Basilica di Santa Croce or Basilica of the Holy Cross is the principal Franciscan church in Florence and the largest Franciscan church in the world. Construction on the church began on May 12, 1294, and the building’s original location was outside the city walls. Legend says St. Francis founded Santa Croce. Some of Italy’s most illustrious Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli, are buried in the Santa Croce.
Nicola Salvi in 1732 won a competition to design a new fountain in the Trevi district of Rome. Giuseppe Pannini completed the fountain in 1762. Legend says anyone who tosses a coin into the fountain’s waters will return to Rome. The fountain, featured in countless movies, was built on the site of an earlier fountain.
Anyone wanting a unique look at the past should look no further than the Museo Criminologico or Crime Museum. Educational and informative, this small museum is also home to some real oddities, such as the Milazzo Cage. This horrible body-shaped iron cage that still contains the remains of its last inhabitant. Kids will assuredly love it.
Galleria degli Uffizi is arguably the most famous art museum in the world. It makes sense considering Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance in the 14th century. The museum is located in the Historic Centre of Florence and opened as a museum in 1769. Among its famous works of art is Sandro Botticelli’s 15th century “Birth of Venus.” It also houses works by Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (or the Museum of the Works of the Cathedral in English) is home to many of the original works of art created for Florence’s famed Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (better known as the Duomo). The museum, which has been called “one of the world’s most important collections of sculpture,” opened in 1891. Its collection includes Lorenzo Ghiberti’s doors for the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral (called the Gates of Paradise) and The Deposition, a pietà Michelangelo sculpted and intended for his tomb.
The Colosseo or Colosseum has lasted generations and is perhaps the best and most widely-known symbol of Rome’s past. Started in 72 AD, the Colosseum could hold 50,000 people, and it could be emptied in a matter of minutes and had a retractable roof. But, if that’s not outrageous enough, the Romans at times filled the stadium with water so they could reenact sea battles for war-loving crowds. Today, the building is perhaps best remembered for the gladiator fights that once took place there. The Colosseum remained in us until it was damaged in a fire in 217, giving it a roughly 145-year run.
The Palazzo Pitti or Pitti Palace dates to 1458 and was the town residence of Luca Pitti, a Florentine banker. The Medici family bought the place, which is on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio, in 1549. It served the main home of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and grew as a great treasure house. Later generations amassed paintings, plates, jewelry and luxurious possessions. Napoleon used the palace in the late 18th century, and King Victor Emmanuel III donated the building and its contents to the Italian people in 1919.
Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti or the Church of All Saints dates to the 1250s, but architect Bartolomeo Pettirossi rebuilt the church in Baroque-style around 1627. The Vespucci family attended the church, and Amerigo Vespucci is buried here. The church features 15th frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Sandro Botticelli, who is also buried in the church. Ghirlandaio created a fresco of the Last Supper in the refectory. The work may have influenced Leonardo da Vinci’s later work in Milan.
Santa Maria Novella dates to the mid 13th century. A pair of Dominican friars, Fra Sisto da Firenze and Fra Ristoro da Campi, designed the church. It is known as Novella, which means “new” because it was built on the site of the 9th-century oratory of Santa Maria delle Vigne. Leon Battista Alberti completed the church’s façade in 1470. Admittedly, it would be nearly impossible to list every church in Florence that is worth seeing, not to mention how dif-ficult it would be to actually visit each church. Certainly the four aforemen-tioned churches offer a nice overview and can easily be seen in a day or two, or spread out over a longer period of time, depending on how long one plans on spending in Florence.
The Capitoline Museums are located on the Piazza del Campidoglio atop of Capitoline Hill in the heart of Rome. Pope Clement XII opened the museums to the public in 1734. The museum’s stunning collection includes the Ancient Roman Dying Gaul (also known as the Dying Galatian) statue, the bronze statue of the Capitoline Wolf nursing Romulus and Remus and the original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius that once stood in Piazza del Campidoglio.
The Foro Romano or Roman Forum was formerly the center of day-to-day life in Rome. Surrounded by government buildings, residents referred to the area as Forum Magnum or the Forum. It also served as a venue for public speeches, criminal trials and gladiator matches.
Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano or the Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran is the cathedral church of Rome. The church, which is the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas, is home to the cathedra of the Roman bishop and is the ecumenical mother church of the Catholic faithful.
Giardino di Boboli or the Boboli Gardens is a vast garden located behind the Pitti Palace. It features a collection of Roman antiquities and sculptures from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The Boboli Gardens were laid out for the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Eleonora di Toledo.
For a uniquely different perspective of the “Eternal City,” head over to the Capuchin Crypt. Located beneath Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, the crypt is home to skeletal remains of thousands of bodies said to be Capuchin friars buried by their order, which adorn the crypt’s walls as a tribute to how swiftly time on Earth passes and humans’ mortality.
