Of course, Florence has masterpieces you should not miss, including Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, and Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise. However, if you are looking to add more to your Florence experience, you will want to dig deeply into the city.
I found myself on a bit of a scavenger hunt recently. I had done some research to find out some of these lesser known spots of Florence, and I ended up coming across a few of my own.
1. La Bottega del Chianti
This little shop, hidden among the streets near the Ponte Vecchio, is one you will really want to visit. It is filled with charm and all sorts of goodies, inside and out. Don’t come with a big group, as there is barely room for 2 or 3 in this tiny market! Located on Via Borgo Santi Apostoli, this gem can be found one block out from the Arno, northwest of the Ponte Vecchio.
2. The Bull and the Baker
If you take a walk around the left side of Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as The Duomo, you will find the head of this bull.
Historically, the intention of this bull’s head was to honor all of the animals that lost their lives during the Duomo’s construction. However, the myth holds a bit more intrigue. Apparently, the master stonemason working on the Duomo was having an affair with a local baker’s wife. The baker found out and took them to trial for adultery, resulting in the two lovers being forced to separate. The stonemason was so enraged that he mounted the bull’s head to face the baker’s home, as a constant reminder of his wife’s real love.
3. The Cupola’s Fallen Ball
The Duomo took 170 years to complete. The first stone was laid in 1296, and it was finally completed in 1469 when Verrocchio’s copper ball was placed on top of Brunelleschi’s Dome. In January of 1600, a massive storm moved through the city of Florence. A bolt of lightning hit the large copper ball, breaking the supporting brackets. The ball rolled down the side of the dome and landed into the stones of the piazza below. After two years of restoration, the copper ball was restored to its original position above the dome.
There is a circular marble stone in the piazza, on the back side of the Duomo, signifying where the ball dropped that night.
I loved how no one stopped to look at it the entire time I was there. I did get a few looks as to why I would be photographing this spot on the ground. I felt like I was in on some secret “in the know” club that the other tourists weren’t privy to! Welcome to the club!
4. Florence Street Sign Art
You won’t be walking around Florence long before you start noticing these decorated street signs. The secret is not that they are there, but who is doing it! Who is the artist behind these entertaining forms of harmless graffiti?
The artist is Clet Abraham, a 50 year old French man, residing in Italy for the past 20 years.
In an interview with Tuscany Arts, Clet says of his expression, “As a professional in the world of visual space, I feel called to intervene, both to notify the public of the absurdity of the situation, and to propose a constructive and respectful alternative. My adhesives are developed to add a further level of reading [to street signs] constructed on the base of their original signification in order to maintain its utility but give it some intellectual, spiritual, or simply amusing interest. The final objective? That traffic keeps flowing without us feeling spoken down to!”
You can even visit one of Clet’s shops in the Oltarno district of Florence. You will find stickers, signs, and t-shirts with his street sign art designs.
5. Pad-Locks of Love on the Arno
According to legend, if you attach a padlock to the historic Ponte Vecchio and then throw the key into the Arno River below, your love will go on forever. Millions of lovers have traveled to the Ponte Vecchio just for this reason, seeking that eternal love.
What probably started with a very clever padlock seller with superb marketing skills has turned into an all out lover’s revolution. The city keeps removing them and the lovers just return to replace them twice over.
It is thought that the locks may be causing damage to the historic bridge, so be environmentally and historically conscious and just rub the existing locks to share in their eternal-love energy.
6. The Walled-In Window
In 1560, Cosimo I de’ Medici always took the same route to Piazza S.S. Annunziata. When Pandolfo de’ Pucci wanted to kill Cosimo I, he hired an assassin to hide behind the first window of Palazzo Pucci, on the corner of Via de` Servi. The instruction was to kill Cosimo I as he walked past. The Medici secret service discovered the plan and Pucci was sent to trial and eventually hanged. Cosimo I continued to walk the same route after that, but had the window closed in for his protection.
Here we are, 456 years later, looking at that same walled in window.
7. Loggia del Bigallo
While this structure is by no means hidden or secret, it is often overshadowed by its rather grand neighbors.
Built in 1352–58, sitting on a corner in Piazza del Duomo, the Loggia del Bigallo served to shelter lost children and abandoned infants. It was also used to help those in need, which at the time consisted of mostly people affected by the Plague.
The Loggia is now a museum containing frescos, including a fresco from 1342 dedicated to the Madonna of the Misericordia, created by Bernardo Daddi, a pupil of Giotto.
Above the Loggia, you see this Madonna and Child created by 14th century Italian sculptor and architect Alberto di Arnoldo. He was one of the most influential Florentine sculptors of his day.
8. The Doors of Florence
The best part about this one is they are not hidden and you can find them EVERYWHERE! All you have to do is look up and take notice!
From the old to the new and the delicate to the absurd, the doors of Florence are sure to offer something interesting every few steps!