In the leadup to the grand opening of Florence’s revamped Duomo museum, I thought, what better time to celebrate all of the cool things you can experience near and at our most famous monument. Yes it gets crowded and you wonder when the hell down season, if there exists one, will arrive but remember — this is all for a reason. Earlier this year, I was privy to experience some of the more unique activities that I think are extremely unique. Even for us locals, we never cease to be wowed by such an important place, I cherish the continuum of childish enthusiasm that both Nico and I get when gazing on Brunelleschi’s masterpiece on a perfectly sunny day. Among all that you can discover in piazza del duomo, there are also loads of interesting places located nearby.
Here is a list of a few personal favorites, of which I will include in a google map down below (with some additions I didn’t mention down below) so you have no problem finding anything while out and about.
Revamped New Opera Del Duomo Museum
The reason you see so many of us bloggers and journalists getting on the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo bandwagon is because when a renovation like this occurs, it deserves a mention. The Opera del Duomo museum or ‘Cathedral Museum’, where Michelangeis famous ‘Pietá’ makes its home, sculpted when he was nearing 80 year’s old. It houses many of the sculptures and works that were originally meant to be in both the exterior and interior of the Duomo complex itself. Imagine over 750 works of art, and an intuitive layout that properly harmonizes the relationship between faith and these important pieces, complete with a third-floor terrace. The two paths they suggest (depending on time) are a good way to get acquainted with this new space. They did a brilliant job — and yes there is info in two languages. I recommend checking out this review post by my friend Alexandra of Arttrav, that she wrote excited on a train to Salerno. It opens officially to the public on October 29th, with special opening hours from 3-6pm, free entrance. Every other day it will be open from 9am – 7pm. Keep in mind that they are selling a combined ticket for this museum, the Baptistery, Belltower, Cupola for €15. Website details here. They also keep a fun instagram account that features nice Duomo shots if you use the tag #museoduomofi.
Giotto’s Tower? Visit The Duomo Terraces Instead
Earlier this year I had the sublime pleasure to join a group of instagrammers and see the city like I never had before. Like many of us who live here, I definitely didn’t know that you could visit the terraces of the cathedral. Of course the Cupola is a well-known ‘hike’ for those who visit the city. But this, was actually almost cooler. The vantage point is ethereal at best, plus it allows you to get a very close look at the architecture of the cathedral itself. We had such a great time, it was a day I will never forget. This is a special guided tour of an hour, costing 30 euros in total and which includes entrance to the Baptistery, the Bell Tower and the Crypt. It runs every day but Sunday, 10:30am – 11:30am. Book by calling or email : 055 2302885 – [email protected], website.
The Biggest Engineering Feat In The World, Climbing The Cupola Is Worth Battling Vertigo
From time to time people email me asking if climbing the 463 steps to the terracotta-covered Cupola is worth it. Um, yes. Absolutely! Yes it tends to get claustrophobic, but as you are making your way up there, it sort of hits you that they built this in the 1200’s. Filippo Brunelleschi won the commission in 1418 and set out to build something the world had never seen. It was revolutionary at the time, and honestly, it still kinda is. And it almost seems impossible to do now. I had been many year’s ago but coming back during the terrace tour was a lot of fun, and some great exercise, so embrace this butt-burning workout. Your stomach will thank you later as it wolfs down some crostini toscani. It also gives you the chance to see Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9) up close and personal. Included in the combined Duomo ticket, opening hours are Monday-Friday: 8:30am – 7pm, Saturday: 8:30am – 5:40pm, last entrance is 40 minutes before closing time.
