Arte e cultura

Podere Jana, the ideal starting point for a thousand itineraries

Firenze - Piazza del Duomo

Tuscany: a casket full of priceless treasures. And in this land, whose past is so important and magnificent, you will spend your unforgettable holiday as guests at Podere Jana, an antique sixteenth-century farmhouse, which can be your starting point for several trips around the region. In Tuscany, the hints are infinite: its towns are generally recognized as actual gems, a delight for your eyes and a potentially infinite opportunity of broadening your knowledge. Leave haste at home, you are on holiday. Allow yourself the time you need and choose what to give priority to: whether you choose a town or another, bear in mind that every one has its gems and is capable of surprising you.

Let’s start from the chief town, Florence: before starting the city tour, go and look down upon its grey towers rising from the red sea of roofs, among the hills sprinkled with villas, cypresses and olive trees. Nature has rarely arranged such charming scenery for a city. From Porta Romana you can climb the Hill of Bellosguardo, then reach Piazzale Michelangelo.

From here, once you have passed the steps of San Salvatore in Monte, you can go up to San Miniato and see its polychrome inlay façade; this is not mere decoration, as it is the structure itself that complete its own meaning with the help of colours. The calm joy of this façade forestalls the Early Renaissance. Inside, the quietness of marbles continues. On your left, there is the Crucifix Chapel by Michellozzo, and on your right the vault built by Manetti for a Portuguese cardinal. In the sacristy, there are some frescoes by Spinello Aretino, a petit maître of the end of the 14th century. Go down towards the fortress Forte di Belvedere, dating back to the end of the 15th century and containing detached frescoes coming from different Tuscan places. Below you there is the Garden of Boboli. Take the poetic and rural via San Leonardo and, through the rustic Porta San Giorgio, enter the city by going towards the monumental complex formed by the Baptistery and the Cathedral.

The Baptistery (11th century) has the same neat and linear structure of San Miniato and it is the most antique building of the city. The interior is an elegant octagon whose cupola presents a sparkling Venetian mosaic. At the altar sides you find the stunning Magdalene and a papal tomb by Donatello. The bronze doors belong to different periods: the one facing the Cathedral was called “Paradise Door” by Michelangelo, and is a masterpiece by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455). In front of it stands up the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Its façade dates back to the 19th century, but the inside simple solemnity will charm you by showing the Florentine attitude and its ability of applying the Gothic style. Giotto too helped to build this Church - that was carried out by Brunelleschi, the early Renaissance genius – by working at the powerful Cupola. In the transept you find one of the most meaningful of Michelangelo’s four Pietà, which the artist had intended for his tomb. In the left aisle, there is a fresco portrait of Dante by Domenico di Michelino, and the portraits of two captains of the Florentine army, the English Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello, and Niccolò da Tolentino, by Andrea Castagno. If you go out through the right door at the end of the Church, you will catch the apse curvature and the proportions of the precious Bell Tower, which was drawn by the seventy-year-old Giotto. In the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Cathedral), you find important sculptures such as the Cantoria, with its medley of puttos, and the realistic statue of the Prophet Abacuc – that Florentines call “The Blockhead” - by Donatello.

Passing along via de’ Calzaioli, you reach the church Orsanmichele, which is as firm as a fortress. Along its sides, the statues by Donatello, Nanni di Banco, Ghiberti, Verrocchio and Gianbologna are aligned beside the precious triple lancet windows. The inside half-light is dominated by the Ciborium, a masterpiece of jewellery-like sculpture by Andrea Orcagna (14th century). Beside Orsanmichele, there is a good example of Medieval civil architecture: the Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana (Wool Art Palace). From here, you can reach in a few minutes on foot Piazza della Signoria, which has been the centre of the Florentine life for ages. Here, the common people celebrated the feasts and protested during the tumults; here, Girolamo Savonarola was burned and the artists shower their works; here, the Medici’s feasts, bridal processions and plays took place. When the Renaissance started, this square was already complete. The palace Palazzo della Signoria was already finished in 1314, but it took them another two centuries for its inside to reach the today’s appearance. If you look upwards under the façade, you are struck by the sense of vertigo, not because of its extraordinary height (94 m.), but for the extraordinary way in which the tower springs upwards, out of the façade level: it is a unique synthesis of elegance and rough strength.

Stop under the Loggia della Signoria (1381), whose round arcades show that inside the Florentine architects, the Renaissance spirit was already mature a century earlier. Benvenuto Cellini left there a masterpiece, his Perseus, whose base statues are even more perfect than the statue itself. Once you have passed a copy of the David by Michelangelo, you enter the palace: the left court is the same as in the 14th century, but all the other areas have been changed during the following centuries, as the palace, once the seat of a city republic, became the rulers’ abode. Michelozzo built the first court in 1453, Tadda built the fountain and Verrocchio decorated it with his bronze Putto: a century later, in order to further decorate the court, they added some stucco decorations to the columns. This accumulation of magnificence continues upstairs too, where you find the 16th Century Salon, with the Battles by Giorgio Vasari, and the Genius of Victory by Michelangelo; you find also the cosy small studio designed by Vasari for Francesco I and that his apprentices transformed into a manifesto of the sensual Florentine mannerism. All the first and second floor there are the apartments that Vasari and Bronzino prepared for the Medici family, that alternate to wonderful loggias and terraces from where you can contemplate Florence.

