Things to Do in Tuscany - page 3
There are a few historic towers inside Lucca's city walls, but the most famous is the Guinigi Tower, which was built in the late 14th century as the place where a family of silk merchants lived and worked. At one time, Lucca had more than 200 such tower homes, but today there are only nine left. The Guinigi family once ruled Lucca, and the family's modern descendants bequeathed the tower to the city. The Guinigi Tower is particularly notable for its impressive rooftop garden. The garden dates from at least the early 17th century, and today has several ancient Holm oak trees growing there. The rooftop garden was renovated in the 1980s and is open to the public.
The Medici chapels (Cappelle Medicee) are two architectural gems flanking the Basilica of San Lorenzo in the heart of central Florence. Brunelleschi designed the basilica for the Medici family in the 1400s, and it became the family church and mausoleum.
The New Sacristy is the more famous of the basilica's two chapels. Designed by Michelangelo, it stars his reclining funerary statues, Night and Day, Dawn and Dusk. The simple design features a somber color scheme of gray and white.
The tall domed Princes' Chapel is a riot of multicolored marbles and semi-precious gems, filled with carved niches, statues and armorial plaques. The chapels' richly carved tombs are empty, as the deceased Medicis now lie in the crypt beneath.
Pop inside the basilica to see Donatello's pulpits, the cloisters and the famously sweeping steps designed by Michelangelo leading to the Laurenziana Medicea Library.
Saint Catherine of Siena brought this basilica to prominence by taking her vows here in 1363 when she was just 15. Having had her first vision at the age of 6 near this church and deciding to follow a religious life from 7, she went on to lead a highly significant existence tending the sick, receiving the stigmata from a wooden cross in Pisa, mediating for the Papacy during its exile in France and also the time of Great Schism of the West when the cardinals could not agree on who should be the next pope.
She died at the age of 33 in Rome. In 1461 she was made a saint, in 1866 she became a patron saint of Rome, and in 1939 a patron saint of Italy. Finally in 1999, she was proclaimed a co-patron saint of Europe.
Florence is a city filled with quaint squares, picturesque landscapes and plenty of old-world architecture that’s ripe with European charm. This is particularly true amid its famous squares, and travelers agree that few are as beautiful as Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.
A massive bronze statue of Ferdinando I de’Medici on horseback stands at the center of the square, with two notably strange fountains on either side. Visitors can relax in the sun and lounge as locals wind through the square on a busy afternoon, or duck into the Santissima Annunziata church, which was built in the 15th century and gave the square its name. Ospedale deli Innocenti—the oldest orphanage on the continent—also flanks the square and offers travelers a unique opportunity to explore the city’s past. Ceramic glazed reliefs of swaddled newborns line the façade and visitors can check out the circular stone where women could leave their unwanted newborns without fear of repercussion.
The exquisite church of Santa Maria della Spina is one of the prettiest fairy-tale churches in the world.
Designed in classic Pisan Gothic style, the tiny striped marble church was built to house a thorn from the Crown of Thorns.
The building dates back to 1230, with Gothic enlargements in the 1350s. Originally, the building sat much closer to the river, and it was moved to its present site on the riverside walkway in 1871.
The interior is less ornate than the fanciful exterior, with many statues and details being lost during the relocation. However, a magnificent Madonna and Child remains, sculpted by Andrea and Nino Pisano in the mid-14th century.
One of the grandest sweeps of architecture in Florence, the Pitti Palace was built in the 15th century. Its gallery includes a huge collection of paintings dating from the 15th to 17th century, and occupying the whole left wing of the first floor, one of the most significant groups of works is by Titian and Raphael. You’ll also see important works by Rubens, including the Four Philosophers and the Allegory of War, and pieces by Caravaggio and Velazquez. In fact, there are over 500 works on show in all.
And it’s not just canvases that you’ll see; the Palatine Gallery is also known for its frescoes. Laid out according to the personal tastes of its collectors from the House of Medici, rather than by painting school or by chronological order, the gallery has been open to visitors since the day Leopold I of Lorraine opened it back in 1828. There is also a cafe in the courtyard of the Pitti Palace.
