Florence: Explore Beautiful Florence, a Magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Birthplace of the Renaissance

by | Aug 11, 2016 | Europe, Florence, Italy | 4 comments

Go to Florence for its art, architecture, culture and history. Stay because it is BEAUTIFUL!

If I were to pick one place in Italy where I want to return again and again, it is Florence. It has it all: Brains and Beauty. This post focuses on Beauty. Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Next week, the post will focus on Brains. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance. This is where it all began! The Renaissance  is a cultural movement that framed every aspect of intellectual development in art, architecture, politics, math, science, literature, and philosophy. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the quintessential Renaissance Men, left a lasting imprint on Florence.

How can I do justice to a post on the Renaissance next week? WITH YOUR HELP!

If you found yourself in Florence this week, what would you most want to see or do? Write it down and send me an email:

Send in your emails this week to macgillivray@boomervoice.ca

(Let me know if you want me to include your name in next week’s post; otherwise, I will refer to you as a blog reader.)

Now, back to Beauty

View of Florence from Michelangelo Square

My favourite place in Florence is Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square). It offers a commanding view of all of Florence. The experience is fabulous at any time of the day, but many plan their visit for sunset over this magnificent city.

The Square is dedicated to Michelangelo. There are bronze copies of some of his most important works, including David. However, we will save David for next week, with photos of the real David. 

It took nine pairs of oxen to drag these colossal works up the mountain that overlooks Florence.

Part of the experience in visiting Michelangelo Square is walking up the hill, with breaks to enjoy the views. If you want to enjoy the view but without the climb, you can also get there by bus or car. Here is a Visit Florence site with detailed info.

If you can’t go to Florence, sometimes, Florence comes to you. A few years ago, the Art Gallery of Ontario hosted a special exhibition:

Revealing the Early Renaissance: Stories and Secrets in Florentine Art

The exhibit had backdrops of scenes from Florence. It reminded me of backdrops used by Sears photography studios. I snapped a pic of my brother in front of a backdrop that overlooks the Arno River. He is pointing to the Duomo, an iconic symbol of Florence.

Have you heard of St Minas (aka St Miniato)?

Sometimes, you don’t have to take the road less travelled, you just have to take the road. After enjoying the fabulous view from Michelangelo Square, we followed the road up the hill until we came upon a fabulous church, San Miniato, set on one of the highest points in Florence. It is considered to be one of the most scenic churches in Italy.

I had to look up a few things in order to write this next bit. Take this quiz:

Question 1: Who is St Miniao?

Question 2: Define lapidated.

Question 3: Define hagiographic trope.

While we were enjoying a cold beer, Susan regaled us by reading a pamphlet on St Miniato. We could hardly understand it …. and it was in English. It used words like lapidated and hagiographic trope. And we had never heard of St Miniato.

The church is dedicated to St Miniato, the first Christian martyr of Florence in 250 AD. According to legend, Miniato was tortured for refusing to denounce his Christian beliefs. He was lapidated (stoned to death), thrown in with lions and then beheaded. He survived unharmed. He picked up his head, crossed the Arno and climbed the hill to the site that is now the Church of San Miniato. (Hagiographic trope is a figure of speech in a biography of a saint). Visions of The Headless Horseman came to mind as we imagined St Miniato climbing the hill with his head under his arm. We were tired after walking up the hill with our heads intact.

The church that is dedicated to St Miniato is beautiful!


This is the interior of the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte

This fabulous mosaic was created in 1260. Apparently, there is a coin box that turns on the lights over the mosaic. I will try that the next time I am here.

Many people complain about all the tourists in Florence. Nearly 15 million people visit Florence every year. There are long lineups for all the major sites. Yet, if you just explore a bit further, you may find yourself in a wonderful place like the basilica of San Miniato al Monte. There were a few other people when we were there. We happened to arrive during the evening Mass and could hear Gregorian Chants. It was magical!