The Altare della Patria (or Altar of the Fatherland) is perhaps better known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (or the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II). Many also call it the Wedding Cake. Sitting between Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill, it was built to honor Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. The monument is also the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and features an eternal flame and the museum of Italian Unification.
Circus Maximus, which means the largest circus in Latin, was once home to chariot races during Roman times. The stadium, located between the Aventine and Palatine hills, could hold more than 150,000 spectators and was a model for circuses across the Roman Empire. It is today a public park.
The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Gallery of the Academy of Florence) is home to Michelangelo’s famed David statue and is the second most visited art museum in Italy. The museum dates to 1784 and has been home to the David sculpture since 1873. In addition to its most famous work of art, the museum houses paintings by Florentine artists, many from 1300-1600.
Benci di Cione and Simone di Francesco Talenti built the Loggia dei Lanzi, also known as the Loggia della Signoria, between 1376 and 1382. It is located on a corner of the Piazza della Signoria and adjoins the Uffizi Gallery. More than anything, the building is an open-air museum as it houses many historic statues.
The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) traverses the narrowest point of the Arno river. The current bridge dates to 1345, and miraculously, German troops didn’t destroy the bride as they fled the city during World War II. It is noted for shops along the bridge.
The 17th-century Baroque Sant’Agnese in Agone faces Piazza Navona, the location where the Saint Agnes, an early Christian saint, was martyred in the ancient Stadium of Domitian. Pope Innocent X instigated construction of the church, which began in 1652. Architects Girolamo Rainaldi and his son, Carlo Rainaldi, oversaw construction as did architect Francesco Borromini.
The Spanish Steps or Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti in Italian links Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, which is home to the church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti or Trinità dei Monti. Francesco de Sanctis designed the staircase, which was completed in 1725.
Dominican friars founded Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in 1221, making it one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It is part-museum, part-store selling traditional perfumes and elixirs. The Farmaceutica has been open to the public since 1612.
Palazzo Vecchio, which translates to Old Palace, is Florence’s town hall. The historic edifice is adjacent to the Piazza della Signoria and a copy of Michelangelo’s famed David statue; the Galleria dell’Accademia houses the original. It also overlooks the Loggia dei Lanzi, effectively an outdoor art gallery. Visitors who hike to the top of the Palazzo Vecchio’s bell tower are rewarded with stunning views of the city.
Palazzo Ducale (or the Doge’s Palace in English) is the former residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority in the former Venetian Republic. The old palace opened as a museum in 1923. Doge Agnello Participazio moved the seat of the Venetian government to the current location from the island of Malamocco in 810. Construction on the existing building began circa 1340.
Started in 27 BC, the Pantheon, built as a temple to the ancient Roman gods, is considered by many to be the glory of Rome. The building has it all, from columns to marble to monuments. Without a doubt, it is a testament to Rome’s grandeur and illustrious past.
Though it’s somewhat of a hike from the touristy parts of Florence, Piazzale Michelangelo is well worth the steps. Despite its name, Michelangelo did not design the piazza. Florentine architect Giuseppe Poggi did in 1869; it is merely named in honor of Michelangelo and features a replica of David, the man who is ever-present throughout Florence. The park offers stunning views of the city and the Arno river.
Piazza Navona was built on the former site of the first-century Stadium of Domitian, also know as Circus Agonalis (competition arena), following the form of the open space of the stadium. It was converted to a public square in the 15th century, and Pope Innocent X, who reigned from 1644 until 1655, is credited with transforming it into an example of Baroque Roman architecture and, largely because his family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced the piazza.
The crown jewel of Florence is the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore. The glorious cathedral dwarfs most other buildings in this city of about 356,000. Construction started in 1296 and was completed in 1436. Filippo Brunelleschi designed the famed dome. The building’s façade, generally described as a “neo-gothic façade of white, red and green marble,” is relatively new. It was completed in 1887 when the church was 591 years old.
The Ponte di Rialto (or Rialto Bridge in English) is one of the most famous bridges in Italy. The structure is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice and connects the districts (sestieri) of San Marco and San Polo. It was first built as a pontoon bridge in the 12th century but has been rebuilt several times since then.
Piazza San Marco (or St. Mark’s Square in English) is the primary public square (Piazza) in Venice. The origins of the square date to the early ninth century, though alterations were made over the years, including in the 12th and 15th centuries. St. Mark’s Basilica sits at the eastern end of the square. Napoleon allegedly called St. Mark’s Square “the drawing room of Europe,” though whether he did is debated.
Museo Correr began when Teodoro Correr, a member of a traditional Venetian family, bequeathed his collection to the city of Venice. Correr collected works of art and objects that reflect the history of Venice. The items were housed initially in the Correr family’s Grand Canal palace, which first opened to the public in 1836. In 1922, the collection moved to its current location on St. Mark’s Square, where it occupies the Napoleonic Wing and a portion of the Procuratie Nuove.