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Things to Do in Tuscany - page 4

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Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)
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Behind the massive Pitti Palace lies the enormous Boboli Gardens - both were once the private domain of Florence’s ruling Medici family, but today they’re both open to the public. The Boboli Gardens are not only typical of formal Italian gardens of the 16th century - they’re actually some of the earliest examples of the style. Along with the manicured lawns, blooming plants, and fountains that you’d expect from a garden, these also have a fine collection of 16th-18th century sculptures on display in different parts of the grounds. The Boboli Gardens were originally started for the wife of Cosimo I de Medici in the 1540s, and were added to later in the 16th century and again in the 17th century. Notable features include tree-lined pathways, sculpture-filled grottos, and an amphitheater with an Egyptian obelisk at its center.

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San Frediano
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Entering the neighborhood of San Frediano means historically passing through the Porta San Frediano, which was once a door to the walled city, leading to one of Florence’s most popular residential areas in the present day. The trendy area has a variety of culture, cuisine, and art that contribute to its cosmopolitan feel. The neighborhood is home to many artisans that have kept their workshops here for decades. It has been compared to the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Many will cross the bridges on the river from the historic city center to enjoy a greater variety of food and drink in a less expensive price range.

After crossing through the Porta San Frediano, the Chiesa San Frediano in Cestello becomes visible. The 17th century church was built on the site of an older monastery, Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was founded in 1450.

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Great Synagogue of Florence (Tempio Maggiore)
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With its massive dome patterned in colorful designs, the Great Synagogue is an architectural marvel and significant synagogue of Italy. Historically Florence has always had a small Jewish community, with the first synagogue dating back to the 13th century. The Great Synagogue, however, was constructed from 1874 to 1882 financed by a local Jewish citizen who sought out to create a synagogue with beauty that would rival the other structures of Florence. Today it is still one of the largest in Europe. There is also a small Jewish museum with relics on display.

The synagogue features influences from both Italian and Islamic traditions. Its oxidized bright green copper roof makes the dome stand out in the city skyline. The interior features striking alternating layers of granite and travertine, with three large arches framing the entrance. Many draw comparisons in style to the Hagia Sofia of Istanbul.

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Church of San Sisto (Chiesa di San Sisto)
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The Church of San Sisto is one of the oldest churches in Pisa, Italy and was built in the Middle Ages around the late 1000s in a Romanesque style. Despite several renovations throughout the centuries, the church you see today still looks very much like it did when it was first built. The facade is divided into three parts, each separated by pilaster strips. Arches and windows with metal bars can be seen on the upper part of the facade throughout the entire exterior of the church. Visitors will also see replica ceramic basins from the 10th to 11th centuries; the originals can be found in the St. Matthews Museum. The interior of the Church of San Sisto is divided into three aisles by two rows of granite and marble pillars. The pillars are crowned by capitals from ancient buildings which were reused in the construction of this church. As Pisa was once a big naval power, you will also see a rudder and a mast from the 14th to 15th centuries in the church.
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Palio of Siena (Palio di Siena)
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You could describe Siena’s famous Palio as a horse race, but it’s so much more than that. Il Palio di Siena is a throwback to medieval times, a good-natured rivalry between neighborhoods, and an excuse to hold big block parties twice each summer.

Il Palio of Siena dates back to the 16th century when locals wanted a sporting event to replace the recently-outlawed bullfighting. The first races used buffalos rather than horses, with the Palio as we know it today starting in the mid-1600s. Of Siena’s 17 old neighborhoods - called “contrade” - 10 are represented by a horse and rider in each event, and the winner gets bragging rights until the next Palio.

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Fountain of Neptune
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In pride of place at the center of the busy Piazza della Signoria, the Fountain of Neptune has long been one of Florence’s most memorable landmarks, set against a backdrop of the grand Palazzo Vecchio (Town Hall). Inaugurated in 1565, the striking artwork is the masterpiece of sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati and was commissioned to celebrate the wedding of Francesco I de’ Medici and Johanna of Austria.

The elaborate bronze and marble statue portrays a 5.6-meter-high image of Neptune, the Roman God of the Sea, with the face of Cosimo I de 'Medici, stood on a high pedestal above the water, around which Satyrs and horses frolic. Despite sustaining considerable damage over the years, including losing one of its hands to vandals back in 2005, the statue has now been painstakingly restored and remains a popular meeting place for both locals and tourists.

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More Things to Do in Tuscany

Perseus Statue

Perseus Statue

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Brancacci Chapel (Cappella Brancacci)

Brancacci Chapel (Cappella Brancacci)

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Inside the Santa Maria del Carmine church in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood is a particularly famous chapel, the Brancacci Chapel. It’s famous not for who is buried there or who the chapel honors, but for the art that decorates it.

The cycle of frescoes that adorn the walls of the Brancacci Chapel were painted largely by Masaccio. He began work in 1424 when he was only 21 years old. Masaccio died only six years later in Rome, leaving the frescoes unfinished. Some were later completed by Filippino Lippi. After some restoration work, the chapel - called by some the “Sistine Chapel of the early Renaissance" - has been cleaned of centuries of dirt, making the frescoes appear almost as colorful as they might have been when they were first painted. Among the more famous panels is Masaccio’s “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” and “Payment of the Tribute Money.”

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Ospedale degli Innocenti

Ospedale degli Innocenti

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Florence’s one-of-a-kind Ospedale degi Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) is the oldest orphanage on the continent and offers travelers the perfect blend of Italian history, Roman artistry, classic architecture and lush gardens. It can only be described as one of the city’s oddest—and most beautiful—attractions. Built during the early 15th century, Ospedale degli Innocenti has served as a center of care for infants and children for more than 500 years and today also operates as a home for some of the nation’s best-known works of art.

