This fall, Florence’s city museums announced the availability of a 10 euro “Card del Fiorentino” that gives residents access to the museums in Florence owned by the city and managed by an association called Mus.e. With my new card in hand, I wanted to take a look at what museums are on this list and make sure I visit them all! Below is a list of the city museums in Florence and my very personal description of what to see inside – whether or not you hold the residents’ card.
Museo di Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s City Hall, has been a symbol of Florence since the thirteenth century, when it was constructed as the seat of the second Republican government (the first was housed in the Bargello – now the state museum for sculpture). The building still functions as our city hall, with births, weddings and residency registered there, something that makes me very proud to be an adopted Florentine. The Museum of Palazzo Vecchio is perhaps the most important of the city museums in Florence, and is included in the new Card del Fiorentino; on its own it costs €12,50 to visit, so if you’re a resident of Florence and go in here just once a year, you’ve already saved a lot! What is there to see here? So much! The current appearance of the interior of this palazzo owes much to renovations of around 1540 from when Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici and his wife Eleonora di Toledo moved in. The biggest bang for your buck goes to the Salone dei Cinquecento, a huge room decorated by Vasari with images celebrating the Medici family; before Vasari’s decoration, this was the site of a “paint-off” between Michelangelo and Leonardo, though both works weren’t completed. Off this room is a tiny “studiolo” belonging to Francesco I, absolutely worth seeing; a personal favourite are the chambers of Eleonora (for that feminine touch, plus Bronzino), and map lovers shouldn’t miss the map room!
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If that’s not enough, there’s also an excavation to visit under the Palazzo (the Scavi del Teatro Romano), and you can go up the tower (Torre e Camminamento di ronda), as well as see temporary exhibitions.
The Brancacci Chapel
This chapel, located in the church of the Carmine in Florence’s Oltrarno, features an important fresco cycle by Masaccio and Masolino from the 1420s. This period represents a transition from late Gothic style to Early Renaissance (read this general intro to art periods in Italy for a refresher); Masaccio was a young artist who worked alongside his master, Masolino, and we art history professor types love to play the “guess who did what” game here. Masaccio’s hand is easily spotted as the less decorative, more naturalistic of the two. Note that entry to this chapel is by timed ticket through an office located to one side of the church, and that reservations are necessary.
Included with your entry to the Brancacci Chapel is access to the Fondazione Salvatore Romano, adjacent to the church of Santo Spirito. This is a collection donated to the city of Florence in 1946 from an antiquarian, with works ranging from ancient Roman to 17th century.
Located in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, across from the church, the museum dedicated to 20th-century art in Italy is a newcomer – it opened in 2014. Beyond the permanent collection, there are temporary exhibitions, performances and events in this space, which was once a hospital. I admit I’ve only been to this museum once, something I plan to remedy with my card, since it is literally a 3-minute walk from my office. I foresee rainy lunch breaks spent here.
Santa Maria Novella
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One of my favourite churches in Florence and one that I do often visit over lunch, Santa Maria Novella is managed by Florence’s city museums and is composed of enough vast and different spaces that you can easily drop in often and concentrate on one or another aspect each time. Amongst my favourite chapels in the church are two that sport the name “Strozzi”, though commissioned by different branches of that family, over a century apart. Head into the first cloister through the church and you’re in the “green cloister”, where two quite ruined frescoes by Paolo Uccello were until not too long ago (they’ve been moved into the adjacent museum); off this space is the chapter house that doubles as a burial chapel called the Spanish Chapel. You can now also visit a larger cloister that recently re-joined the church’s museum path, which gives access to a beautiful museum space in which temporary exhibitions are held (until the end of 2019 is an interesting show about Leonardo da Vinci as a botanist).
Museo Stefano Bardini
The Bardini museum is another Florentine museum that I really haven’t spent enough time in! Not to be confused with Villa Bardini on Costa San Giorgio, where temporary exhibitions are often held, this Oltrarno convent was purchased by antiquarian Stefano Bardini in 1881, transformed into a Renaissance-style palazzo, and later donated to the city as a museum. The museum is a kind of treasure-chest of works in every medium, beautifully displayed on blue walls known as “Bardini Blue”.
