Florence is a city of many secrets. Tucked away between the alleys of the Renaissance City, under the thatched red roofs are alcoves of hidden treasure, linked to this Tuscan town’s rich heritage. History is everywhere, set in the most unsuspecting places, and in the most unassuming buildings. These are six secret treasures of Florence, Italy.
The Burning Location of Savonarola (Piazza Della Signoria)
At the height of the Florentine renaissance, in a time that art, culture, and thought were flourishing, a fiery Catholic priest named Savonarola captured the attention of the city and denounced their idolization of material wealth. In an attempt to cleanse the city, he set forth the infamous “Bonfire of the Vanities”. His power grew to where he declared himself more powerful than the pope, who excommunicated the priest and had him executed at the stake in the exact spot of his bonfire. A non-descript plaque in Piazza Della Signoria marks the spot of this dark moment in Florentine history.
The Church of Dante Alighieri (Santa Margherita dei Cerchi, Via Del Corso)
In a small chapel, tucked behind an alleyway near Florence’s Duomo, is the place where one of history’s great poets found his muse. This is the chapel where Dante first saw his beloved Beatrice, and was inspired to write the Divine Comedy. Beatrice, her nanny, and members of her family, the Portinari, are buried here, and it’s customary for star-struck lovers to leave notes at her shrine, asking for her blessing. The chapel also contains a 15th-century altarpiece and a painted tribute to Dante and his great inspiration. Just around the corner is the purported house where Dante was raised.
The Pre-Fresco at San Miniato Del Monte
Florence is full of rich artistic works: bright frescoes, gleaming statues, altarpieces steeped in history. Inside this 11th-century church, sitting on a hill high above the city, to the right of the altar, is a fascinating restored “cartoon” the drawing on the wall before the fresco is applied. A fresco is when the artist applies paint to wet plaster. Before the painting, the artist draws a cartoon, a rendering of the scene they will paint. This drawing depicts a woman praying to a small crucifix as she is watched over from another hooded figure. It’s a rare opportunity to see an ancient work that never took form. Next to the church is a small cemetery including the grave of Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio.
Michelangelo’s Wooden Crucifix (Santo Spirito)
Michelangelo Is known for his work with gleaming marble, particularly the David, but a wooden crucifix in a nave of the Santo Spirito church is an example of his early work. The figure is nude, displaying the young artist’s talent for replicating the human body. The statue, constructed circa 1492, was lost until its rediscovery and attribution to the Florentine artist in the 60’s. Michelangelo is said to have formed the statue’s anatomy from bodies that he sketched during studies in the city morgue. See this statue without having to deal with the crowds around Michelangelo’s more famous works.
The Cathedral Within a Cathedral under Florence’s Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore)
Brunelleschi’s iconic orange dome is the undisputed symbol of the city. For centuries, it has stood at the religious heart of the city of Florence. In 1965, excavations under the floor of the present cathedral revealed spectacular mosaics, Roman architecture, and decorative panels built on a distinctive cathedral axis. These are the remains of Florence’s original cathedral, Santa Reparata, constructed when Florence was a Roman colony. It’s an opportunity to see Florence as it was before the Renaissance, and the site contains the tombs of the cathedral’s noble families and original bishops.
Pontormo’s Deposition from the Cross (Santa Felicita)
Pontormo is one of the lesser known, but still great artists of the Renaissance. Entering the scene late in the period, he bridged the gap between realism and imagination, so much so that many consider him to be a predecessor to surrealism. The Deposition from the Cross – is his remaining masterpiece, set in a tiny church near the Ponte Vecchio. Notable here, are the bright pastel-like colors, unusual for renaissance painting, the elongated figures, and the twisted, Michelangelo-esque poses. While the crowds are admiring the Uffizi, slip away and enjoy the freedom and the solitude that the works in the churches have to offer.