Where Piazza del Duomo is Florence’s religious focus, (1) Piazza della Signoria forms its civic heart. For centuries the city was run from the (2) Palazzo Vecchio in this piazza, a rambling palace filled with spectacular salons and precious works of art.
Take in the statues beneath the 14th-century (3) Loggia dei Lanzi on the piazza’s southern flank, notably Donatello’s “Judith and Holofernes.” Then follow Via Vacchereccia from the square’s southwest corner to the (4) Mercato Nuovo at the corner with Via Por Santa Maria, a small, loggia-shaded market that dates from the 11th century.
From the market walk west to visit the (5) Palazzo Davanzati, on Via Porta Rossa on the corner of Via de’ Sassetti—it is one of Florence’s most enchanting museums. The interior preserves the appearance, furniture, and fittings of a medieval Florentine town house.
Either continue west from here, or backtrack a little to pick up one of the small alleys south off Via Porta Rossa to Via delle Terme and then Borgo Santi Apostoli. Both these streets are quieter and more appealing to explore than Via Porta Rossa.
All three streets west eventually bring you to (6) Santa Trinità in Piazza Santa Trinità, a church bypassed by most visitors. Step inside to admire the many frescoes, especially those of Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Cappella Sassetti (1482-85).
Then take Via del Parione to the west of the church, looking out for the tiny alley (first right) that takes you to Via del Purgatorio, where you should turn left to (7) Palazzo Rucellai, on Via della Vigna Nuova opposite Via del Purgatorio. The latter dates from the 1440s and is known for its restrained classical facade.
Turn right (east) down Via della Vigna Nuova to Via de’ Tornabuoni, two streets with the lion’s share of Florence’s designer stores. Either explore the smart boutiques here or turn immediately left on Via della Spada and then right on Via delle Belle Donne to Piazza Santa Maria della Novella.
The piazza is home to (8) Santa Maria della Novella, the city’s most compelling church (www.smn.it) after Santa Croce. Amid countless artistic highlights, the key treasures are Masaccio’s painting of the “La Trinità” (1427) and the fresco series in the chancel and its flanking chapels.
Follow Via dei Banchi from the east side of the piazza and take the first alley on the left, crossing Via dei Panzani and following Via del Giglio to the entrance to the (9) Cappelle Medicee in Piazza Maria Madonna degli Aldobrandini. This complex of crypts and chapels contains the tombs of many members of the Medici dynasty, but is best known for several major sculptures by Michelangelo, created to adorn the tombs of the family’s more notable members.
One block north of the chapels, off Via Del Ariento, is the (10) Mercato Centrale, or central market, a fantastic medley of color and activity, crammed with fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, herbs, pasta, and seasonal specialties such as truffles, wild boar, and plump porcini mushrooms.
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