Where Michelangelo Sculpted His David: The Restoration Workshop
Another stop on your ‘Duomo appreciation’ enlightenment tour should also be the restoration workshop, located nearby on via dello studio, a charming side street steps from the cathedral where ‘work in progress’ is the general theme. Here is where the greatest artists of the past worked, including Michelangelo working on that sculpture ‘The David’ ;-), though the building has moved location a few times, settling on this street in the mid 19th century. What I enjoyed about this visit was the chance to see how stonemason’s once worked, which chisels, hammers and drills they used and the traditions behind them. Also part of a special guided tour for 30€, it’s open Monday – Wednesday – Friday from 12pm – 1.30pm. Book by phone or email, +39 055 2302885 – [email protected]
Via dello Studio, 23/A rosso
50122 — Firenze
Our beloved Bapistery, a great example of Florentine Romanesque architecture, has been under renovations for quite some time now since February of last year, with the help of Unicoop, Ferragamo and other various doners, who should all be honored for taking the time and care to help see these projects happen. The last renovations happened over 70 years ago, and lately I have seen the scaffolding slowly coming off. It is set to be completely unvealed this Saturday, October 24th, in a special ceremony attended by our mayor, Dario Nardella and Cardinal Giuseppe Betori. All in the lead-up to the Pope’s visit this November.
For those of you who think it might be worth it to skip the baptistery, don’t. This monument dedicated to St. John the Baptist is so very special, so much so that Dante once referred to it as “my beautiful San Giovanni.” Featuring an octagonal shape, outside it is covered in marble Word has it that it was built over a Roman temple dating back to 4th-5th century A.D. It was referred mentioned in 897 and officially consecrated as the city’s baptistery in 1059, making it the oldest religious monument in town. The interior features entirely covered with mosaic showing the Angelic Hierarchies, Scenes from Genesis, Scenes from the life of Joseph the Patriarch, Scenes from the life of Christ, Scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, and the Last Judgement, the cupola is beyond beautiful from the inside.
When I visited earlier this year, our guide told us that all children in Florence were baptized here (wow) until the 19th century — it is still possible now for residents who must request well in advance. Lorenzo’s ‘Gates of Paradise’ bronze doors that were once here, can now be seen in the new Opera del Duomo museum, apparently Ghiberti won this commission over Brunelleschi who was a pretty sore loser at the time, men.
This place has somewhat of a special meaning to me, Fiaschetteria Nuvoli is parallel to the Duomo on a tiny street that many walk past, an old-fashioned ‘fiaschetteria’ serving wine by the glass and Tuscan specialties like hearty rib-sticking ribollita and crostini toscani. Avoid the crap food choices around the piazza and head here instead, it’s nothing mind-blowing but I like it. Around lunchtime, it crowds with locals and tourists alike, scrambling for a glass of wine and crostini to fortify through the day. When Nico and I were navigating our way from friendship to much more, I remember asking him to meet me here for aperitivo in the cave-like room downstairs. I did the very girly thing of telling him all of my problems (I’m wincing now) and awaiting his wise advice. He did as every good man does, sat there, listened attentively and nodded at the right points as we downed a bottle of wine in the process. Later when he proposed on a windy dark day in front of the Duomo where we met as friends so long before, he took me to the restaurant across the street from this aperitvo bar (also well worth a visit). Needless to say, every time I come here, it reminds me of these memories, and I always tell people looking for a decent, no-frills, cheap place to eat to come here.
Piazza Dell’olio, 15 – 50123 Florence
Numero di Telefono: 055.2396616. Open Mon-Saturday 7:30am-9pm.
Artisans Not Just In The Oltrarno
While you may hear me or many other people consistently talking about artisans on the ‘other side’ of the river, there are actually a few notable craftsman located near the Duomo. One of which I recently featured in the blog. Paolo Penko, a master goldsmith who’s craft is legendary around these parts. He takes inspiration from famous artworks to then make into his incredible pendents and various designs.
Paolo Penko Bottega Orafa – Goldsmith Workshop
Address: Via Ferdinando Zannetti, 14/16 r, 50123 Firenze
Phone:055 211661. Open Mon-Saturday (closed Sunday) from 9:30-1:30pm, 3:30-7:30pm.