If you descend again, you enter Piazzale degli Uffizi, with the noble Palace that Giorgio Vasari – the great urban settler of Renaissance Florence – built for Cosimo II, who wanted to gather there all the bureaucracy of the State. But there was gathered the most famous Art Gallery worldwide instead.

Your can resume your tour from Piazza degli Uffizi and from here, by walking along Lungarno, you reach the bridge Ponte Vecchio. If you walk along via Porta Santa Maria and go past the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo, featuring florists and craftsmen’s stalls, you reach via Porta Rossa, with the tall massive structure of Palazzo Davanzati, a 14th-century house whose loggia dates back to the following century. Go back to via Capaccio and you will see the 14th-century Palace of the Guelph Captains, whose façade was modified by Brunelleschi, whereas Vasari added the picturesque Loggia. Then penetrate the charming medieval environment of Borgo Santi Apostoli, where the tall stone building and the fascinating alleys create an unforgettable atmosphere. After the Church of Santi Apostoli, and walking along the massive structure of Palazzo Spini Ferroni, you enter Piazza Santa Trinità that, like the graceful bridge it connects to, takes its name from the Church of Santa Trinità, which was started by Nicola Pisano (1258) and has a 16th-century façade that was built by Buontalenti. Its inside is one of the first examples of the mystical and solemn Italian Gothic style. In the chapels you find important sculptures by Giuliano da Sangallo, Desiderio da Settignano and Benedetto da Maiano. In the Sassetti Chapel there are frescos by Ghirlandaio, among which stands his masterpiece: the joyful Adoration of the Shepherds. After having admired the tall palace Palazzo Bertolini-Salimbeni, you enter the most beautiful Lungarnos: the one taking its name from Palazzo Corsini, one of the few baroque examples in Florence. Inside there is the private Galleria Corsini, containing important works such as a Madonna by Filippo Lippi and another by Luca Signorelli, and Raffaello’s cartoon for Giulio II’s portrait. Your tour among Florence’s private buildings can end with the nearby Palazzo Rucellai (1451) and the wonderful Palazzo Strozzi, which was begun by Benedetto da Maiano.

In Florence, the possible tours are infinite. You may also decide to start a different itinerary, following the tracks of the ancient Etruscans. You will go then to the square Piazza della Santa Annunziata, where you can breathe the noble peacefulness of the early Renaissance. This church was started in the 13th century and restored by Michelozzo and Antonio da Sangallo: the atrium keeps some refined frescos by Andrea del Castagno, Pontormo, Franciabigio and Alessio Baldovinetti. In the baroque inside, there are frescos and paintings by Perugino and Bronzino, the Tombs by Benvenuto Cellini, Andrea del Sarto and Pantormo. Next to the Church, you find the fine Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) by Brunelleschi, whose refectory keeps the joyful Epiphany by Ghirlandaio and a Madonna by Piero di Cosimo. In front of the Ospedale, there is the Archaeological Museum, then you can walk to the Museo Topografico dell’Etruria (Etruscan Topographical Museum), keeping the tokens of some Etruscan cities arranged in order of origin: Orvieto, Chiusi, Tuscania, Tarquinia. The Aquarium is rich in famous Etruscan and Greek sculptures: the Sarcophagus of Larthia Seianti (II century b. C.) with its majestic female figure dressing up for the voyage for the grave, the statue of the Arringatore (Haranguer - III century) and the wonderful bronze Chimera (V century), that was found in Arezzo in 1555. Then, from the Etruscan and Hellenic world you can shift by a jump of twenty centuries to the mystical world of the Dominican Beato Angelico, in the nearby Monastery of San Marco, where it took the friar eight years (1437-1445) to fresco one of the most astonishing painting cycles of all times. Also Angelico’s most important paintings on canvas of Florence have bee gathered here. From San Marco you can reach the rough and strong Cenacolo di Santa Apollonia (Cenacle of St. Apollonia) by Andrea del Castagno, and the vigorous portraits of illustrious men by the same painter. In the nearby via Ricasoli, you find the Academy Gallery, with numerous portraits and famous especially for Michelangelo’s statues: the David, which is the work of his late youth, and the intense sketches of Michelangelo’s Prigioni (Prisoners) for the unfinished tomb of Giulio II. Michelangelo can be found also in the nearby New Sacristy of San Lorenzo, with the Tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici. First, look at the luminous inside of San Lorenzo and its cosy Old Sacristy by Brunelleschi; then, shift to the Michelangelo’s environment, making you realize that after only one hundred years, a new world had begun. The relationship between architecture and sculpture are laid in new ways. There is an architectural sculpture where figures are composed: tombs are no more leant against the walls, but integrated to it; statues are in turn an essential part on tombs; together, structure and statuary express deep allegories, where pagan and Christian ideas deal with the same eternal truths about life, death and afterlife.