In addition to a vast gallery, this historic landmark is also home to open cloisters and plenty of hospital-like rooms, including an infirmary and group dormitories. Travelers can explore the grounds and bear witness to giant frescos that depict scenes from the historic site’s lengthy past.

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St Mark’s Anglican Church

St Mark’s Anglican Church

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This historic Anglican Church in Florence, Italy has English roots — remaining one of three worship centers that form the chaplaincy of the Church of England (the other two are St. Peter’s in Siena and a growing congregation in Bologna.) Built in 1881, it is steeped in local history — part of an old Medici palace, later owned by Machiavelli, and then renovated in neb-renaissance style. It is known as a symbol of Renaissance architecture.

The church often serves the homeless community of Florence and holds mass regularly. It remains a center of Anglo-Catholic religion for the British expat community in Florence. The beautiful interior of the Anglican Church is furthermore a hub of historic art and one of the most celebrated concert venues in Florence with classical performances in music, choral singing, and opera as well as a variety of visiting performers. With only 150 seats, it is an intimate venue to experience a live concert.

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Stibbert Museum

Stibbert Museum

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Piccolomini Library (Libreria Piccolomini)

Piccolomini Library (Libreria Piccolomini)

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The Piccolomini Library is a library within the cathedral in Siena, Italy. The library was designed in the 1400s, and visitors can admire the beautiful ceiling that is covered in frescoes painted by Pinturicchio in 1502. The colorful frescoes depict images of figures in luxurious clothing, indoor settings, and detailed landscapes. The walls show important stages of the life of Pope Pius II in ten different sections. Some of the parts of his life that you can see painted here include when he was an ambassador to the European courts, paying homage to the new Emperor and then to the Pope at the time, presenting Eleonora of Aragon to the Emperor Frederick III, becoming a cardinal, and then becoming the Pope.

The library was built by Pope Pius III to house the manuscripts of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, his uncle who was Pope Pius II before him. Though most of the manuscripts are not here, visitors can see several hand-designed volumes on display.

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National Art Gallery of Siena (Pinacoteca Nazionale Siena)

National Art Gallery of Siena (Pinacoteca Nazionale Siena)

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Since 1932, one of Italy's largest art collections has been housed here in the Late Gothic Palazzo Buonsignori. Begun in the late 18th century by collector Abbot Giuseppe Ciaccheri, the collection continued to grow through donations and bequests and was taken over by the Italian State in 1930.

The collection is made up of masterpieces from the Sienese school of the 14th and 15th centuries including paintings by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers. The painters from Siena might not be as famous as the big stars from Florence (Michelangelo, da Vinci, etc.) but their painting is just as impressive, if less concerned with changing the world of art.

In the 1970s, the Spannocchi Collection was added which focuses on Northern and Flemish artists such as Durer. There is also now a Sala delle Sculture to house sculpture from the Sienese school of the 14th and 15th centuries.

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Siena Cathedral Museum (Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana)

Siena Cathedral Museum (Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana)

Also known as the Duomo Museum, the building was intended to be part of the Nuovo Duomo, the expansion of Siena’s cathedral to become the largest in Italy in the 14th century. However, the plague of 1348 put a stop to such grand plans and now what was once a nave is a museum housing important art works from the cathedral.

On the ground level are sculptures including the 13th century statues by Giovanni Pisano that once adorned the front of the Duomo. Upstairs is an early 14th century masterpiece by Duccio di Buoninsegna, the Maesta (Virgin Mary in Majesty). It’s a double sided screen which was once on the high altar in the next-door cathedral. Other important paintings of the Senese school are here including Lorenzetti’s Birth of the Virgin which broke with tradition and could have signaled a new genius if he hadn’t died of the plague.

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Montalcino

Montalcino

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The pretty Tuscan hill town of Montalcino is about 25 miles southeast of Siena, and perhaps best known for its exceptional Brunello di Montalcino wine.

The founding of Montalcino is closely associated with the nearby Abbey of Sant'Antimo – the monks likely established a church on this hill in the 9th century as they were establishing their monastery. The medieval walls (dating from the 13th century) still surround part of the city, and the 14th century fortress still occupies the summit of the hill. Many of the buildings in Montalcino date from the 13th-14th centuries.

As you might expect from a wine-producing town, many of the slopes of the hills surrounding Montalcino are covered in vineyards. The famous Brunello di Montalcino is made from local sangiovese grapes, and is responsible for much of the economic growth of the town in recent decades. Montalcino and another wine-producing town nearby, Montepulciano, are great day trips in Tuscany for wine lovers.

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Abbey of Sant'Antimo (Abbazia di Sant'Antimo)

Abbey of Sant'Antimo (Abbazia di Sant'Antimo)

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Reportedly founded by the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne back in 781, the abbey church at Sant'Antimo is one of Tuscany's most beautiful sights, set against a backdrop of olive-smothered hills in a river valley. Constructed of mellow, cream-colored travertine, the structure more likely began life in the ninth century before the apse, delicately frescoed side chapels and cloisters were completed in 1260. Its Romanesque style features a façade carved with figures of the Apostles, while an ornate bell tower is decorated in Lombardian style with two bells. Travelers can further admire the church's luminous, alabaster interior and its carved columns while keeping an eye out for the 13th-century crucifix that guards the altar. Thanks to its proximity to the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between France and Rome, Sant'Antimo was once one of the most powerful Benedictine abbeys in Tuscany before it was closed by Pope Pius II in 1462.

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