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A Walk Through Central Florence

Professor Arnie Greenberg

 A glance at a map of Florence, Italy will show you that many of the most important sites are within walking distance of each other. From the great bell tower of the Duomo to the Boboli Gardens can be done in an hour, a day or more. You can walk from one spot to another or stop and take in the riches of what is the main center of a wonderful city. That is not to say that other places are on interesting but the walk I suggest will get you started. I’ll add other spots to see later.

You will be awed by the Duomo, it’s color, design and spaciousness. The bell tower (campanile) itself rises to dizzying heights. You can walk to the top if you have the strength. The view is superb.

The Cathedral itself, or Santa Maria del Fiori is the third largest in the world and boasts Tuscan Gothic architecture with colored marble decorations of white, green and pink. The Dome, erected later, is an octagonal drum divided by massive ribs and a marble lantern on top at 350 ft above the ground.

Inside, the majestic grandeur is repeated but with a typically Florentine simplicity to preserve the solemn austerity.

Outside there is the Baptistery or Basilica of St. John. Crowds gather on the eastern side to admire the Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, truly magnificent with their illusion of depth and often photographed. It took 27 years to build with ten panels of gilt bronze showing scenes from the Old Testament, including David and goliath, King Solomon, Joshua crossing the Jordan and Cain and Abel plowing the fields. In the frame are biblical characters as well as portraits of the artist himself  and his stepfather Bartoluccio.

You can spend hours here admiring the statues and the crypt. But you can head past the Loggia Del Mercato Nuovo (Straw Market) and Porcellino or ‘little pig’ with its shinny snout, rubbed by thousands of tourists.

I head towards the Arno River to the piazza Della Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio or Palazzo Signoria. This example of Florentine civic architecture was the home of the Medici family until Cosimo I moved to the Pitti Palace across the Arno.with its famous statues in front, this is a popular meeting place in the center of the city. The statue of Cosimo I  and a copy of Michelangelo’s famous David are my favorites. The interior is decorated with elegant marble, wonderful paintings and fine early sculpture. The outdoor Loggia dei Lanzi, on the square shelters many outstanding pieces of sculpture including Cellini’s Perseus and Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women.

Restaurants abound in the area so I select one with a view of the statues. I don’t want to miss a minute.

Immediately next-door is the entrance to the Uffizi Gallery, which contains one of the richest collections of art treasures in the world. The long corridors open to a series of smaller rooms, each with its collection of treasures including Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. Here too you will see Michelangelo Merisi (Il Caravaggio) Bacchus and Titian’s Venus with little Dog. There are works by Da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarotti and Filippo Lippi dating from the 15th century.

At the end of the upper corridor there is a wonderful view of the Ponte Vecchio, not only the city’s oldest bridge but also one of the most famous in the world dating back to the 10th century. In 1333 the bridge was destroyed by fire. With it went the stench of the old fish and butcher shops and tanners. Now the little shops with higher rents are reserved for goldsmiths. This was done since the upper part of the bridge is a famous passageway where rulers would walk from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. The ruler, Ferdinand I successfully got rid of the smells by allowing only goldsmiths to set up shop in the little shops on the bridge. Of course, the ordinary people cross the Arno on the bridge. The passageway is ‘reserved’. But the bridge is also a magnet for tourists who watch the rowers practice their skills on the gentle Arno. It stands on the narrowest point of the river and is the last of the old bridges. But the river is not always so gentle. Great flooding is a reoccurrence in Florence with millions of dollars damage in recent years. Today I stare out over the water, eating my ‘risso’ (rice flavored gelato) with a tiny spoon. My mind goes back to Dante and the picture I once saw of the master staring at Beatrice, his beloved. That too was next to this now peaceful river.

One can continue along Via Guicciardini to Piazza Dei Pitti but the private passageway goes right into the palace. Built by Luca Pitti, a rich banker in the 15th century it was the most grandiose and monumental palace in Florence. But the Pitti family went bankrupt and the wife of Grand Duke Cosimo I purchased the palace. He started extending the palace and additions were constructed into the 18th century. It is a slightly confusing building but the ceilings are memorable if not opulent. Today it is the home of important museums and galleries that open onto magnificent gardens known as the Boboli Gardens. They were started in 1549 when the Medici moved in but it took until 1766 before the public was allowed in to walk, rest or picnic in Italy’s favorite green space and under giant Cypress trees. Today we have a chance to walk through these gardens, decorated with fountains and magnificent greenery. Included are Ganymede and Neptune but the small Museo della Porcellana always draws me, as does the Galleria del Costume.

A final walk from the Boboli Gardens is to the large Piazzale Michelangelo. From here you get a wonderful view of the city from high above the Arno.

Ahead of you is the impressive Santa Croce where some of Italy’s great men are buried. This famous church has wonderful Giotto frescoes and the wall tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli.

You may not be able to do justice to all I’ve described in one day. The distances between sites is short but each place you enter offers miracles too beautiful to rush through. And aside from all of this, the city of Florence with its markets, museums, restaurants and hotels offers the visitor a reward worth waiting for. I know of few cities that are as inviting and as hospitable. It’s noisy and crowded in summer but it’s a must if you want to visit Tuscany.

It is still light at 8 Pm and people are milling around the San Lorenzo market. Silk ties are going for about $10. Suede jackets, better than I see at home are only $40. People are bargaining with the salesmen for Fendi knockoffs. It is a passion play of a different kind. Shoppers from all parts of the world are seeking that ‘buy’ they have dreamed of. But in Florence, dreams do come true. Maybe tonight I’ll find that perfect gift or have I already found it in the bustle of a city with more charm than any other. There is only one Florence. See it before it changes too much.

I finally make it back to my favorite hotel, Hotel Croce Di Malta. It’s not the Savoy but it is graceful comfort at a third the cost. Even the pool area is an oasis from the rush of one of the world’s finest cities. And now at nine PM the water looks inviting.

Tomorrow I will visit the oriental style synagogue, built in 1882 and the Gallery of The Academy for Florence’s great sculpture, including the David. Then, late in the day when the skies are clear, I will take a bus into the hills and walk around Etruscan Fiesole. Here I can see the Roman amphitheatre from an earlier era and enjoy a view of the city of Florence, from a wonderfully colorful town high in the Etruscan hills. I can glance at the beautiful villas perched on the historic Fieolian hillside and I can dream.

For hotel information contact:

This hotel is next to the Loggia of St. Paul, which faces the geometric façade of Santa Maria Novella.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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