My Solution to Neck Crane

There are so many wonderful artworks on the ceilings and domes in Italy. However, it is hard to look up and really appreciate them. I have always wanted to lie down and just take in the view above. We were the only people in this small crypt in San Miniato so I finally got to do it! I had lots of time to admire this wonderful fresco.

Amazing that in a city that attracts 15 million tourists, we found a spot all to ourselves.

As we left San Miniato, I lingered in the rose garden in full bloom. Lots of people were relaxing and waiting for the sunset.

I continued my stroll to the Arno so that I could catch the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio.

At sunset, I was standing on a bridge over the Arno. I looked back up the hill to San Miniato. The sun was shining on the gold mosaics on the facade. It was just beautiful!

View of the Ponte Vecchio at sunset

Ponte Vecchio is one of the most recognizable bridges in the world.

The Ponte Vecchio is a Medieval stone-covered bridge that spans the Arno River. It is filled with shops selling gold, jewelry, art and souvenirs. It is fun to poke around the shops and stop to enjoy the views of the Arno.

There is an elevated enclosed passageway in the Ponte Vecchio. Most of the passageway is closed to the public. In the middle of the Ponte Vecchio, there are panoramic windows in the passageway, with views over the Arno.


The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge across the Arno that was not destroyed by the Germans as they retreated from the British advance in 1944.

As we were driving into Florence on our tour bus, we stopped at the Florence American Cemetery. This was a deeply moving and very sad experience.


Florence American Cemetery

There are 4402 graves in the Florence American Cemetery. Most died in fighting near the end of the war. These are graves of Americans who were not brought home.

It was mainly Americans on our tour, which explains why we stopped at the American Cemetery.

Our tour guide was a young Italian, born long after the war was over. He is very dedicated to honouring and preserving the memory of those who died in the war.

He told us a very sad story. Last year, a caretaker saw a very old woman make her way to a headstone. She placed a letter on the grave and left before anyone could talk to her. Here is the letter she left at the grave of Richard C Reed, who died on April 16, 1945.

Dearest Dick

All My Love all my Life!

You were there on my Eighteenth Birthday so long ago! On July 26th – I will be “923 years” old! (Wow).

Together we were a super special twosome. Truly my “First Love.”!

My Darling – I will be seeing you again soon!

All my Love all my live Sweetheart!

There was not a dry eye when our guide finished reading this letter. A very old woman made a very long trip to place this letter on the grave of her first love.

The Historic Centre of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

After such a sad story, we need to think about something beautiful and timeless.

This is a picture of part of the facade of the Florence Cathedral, the Duomo. This is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence.

More on this next week when we look at Florence, the Brain.

View of Duomo from Cafe La Terrazza in La Rinascentre Department Store

It is hard to get a picture of the Duomo because it is so vast. Our guide gave us a great tip on where we could get a view without climbing any stairs. He directed us to the La Rinascentre Department Store. On the top floor, there is an outdoor terrance and restaurant with a wonderful view of Florence.

The added benefit to this stop is that we got to shop on the way up and the way down! How wonderful is that! Florence is known as a fashion capital of the world, so I was interested in seeing the latest trends.

Even the fashions are beautiful in Florence, as seen in this store window for Prada

I am really liking this socks and sandals combo. It is very comfortable attire for tourists. However, it is expensive to be fashionable. The socks alone are 55 euros.

There is a big demand for artisans in Florence

Artists and artisans are drawn to Florence, where preservation and restoration of world treasures is paramount.

If you explore the back streets of Florence, especially on the south side, you will see many shops devoted to ancient crafts.

On my next trip to Italy, I am going to get a pair of handmade Italian shoes! Maybe in pink.

Porcellino, the Boar

We will end our tour of Florence the Beautiful by putting a coin in Porcellino’s mouth while rubbing his snout. It brings you good luck if the coin falls through to the grate below his mouth. Rubbing Porcellino’s snout ensures that you will return to Florence.


I hope you will return to Florence next week for Florence the Brain: Birthplace of the Renaissance


Send your emails on what you most want to see or do in Florence!!!!

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at BoomerVoice.ca
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray

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