palazzo Vecchio in 1549. Nowadays, the Palace houses a wealth of museums including the Msueo degli Argenti (the Medici Grand Ducal Treasury), a Costume Museum, Porcelain Museum, Royal Apartments, Palatine Gallery, and the Boboli Gardens (which are home to the original of the obelisk that we saw in the Roman family villa).
Why royal apartments? Well, Pitti Palace was the main Medici home until the family died out in the 1700s. Like Milan, Florence’s Grand Duchy passed into the hands of the Austrians, who took on the Grand Duchy of Tuscany title. In time, the title passed again to the hands of the House of Savoy – and on Italian unification, Florence was briefly capital of the new nation (until Rome took the role in the 1870s), and the palace was the home to Vittorio Emanuele II. His grandson later gave the palace to the nation. That complemented the actions of the last female in the Medici line, Anna Maria Luisa, who decreed that the family’s art collection remain in Florence. Hence a treasure trove to explore.
Our first stop was the Musei degli Argenti.(Grand Ducal Treasury) containing everything from the stunning reliquary collection of Christine of Lorraine (wife of Grand Duke Ferdinando I – the ex Cardinal of Roman villa fame!) to silverware to jewellery.
And the Medici imagery came thick and fast: on ceiling imagery, and even in a wonderful tapestry that captured the family’s links with the French royal family.
We could have spent much more time in the gardens and museums, but we had a 2.30 slot at the Uffizi. Florence’s Renaissance great and good greeted us on the approach…
Thankfully, we’d picked up our tickets at the Palazzo earlier, so there was no queueing involved. Since July, there have been new rules for Italian State museums (which both today’s museums are), with one major change allowing photography (no flash or tripods). I think it’s a trial that may be reviewed if it proves troublesome or distracting – it didn’t quite get to that level here, or in Milan’s Pinocoteca di Brera, but I’ll let you have a look at the Museum’s website to have the best available view of all the artwork!
And amidst all the great art, a great view (with much better weather than earlier) of Palazzo Vecchio, and a great reflection of the skyline, both taken from the terrace of the Gallery’s little café.
There was just time for another look at the Piazza della Signoria and the Duomo (even 5 minutes before closing it had a queue for entry) before heading back to Santa Maria Novella for the 6pm train that got us back into Milan for 8.