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This 13th century pharmacy opened by Dominican friars now operates as a soap and perfume shop that resembles a museum, detailing the history of scent and fragrance. It is housed in the original building crafted in ornate detail. With an impressive array of herbal elixirs, perfumes, and soaps made with ancient techniques, a stroll through the pharmacy grants a historical perspective on smelling good. Friars first opened the pharmacy in 1221 to make and store concoctions for use in their monastery. Still in operation, it is one of the oldest known pharmacies in the world. The pharmacy is attributed with creating the first “eau de cologne” for Catherine de Medici, created in the 16th century and known as the “water of the queen.” Visitors can still purchase the scent in its original formulation; it is known simply as “Acqua di Santa Marina Novella.” It is also famous for its potpourri, which uses a blend of local plants and natural products and is still handcrafted on site.
The Baptistry of St John is located near the Duomo in the center of Siena. Built in the same Tuscan Gothic style, although less externally ornamented – the facade is unfinished. But it’s inside that is really worth seeing.
The baptismal font is hexagonal, decorated with panels depicting scenes from the life of John the Baptist, by leading artists of the 15th century: Donatello, Ghiberti, Giovanni di Turino and Jacopo della Quercia. Six sculptures represent Faith, Hope, Fortitude, Justice, Charity and Providence. There are bronze angels by Donatello and prophets by della Quercia. And completing the intense decorative motif, the walls and ceiling are frescoed.
Camposanto Cemetery is a monumental complex of buildings on Piazza dei Miracoli.
Constructed in a cloister design with wings sprouting from a central dome, the massive complex was built on hallowed earth brought to Pisa from Calvary in the Holy Land, during the Fourth Crusade.
According to legend, this soil is reputed to reduce bodies to skeletons within a day of burial.
The cemetery is also famous for its precious frescoes. Most of the artworks were destroyed during WWII, but those that remain are displayed in the Fresco Room. The most famous are the Triumph of Death and Last Judgment.
You’ll also see Roman sarcophagi, reused during the Middle Ages as the final resting place of prominent Pisans.
Florence's most famous and popular market is the aptly named Mercato Centrale – but it's by no means the only market in the city. Another ideal spot to pick up picnic supplies, see what's fresh before you browse local menus or simply enjoy the colors of an Italian food market is the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio (Mercato Alimentare Sant'Ambrogio).
Also known as the Sant'Ambrogio Market, the site is home to stalls that sell many of the same sorts of items seen at the Mercato Centrale – fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, fish, cheese, spices and other sundry pantry essentials. In a couple areas of the market, you'll also find vendors selling clothing and household items.
Because the Mercato Centrale is the more famous market, the Mercato Alimentare Sant'Ambrogio offers a slightly less touristy experience. It's in the historic center, so it's unlikely to be tourist-free, but you may find more locals than visitors browsing here.
Santa Maria della Scala was one of Europe’s first hospitals. Established by the Catholic priests of the Siena Duomo, it housed and cared for those making the pilgrimage across Europe to Rome, and also took care of the local poor and took in orphaned and abandoned children.
To impress God and each other, the local wealthy families of the 15th century gave generously to the hospital, including commissioning important artists to decorate the building. The external frescoes are now all lost but interior works remain, including a series of frescoes telling the story of the hospital located in the Pilgrim’s Hall on the fourth floor.
Nearby is the original church that the hospital grew around, Church of Santissima Annunziata. On the third floor is the original of Jacopo della Quercia’s Fonte Gaia, the fountain of joy – a copy is in the Piazza del Campo.
The heart of Siena is the Piazza del Campo and the beating heart of the piazza has to be Fonte Gaia, the ‘fountain of joy’. Dating from the 15th century, it is surrounded on three sides by bas-relief panels made by Jacopo della Quercia who is considered a precursor to Michelangelo.
These days the original panels are housed in the Ospedale di St Maria della Scala in Piazza Duomo, and the fountain’s waters splash around 19th century copies (minus two female nude sculptures considered too risqué back then).
The white marble fountain is a magnet for those looking to rest their weary feet and be lulled by the sound of running water. Hopefully, despite being thoroughly fenced off, it continues to deliver the promised happiness.
