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San Giovanni

A unique open air theatre, stage to some of the world's most impressive works of art

San Giovanni

Florence conserves, with its incredible number of historic buildings and monuments, the splendour of a city which deliberately cancelled the traces of its Roman past. In Piazza San Giovanni we find the symbol of the city: the Cathedral of S.Maria del Fiore, the third largest cathedral in the world after that of S. Pietro in Rome and London's St Paul's.

Florence Cathedral was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, on the site of the 5th century church of Santa Reparata. In 1431 Brunelleschi commenced the construction of the cathedral's immense dome. Inside there is a fabulous marble pavement dating back to the 16th century, frescoes by Paolo Uccello and Andrea Castagno and a spectacular stained glass window designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the year 1400. The 85 meter high bell tower, faced with polychrome Tuscan marble, was designed by Giotto in 1334 and completed by Andrea Pisano in 1359.

Near to the Cathedral lies the Baptistery: the oldest building in Florence, the doors of which were decorated with the splendid forms in bronze now conserved within the Cathedral Museum, together with statues of Arnolfo di Cambio and Donatello. At the top of the imposing stairway one finds a beautiful Pietà by Michelangelo.

Behind the Baptistery there is the Palazzo Arcivescovile. Rebuilt in 1500, it houses the famous Officine Panerai (the former Swiss Clockmakers). From Piazza S. Giovanni, the exclusive Borgo S. Lorenzo, lined with stunning 16th century palazzi, leads to the Basilica of San Lorenzo, church built in honour of Lorenzo il Magnificio and chosen house of worship of the Medici family. Brunelleschi was the man responsible for its elegant renaissance plan, particularly evident in the cloister and the old sacristy. The new sacristy was designed by Michelangelo and brought to completion by Vasari and Ammannati.

The funeral monuments of the Medici family are adorned with imposing statues depicting the Day, the Night, Aurora and Crepuscolo, all works of Michelangelo. The Laurenziana library, houses an impressive collection of ancient manuscripts and papyri once belonging to the Medici. Exiting the church, visitors are greeted by a colourful display of market stalls, many of which with a decidedly eastern feel. Overlooking the piazza, we find the Palazzo della Stufa, built in 1557 on the site once occupied by the house of Giotto.

Via dell'Ariento, is dominated by the "Mercato Centrale", an enormous edifice in glass and iron built in 1874. Proceeding along Via Cavour we come to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, historic 15th century residence inhabited by the Medici in the period prior to their move to Palazzo Vecchio. In 1659 the building was purchased by the Riccardi family. Now owned by the province of Florence, the palazzo provides a stunning venue for itinerant art exhibitions, museum trails, and the Riccardiana library, where a manuscript of the Divine Comedy is housed.

Another two museums are located on Via Cavour: the "Leonardo di Vinci" Museum and the Crime Museum. A few meters further and the street opens on to Piazza San Marco with its church and convent of San Marco where Savonarola was prior in 1491. Another beautiful cloister is that of the Cenacolo di Sant'Apollonia, an ancient convent, next to which there is the Botanical Museum, the most important of its kind in Italy, and the Semplici Garden, where, in medieval times, a great variety of herb and plant species were cultivated to be used by the 'Florentine pharmacists in their celebrated medications.

Walking along Via Ricasoli, we come to Florence's Accademia Gallery, where many important works by Michelangelo are housed, and in particular the world famous sculpture of David. Via Cesare Battisti leads to the Piazza delle Santissima Annunziata and the elegant church designed by Brunelleschi. The Spedale degli Innocenti, the orphanage inaugurated in 1445, was the first institution of its kind in the whole of Europe.


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