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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Blog: Florence in-depth

In 2011 I started taking courses towards a Bachelor degree in General Cultural Sciences at the Open University. This involves a mixture of Literature, Philosophy, Cultural History and Art History. It’s now almost four years later and I have nearly reached my goal: only my bachelor thesis is left to do. Part of the programme was that I “had to” attend an in-depth, 8 day study trip to Florence. A great excuse for a proper revisit of this rich WHS!

We were 20 mature students, and each of us had to deliver a 30 minute lecture about (and in front of) a Renaissance art or architecture object in Florence. We had been preparing this through literature study beforehand.

Tomb of Carlo Marsuppini (Santa Croce Church)

Florence seemed to be in good shape when we visited in April 2015, nothing like the decay you hear about regarding Rome or elsewhere in Italy. A few sights are being restored at the moment, such as the Baptisterium. But there’s plenty left: even a packed 8-day schedule will not cover all worthwhile sights. We did spend much time at individual works of art: we stood staring for 45 minutes at Massacio’s Holy Trinity in the Santa Maria Novella for example, a fresco that might only get a glimpse of the more casual visitor.

The highlights for me were:

- The former San Marco Convent, with its range of Fra Angelico frescoes

- The Last Supper in the former Convent of Santa Apollonia

- The Sassetti Chapel

- The Tombs in in the Santa Croce

- The Uffizi at the end of the day

Monk's Cell at San Marco Convent

“My” subject involved the Spanish Chapel inside the Santa Maria Novella monastery. You have to know where to find it, the monastery is adjacent to the church with the famous marble Alberti facade. One of the doors in the cloister leads to this fresco scheme, consisting of 8 paintings. They were done in 2 years time (1365-1367) by Andrea de Bonaiuto. They especially celebrate the role of the Dominican Order. It has great detail and is in good condition.

We had an almost surreal experience while visiting the Palazzo Vecchio. The main feature of this Town Hall, the enormous Salone dei Cinquecento, was taken over by the “Condé Naste Luxury Conference”. Humble tourists or students like us weren’t allowed in (a UK princess was of course) – we could only look down on it from the balcony and were scrutinized all the time by two bodyguard-types. While they were talking on a podium about "hard luxury", we tried to imagine how the hall would look like without them.

Fragment of the "Militant and Triumphant Church", Spanish Chapel

I had visited Florence before in 2002, and was appalled at the time by its crowdedness. I wasn’t annoyed so much by it this time. Of course it’s busy in the streets, and surely getting into the Dome or the Uffizi can be a pain. But it is much less so in the other “paying” attractions or the churches. And those churches and chapels are the treasuries of most of the art anyway. I’ve added a number of links in the “Florence Links” section for ideas about where to go and when to visit. Artwise there's nothing in the world like Florence, where you can see so much great art in situ in such a compact area. Still worth going in my opinion!

Published 27 April 2015

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