Even if you’re not a fashion addict, you’ve likely heard of one of Italy’s many fashion icons - Salvatore Ferragamo. Not every visitor to Italy can afford to bring home Ferragamo designer shoes, but you’ll be pleased to know that anyone can check out the historic collection of his shoes at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum.
The Ferragamo Museum, opened in 1995, is housed in the Palazzo Spini Feroni on Piazza Santa Trinita, a 13th century former residential palace that Ferragamo bought in the 1930s to serve as his company headquarters and workshop. The museum’s collection started with a staggering 10,000 shoes created by Ferragamo from the 1920s until 1960, and has grown after his death. Exhibits are rotated every couple of years, and there are also temporary exhibits on display from time to time.
The oldest square in the Tuscan city of Arezzo has the appropriate name of Piazza Grande, or Great Square. Dating back to the Medieval era, the piazza was once the site of the city's main market. Today, it plays host to the monthly antiques market that is one of the largest in Italy. It's also where the annual Joust of the Saracen is held. Notable buildings surrounding the Piazza Grande include the 14th-century Fraternita dei Laici palazzo, a loggia designed by Giogio Vasari, a 13th-century Episcopal Palace, and part of the 13th-century Romanesque Apse of Santa Maria della Pieve.
If you're at all familiar with the Italian language, you'll no doubt recognize that the Piazza del Mercato in Siena is the city's historic market square.
Located behind the iconic town hall and tower in Siena's historic center, the Piazza del Mercato was the setting for an outdoor market in this Tuscan town as far back as the 12th century. Vendors at those first markets sold the same things you'll find on sale at Italian markets today – meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, as well as household items, clothing, and even fuel such as coal and oil.
Early on, the stands were structures that remained in the Piazza del Mercato all the time, even when the market was closed. Later, the vendors were moved to the nearby Piazza del Campo, and in the 1950s the market was moved to Viale XXIV Aprile.
Today, even though the name Piazza del Mercato no longer reflects the purpose of the square, it's a good spot to go in Siena to enjoy views of the hills behind the town hall.
In a city filled with famous art, San Marco Museum has the distinction of holding the largest collection of sacred art in Florence. Some of its more significant pieces include the works of Mariotto Albertinelli and Fra' Bartolomeo and a large fresco by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, as well as Fra' Angelico's famous Annunciation on the upper floor. The monk’s cells are lined with beautiful frescoes meant to spur spiritual reflection. Another section displays a fascinating arrangement of sculpture and architecture, with a collection of old bells and fragments of demolished city center buildings.
The museum is housed in a former Dominican convent that was restored by the architect Michelozzo in the period of the De Medicis. Its light-filled library contains a collection of historic illuminated manuscripts, as well as a present day convent library with books on philosophy and theology.
Italy is still at the forefront of the fashion world, but its history stretches back far enough that there are now multiple museums dedicated to Italian designers. The Gucci Museo, opened in 2011, is in Florence.
Gucci’s first store opened in Florence in 1921, and today the Gucci Museum is in the 14th century Palazzo della Mercanzia on Piazza della Signoria in the city center. The museum collection covers three floors of the palazzo, and is arranged not by year but by theme. The “Travel” theme on the ground floor is a nod to one of Gucci’s early design inspirations - the fancy luggage at London’s Savoy Hotel. Other themes include “Flora World,” “Evening,” and “Sport.”
The Gucci Museo also houses a cafe, a library of art and design, and a bookshop. The museum store sells items you’ll find nowhere else. The museum is open daily from 10am-8pm, and there’s a €6 admission fee.
Things to do near Tuscany
- Things to do in Siena
- Things to do in Florence
- Things to do in Pisa
- Things to do in San Gimignano
- Things to do in Chianti
- Things to do in Arezzo
- Things to do in Lucca
- Things to do in Livorno
- Things to do in Umbria
- Things to do in Emilia-Romagna
- Things to do in Marche
- Things to do in Perugia
- Things to do in Bologna
- Things to do in Piedmont & Liguria
- Things to do in Lazio