Destination: Italy: Florence
Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori)
Brunelleschi’s famous cupola is touristy and not for people with vertigo, but the view from this Florence icon gives a first-time visitor a wonderful introduction to the city’s skyline. The steep stairs take you first to a narrow balcony, from which you can see the pastel Vasari-designed frescoes covering the dome’s inner surface, and then to the top, where you can marvel at the red-roofed cityscape below. The brilliance of the architecture is beautifully described in Ross King’s best-selling Brunelleschi’s Dome. Arrive just before closing time (6:20 P.M. during the week, 5 P.M. on Saturdays), and not only will you beat the crowds, but when you descend you will be practically alone in the haunting cathedral. The cupola ascent is closed on Sunday.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi
The cold stone façade of this palazzo gives no hint of the treasures within. Skip the grand Medici rooms, and go straight to the tiny Cappella dei Magi, adorned with a fresco cycle painted between 1459 and 1461 by Benozzo Gozzoli. Since the chapel has double walls and no windows, the frescoes have never been exposed to dampness or direct light, so their colors remain stunningly vivid. They depict the journey of the three magi to Bethlehem, but Gozzoli incorporated portraits of recognizable personalities who had come to Florence in 1438 for a council meeting. Several Medici men can be seen riding in the procession, while exotic animals frolic in the background. The paintings are marvelously dense, and even though the chapel is small (no more than eight people are allowed in at a time), plan to spend enough time to take in all the details. Closed Wednesday.
This massive palazzo (assumed to have been designed by Brunelleschi but also attributed to his student Fancelli) is surrounded by the sprawling Boboli Gardens and is the largest museum complex in Florence. The offerings include the Galleria Palatina, which contains works by Raphael, Titian and Rubens; the Royal Apartments, fourteen rooms that used to be the home of the Medici and Lorraine families; the Silver Museum; and the Costume Gallery, a fun smaller gallery to visit with children. Closed Monday.
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