Toegther with Context Travel one fine Florentine day, we discovered other cool spots including an interesting Mosaic workshop ‘commesso’ featuring Florentine motifs just steps from the Duomo itself, Scarpelli Mosaici. A family business since 1972, the Scarpelli’s have an in-house workshop where you can gaze at the artisans delicately handling stones or carving out the mosaic. It’s a difficult process that is quite hard to master, which you certainly can appreciate from a visit to the shop. They find their stones from all over Italy, “an adventure in itself’ say’s Catia, the daughter of Scarpelli, the ‘pietre dure’ include the “Paesina” stone and the “Gabbro” or granite from Impruneta or “Lilla” (quartzite) and “Alberese” (limestone) among others. You can read more about them here.
Scarpelli Mosaici – Le Pietre Nell’Arte, : Via Ricasoli, 59/r, Firenze
Phone: + 39 055 212587
Hours: Open 9:30 am – 6:30 pm
Also a worthy stop on the artisans-by-the-duomo trail is Bottega d’Arte Maselli, a frame-maker on nearby via de’ ginori. I first met Gabriele Maselli, son of founder Paolo while visiting my good friend’s Alberto and Julia at their artisan gelato shop next door. Julia kept telling me I needed to visit Gabriele and truth me both, our dogs, his Otto, mine Ginger, got acquainted faster than we did. When I finally did get to properly visit and meet the man who’s last major commission was for a Last Supper Painting in the Duomo’s main alter and whose previous projects include a frame (7mx5m) for the painting “Grisoni” preserved at the Uffizi Gallery of Florence. Walking past all of the frames and knickknacks collected over the years, we gained entrance to the back room where Gabriele works, piled with Italian “meccatura” frames and a peek at how it is all done.
He showed us how gold leaf, which is incredible delicate and available in thin, tiny sheets in the fanciest box I’ve ever seen, can be applied to the frame (held together only by water). He even added a little gold-leaf to one of our fellow tour-participants hands. While it may seem intimidating to get a frame from a place like this, don’t let that faze you, Gabriele’s creative mind can find the perfect way to frame a special piece and I definitely would like to get something done here, from a man so passionate about his work.
He also is the founder of the Scuola d’Arte Sacra di Firenze (school of sacrad art) passing on these historical and ancient techniques to future generations (together with Paolo Penko). You can also purchase his frames in the new ‘made in Italy’ section in Amazon Italia and UK. You can check him out on facebook here, he’s pretty funny as well mixing up helpful tutorials and ‘back to the future’ jokes along with thoughts from his dog otto.
A Landmark English-Language Bookshop On The Side Streets
Before kindles became popular (guilty as charged) and WiFi actually worked, we used to come quite frequently to Paperback Exchange, a small independent bookshop selling both new and used books located behind the Duomo on a side street on via delle oche since 1979. As a student, I bought many of my course books here, plus all of the latest reads in English that I couldn’t find elsewhere, I also donated many books for credit in return. It really was like a second home for me, and I still cherish popping in for a copy of The Florentine, to buy people presents and see what’s in stock. Browse their second-hand options or Italian literature in translation, it was here where I first fell in love with the poignant readings of holocaust survivor Primo Levi. They also have a wonderful selection of poetry. Go there, get books, and help keep their business going.
Via delle Oche, 4R – Florence, Italy, website. Open Mon-Friday 9:30am-7:30pm, 10:30am-7:30pm Saturday, Closed Sunday.
Looking For A Restaurant Nearby, Try Coquinarius
It can be tough finding a decent place to eat close to the most popular square in town, but a welcome addition is Coquinarius, where I have always eaten great food (pear ravioli rocks) and the service is also on point. I also really enjoy their varied selection of salads, which can be somewhat difficult to get in Florence. The vaulted ceilings, open-plan decor and soft music make it a very inviting spot and it’s where I tend to send people who are looking for something nearby.
Coquinarius, Via delle Oche, 11R, 50122 Firenze
055 230 2153, Open daily 12:30-3:30, 6:30-11pm.