Memoriale di Auschwitz
Recently opened in the (for a long time closed) spaces of the Ex3 in Gavinana (south Florence) is the Italian Auschwitz Memorial, a work of contemporary multimedia art that was installed at the ex-concentration camp in 1979 where it remained until 2014. The work, which was developed by Aned (Associazione nazionale ex deportati nei campi nazisti), involved the collaboration of some of the period’s most important minds, including author, chemist and survivor Primo Levi. Visits are free with reservation on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays (reserve here).
Museo del Bigallo
The Bigallo easily gets lost amongst the important religious and civic structures of Florence’s Piazza Duomo; a small museum here opened in 2011, right behind the tourist information office and the smelly parked horse-and-carriages. You may know about the Misericordia, still our ambulance service, whose headquarters are in piazza Duomo; once, the Misericordia and the Bigallo were the same association. It took in abandoned children, cared for the sick, and buried the dead. Read my article on The Florentine about the fascinating social history of the Bigallo.
Forte di Belvedere
This defensive structure in Florence’s Oltrarno was designed by Buontalenti at the end of the Cinquecento. In the summertime, the Forte Belvedere is home to interesting installations of contemporary sculpture, each year by a different invited international artist (past years have seen monographic shows by Zhang Huan, Giuseppe Penone, Antony Gormley and Jan Fabre). It’s also got a spectacular view of the city, green lawns on which to sit, and a pleasant bar.
Museo del Ciclismo Gino Bartali
Cycling buffs may want to check out this museum outside Florence, in Ponte a Ema, dedicated to one of Italy’s most famous cyclists (indeed, the only one I could possibly name!). The champion was born in Ponte a Ema, and a large, three-floor museum displays bikes and memorabilia.
Towers of Florence
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I can’t even count how many times I’ve walked through San Frediano’s ancient gate built around 1332, with its impressive original wooden door (can you imagine having to close that?!) and wrought iron rings. It is said that In 1363 the Blessed Paola of the Monastery of the Angioli had a vision of St John the Baptist blessing Florence. This vision was interpreted as a premonition that the Florentines would defeat the Pisan army at the Battle of Cascina (which they did). Alongside the gate are a section of the city’s ancient walls, a reminder of the past when tuscan cities were barricaded with stone as they were prone to war/invasion from rivals near and far. This gave way to reconstruction to fit an enlarging population in the 19th century during the brief time florence was Italy’s capital resulted in most of the walls and tower gates to be torn down with only a few remaining Luckily the @cittadifirenzeufficiale together with @musefirenze is opening up several of these gates to visitors on selected dates and we enjoyed an interesting lesson this morning in local history coupled with some incredible panorama perspectives from high up in the tower. This month, you can sign up to tour Porta San Frediano on the 19th (reserved for unicoop members) or the 26th during in the AM. Just call Tel. 055/2768224 – 055/2768558 or email email@example.com
Florence’s defensive city walls were dotted with look-out towers; these have recently been restored and are open for occasional visits with guides who illustrate the architecture and history of these structures. From Torre San Niccolò, Torre della Zecca, Porta Romana and Baluardo San Giorgio or Porta San Frediano, you can also get a great view of the city. Visits to these towers can be booked online from Mus.e.
A note on city museums in Florence
The management of the cultural patrimony in Italy is fragmented amongst different owners and managers. There are primarily four types of museums: city museums, state museums, those owned by churches (and their “Opere”) and those that are privately run. This article is about city museums. State museums include the Uffizi, Accademia, Bargello etc. The Opera del Duomo museum, or the Church of Santa Croce, are examples of churches/museums run by ecclesiastical institutions who independently manage their funding. Finally, an example of a private museum in Florence is Palazzo Strozzi or Villa Bardini (both are managed by a Foundation).
About the Card del Fiorentino
A 10-euro card introduced in 2019 provides year-long entry to all the museums listed in this article for residents of Florence. Note that if you are legally renting longer term in Florence, you may be eligible to apply for “residenza” or, failing that, “domicilio”, in the city of Florence, giving you access to a number of important services. For information, see the city’s website (in Italian). To get the card, request it at the ticket offices of Palazzo Vecchio, Museo Novecento, Cappella Brancacci, Museo Stefano Bardini or Santa Maria Novella and present your ID card showing your residence in Florence.