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Florence for beginners

The colourful Santa Croce district is an eclectic mixture of artisans shops, medieval and renaissance masterpieces.

Florence for beginners

The Santa Croce district is the expression of Florence's political and economic power; an area of the city populated by immense Palazzi, imposing tower houses and, of course, the great Gothic Basilica of Santa Croce. Construction of the Basilica of Santa Croce, built beyond the perimeter walls of the old medieval city, was initiated in the 13th century by Arnolfo di Cambio, although building work was not completed until 1385. The principal chapels, adorned with frescoes painted by Giotto, are a perfect example of Franciscan simplicity. The church is home to a great number of important sculptures, including Donatello's Annunciation of 1435 and the funeral monuments dedicated to Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galilei and other illustrious personages. To the right of the Basilica lies the Pazzi Chapel, a charming renaissance edifice designed by Brunelleschi, and the Museum of Santa Croce, in which to admire a number of artistic masterpieces, including the wooden crucifix painted by Cimabue in 1272 and sadly damaged by the floodwaters which submerged the center of Florence in 1966.

To the North of the Church we gain access to the buzzing Via Ghibellina, lined with colourful little shops brimming with leather goods, ceramics, and hand woven baskets. This is the street home to Casa di Buonarotti and Florence's green-domed Synagogue and Jewish Museum. Walking towards the center of Florence, along the Borgo Pinti, we come to the Church of Santa Maria Magdalena de'Pazzi which houses Pietro Perugino's impressive fresco of the Crucifixion of Christ. In the nearby Borgo degli Albizi lies the Museum of the Bargello, in which works by the great Italian artists Donatello, Michelangelo, Bernini, Verrocchio and Giambologna are displayed.

Exiting from the Museum, visitors find themselves immersed in the 14th century atmosphere of Piazza della Signoria. The massive, crenulated fortified palace of Palazzo Vecchio was built in Tuscan Gothic style and constructed using immense blocks of stone. The fortress was initially called Palazzo dei Priori, then Palazzo della Signora and, later, Palazzo Ducale up until the 16th century when it was given the name of Palazzo Vecchio following Eleonora and Cosimo di Medici's move to the new Palazzo Pitti, situated on the opposite bank of the river Arno. Building work on Palazzo Vecchio was initiated in 1299 by Arnolfo di Cambio and the subsequent enlargements and modifications date back to diverse periods in history. Just outside the Palazzo, to the right-hand side of the façade, visitors gather around Ammannati's superb Neptune's Fountain, whilst, in the center of the piazza, Giambologna's equestrian sculpture dedicated to Cosimo the 1st attracts the attention of many a camera lens.
The artworks to be found within the walls of the palazzo are numerous and all of great historic importance. The entrance courtyard, restyled by Michelozzo in 1453, is embellished with frescoes depicting the principal cities of the Hapsburg empire, painted by Giorgio Vasari in 1565. Having ascended the impressive flight of stairs leading to the first floor, visitors access the Salone del Cinquecento, in which to admire unique works of art including Michelangelo's 'Victory' sculpture. Palazzo Vecchio now serves as the seat of Florence's town council.

The Loggia delle Signoria, also known as the Loggia dei Lanzi, was built in 1375 as podium from where important visitors could assist the various public ceremonies held in the square. Today the Loggia is an open air museum housing a group of sculptures including Giambologna's Rape of Sabine.

To the left of Palazzo Vecchio, we find the Uffizi. Built in the mid 14th century according to the wishes of Cosimo I, the Uffizi originally served as offices for the city's magistrates. Today the Uffizi Gallery is among the most famous museums in the world. The sumptuously decorated halls with their immense windows overlooking the river Arno, house works of art dating from the Roman period to the 17th century. The Uffizi was once linked to the Palazzi Pitti by a walkway passing over Vasari's romantic Corridoio Vasariano. Ponte Vecchio, built in 1565 with three robust arches by Neri di Fioravante, and famous for its jeweller's shops, has become one of the symbols of Florence.

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