In the same monumental complex, Michelangelo carried out also the Biblioteca Laurenziana (Laurentian Library), the first civil library for common people. Visit the Palazzo Medici-Ricciardi, with its Medicean Museum and the Chapel charming fresco of the Procession of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli (1459). Through via del Giglio, you can reach the Church of Santa Maria Novella, which was begun by the Dominicans (1278) and completed by Leon Battista Alberti (1470), who employed large side vaults for the first time. The Church is full of masterpieces: Giotto’s Crucifix in the Sacristy, Lippi’s frescos, Orcagna’s Giudizio Universale (Last Judgement), the tombs sculpted by Rossellino, Ghiberti and Benedetto da Maiano. But most of all, you can admire the powerful Trinità by a 26-year-old Masaccio - a crucial phase of Italian painting, the frescos by Paolo Uccello in the Chiostro Verde, where the Bacchic rhythm of this unrestrained dance seems to revive the Etruscan painting; there are also the great apse decorations by Domenico Ghirlandaio, according to whom the sacred stories become magnificent pretexts aimed at telling us the life of 15th-century Florentine middle-class.

Passing through Borgognissanti, which is full of antique dealers’ shops, you can reach the Church of Ognissanti hosting not only the painter’s tomb, but also a remarkable fresco by Botticelli, in front of which stands the Sant’Agostino’s fresco, then there is the San Girolamo fresco by Ghirlandaio, who also painted the refectory Cenacle. After the Lungarno and the bridge Ponte Vespucci, beyond the Arno you reach the Church of San Frediano, and from here the Basilica of Santa Maria del Carmine, dating back to the 13th century and destroyed in the 18th century by a fire, but the Branacci Chapel was fortunately saved: it was one of Italian painting’s sanctuaries, a huge work by Masaccio (1401-1428) that marked the complete release of the pictorial form, the impetuous and genial outbreak of Renaissance: from Botticelli and Leonardo until Michelangelo, all the great artists of the following generations meditated and studied here, in front of the painting renovator who died at twenty-seven.

Per via Santa Monica e via Sant'Agostino, potrete raggiungere Santo Spirito, uno dei vertici dell'architettura del Brunelleschi (1446) e poi la fiera mole di Palazzo Pitti, disegnato anch'esso dal Brunelleschi e ampliato nei secoli successivi. Qui si apre l'altra grande pinacoteca fiorentina, la Galleria Palatina.

Through via Santa Monica and via Sant’Agostino you can reach the Basilica di Santo Spirito, one of the peaks of Brunelleschi’s architecture (1446), then the noble massive structure of Palazzo Pitti, projected by Brunelleschi and widened during the following centuries. Here you also find the other great Florentine picture gallery: the Galleria Palatina.

From the bridge of Grazie you can visit, on the other side of the Arno, the art collections that two private people left to Florence, one belonging to the antique dealer Stefano Bardini, and the other one to the English writer H. P. Horne: in the Museo Bardini, sculpture is prevalent (there are works by Donatello, Pollaiolo, Michelozzo, Andrea della Robbia); in the Museo Horne, painting is dominant (there are paintings by Simone Martini, Lorenzo di Credi, Lippi, Sassetta and decorative arts objects).

Through via dei Benci, you will reach the great square with the Church of Santa Croce (1294), whose interior is Gothic, powerfully sober and full of works of art: frescos by Giotto, Taddeo e Agnolo Gaddi, Maso di Banco; sculptures by Donatello, Rossellino – see the marvellous Tomb of Leonardo Bruni - and Canova. Santa Croce is the Italian national Pantheon, because here are buried Michelangelo, Nicolò Machiavelli, Galileo Galilei, Vittorio Alfieri, Ugo Foscolo. At the Church right side, one of Brunelleschi’s masterpieces, Cappella Pazzi (1446), overlooks on a 14th-century Cloister. Once you come out of Santa Croce, you can admire the creative painted façade of Palazzo dell’Ancella and reach via Ghibellina, where you find Casa Buonarroti, which was Michelangelo’s house and is today a Museum dedicated to his early works, portraits, manuscripts and drawings. Walking along via Ghibellina, you can reach also Palazzo del Barghello, where the National Museum has its seat: it is an extraordinary collection of sculptures (by Michelangelo, Donatello, Verrocchio and Ghiberti), majolica objects, frescos, miniatures and bronzes.