In addition to having the best art museums in the world, Florence boasts a few amazing old churches that carry inside incredible art and history. Many of these incredible churches look very simple on the outside, but will amaze you once you step inside. With a bit of planning, you can organize your visit to this beautiful city by including some of these incredible churches in Florence.
In Florence, besides being spiritual places, old churches are art and history museums as well. Churches in Florence contain amazing art and architecture and they are well worth your time to visit. So, in addition to planning time for visiting the best museums in Florence, I recommend including a visit to these few amazing churches in Florence.
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What you Need to Know about Visiting Churches in Florence Italy?
Since all these churches are old structures, they try to limit the amount of people visiting. As a consequence, many of the churches in Florence have limited visiting hours, so it is best to plan ahead.
If your children have trouble staying relatively quiet, I would plan for shorter trips to church museums. These are places of worship as well as museums, and it’s important to respect the peaceful atmosphere.
With these few remarks and our walking tour map of Florence in hand let’s start exploring the best churches in Florence.
1. Florence Cathedral
Beautiful details from the entrance door to Florence Cathedral
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Florence Cathedral is the largest building in Florence, and it dominates Florence’s skyline. This is also the place everyone gravitates towards: the imposing Florence Cathedral, or as the locals call it: Il Duomo di Firenze (The Dome of Florence). The dome of Florence Cathedral, was designed and built by the famous architect Brunelleschi after a heated competition with another designer, Lorenzo Ghiberti, for the rights to the project. The dome took almost twenty years to build and it is the most significant feature of Florence’s skyline.
2. Santa Croce
The Church of Santa Croce is among the must-see churches in Florence Italy. It’s façade used similar material as Il Duomo.
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Why is it one of the best churches in Florence Italy? While Santa Croce is smaller and not as well known as the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore, the city’s largest and most central cathedral), it features a museum with some of the most memorable Gothic art and architecture in the region.
The sixteen chapels within are decorated with frescoes by Giotto and Cimabue and, a relief sculpture by Donatello, and ceramics by Della Robbia, and the cloisters were designed by Brunelleschi. The striking marble façade notably features a large Star of David; it was designed by the Jewish architect Niccolo Matas in 1857. The church houses these artworks and a rose garden within its peaceful grounds. Many museums do not cost any money to enter, but the small fee that Santa Croce charges to view the museum aids in the restoration of many historically significant artworks.
Santa Croce Visiting Tips: Take note of the ornate tombs that line the walls of the church – they house the remains of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, and more famous Italian figures.
There is a tomb for Dante in Santa Croce as well, but his remains are in Ravenna. Dante was exiled from Florence due to his political associations with the White Guelphs, a political party that wanted Florence to obtain more independence from papal power in Rome. Thus, he could not be buried in Florence even though he lived there for most of his life.
3. Basilica di San Lorenzo
Why is it one of the best churches in Florence Italy? San Lorenzo doesn’t look like much from the outside, but is one of the richest places to experience Florentine history.
The medieval brick basilica was the primary church of the powerful Medici family, and inside you’ll find jewel-encrusted chapels, a library designed by Michelangelo, and a sacristy designed by Brunelleschi and decorated by Donatello. You’ll find the names of the artists who built and decorated San Lorenzo all over Florence – this is because they were held in high regard by the Medicis, whose commissions established the careers of some of Italy’s best-known artists.
San Lorenzo Visiting Tips: This cathedral is a must-visit for architecture lovers. Brunelleschi’s Old Sacristy is credited with inspiring a new era of architecture in Renaissance Italy.
4. Santa Maria del Carmine
Why is it one of the best churches in Florence Italy? The unfinished exterior of Santa Maria del Carmine does not adequately prepare visitors for the finery within. The ceiling was painted in stunning trompe l’oeil by Domenico Stagi during a renovation of the church in the Baroque style.
Along the nave of the church you’ll find the Brancacci chapel, home to frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino that are some of the most influential Early Renaissance artworks in existence.
The two painters used techniques like single-point perspective and chiaroscuro that distinguished the frescoes from the preceding two-dimensional Gothic style.
Santa Maria del Carmine Visiting Tips: Plan ahead if you want to see the famous frescoes – while you can enter the church of Santa Maria del Carmine freely, visiting times for the Brancacci chapel are limited and you may need to book your tickets in advance. See the link below for entry cost, hours, and other visiting requirements. If you are passionate about Renaissance history and art, it’s well worth the extra effort!
Why is Orsanmichele one of the best churches in Florence Italy? The construction of this church is quite unique, as you may notice from the building’s blocky, rectangular shape. It also lacks the typical dome and bell tower of many other gothic and Renaissance churches. Orsanmichele was originally used as a grain market and was eventually converted into a chapel for the many trade merchants of Florence. You’ll notice many statues in tabernacles around the exterior of the church – the city of Florence required the guilds of the various merchants to commission statues of their respective patron saints, and the guilds began an unofficial competition to hire the greatest artists for their sculptors. The statues outside the church are reproductions of works by Donatello, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, and many others.
Many of the original sculptures from the tabernacles outside are now inside the Orsanmichele museum and church, but you can find a couple at the Bargello Museum. Orsanmichele is ornately decorated inside as well, and there is a museum on the second floor of the building.
Orsanmichele Visiting Tips: Visiting hours to Orsanmichele can be very limited (entry is sometimes only allowed one day a week), so plan ahead!
Orsanmichele Address: The intersection of Via dell’Arte della Lana and Via Orsanmichele – about two blocks north of Piazza della Signoria off of Via dei Calzaiuoli
Is it Worth Visiting Old Churches in Florence Italy?
The answer is an emphatic yes! Especially when you include some of these specific churches into your visit to Florence, you will get a unique glimpse into the amazing Florentine history and art.
About the Author: Stephanie Manaster lived in Florence, Italy and spent a year traveling around the continent. She loves visiting churches, trying new restaurants, and getting lost on the wrong side of the river.
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