16 Best Sights in San Lorenzo, Florence

Mercato Centrale

San Lorenzo Fodor's choice

Some of the food at this huge, two-story market hall is remarkably exotic. The ground floor contains meat and cheese stalls, as well as some very good bars that have panini. The upstairs food hall is eerily reminiscent of food halls everywhere, but the quality of the food served more than makes up for this. The downstairs market is closed on Sunday; the upstairs food hall is always open.

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Basilica di San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo

Filippo Brunelleschi designed this basilica, as well as that of Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno, in the 15th century. He never lived to see either finished. The two interiors are similar in design and effect. San Lorenzo, however, has a grid of dark, inlaid marble lines on the floor, which considerably heightens the dramatic effect. Brunelleschi's Sagrestia Vecchia (Old Sacristy) has stucco decorations by Donatello; it's at the end of the left transept.

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

San Lorenzo

Michelangelo the architect was every bit as original as Michelangelo the sculptor. He was interested in experimentation, invention, and the expression of a personal vision that was at times highly idiosyncratic. It was never more idiosyncratic than in the Laurentian Library, begun in 1524 and finished in 1568 by Bartolomeo Ammannati. Its famous vestibolo, a strangely shaped anteroom, has had scholars scratching their heads for centuries. In a space more than two stories high, why did Michelangelo limit his use of columns and pilasters to the upper two-thirds of the wall? Why didn't he rest them on strong pedestals instead of on huge, decorative curlicue scrolls, which rob them of all visual support? Why did he recess them into the wall, which makes them look weaker still? The architectural elements give the room a soft, rubbery look that is one of the strangest effects ever achieved by 16th-century architecture.

Piazza San Lorenzo 9, Florence, 50123, Italy
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Rate Includes: Special exhibitions €3, Check ahead on opening days and times as this site has seen temporary closures

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Cappelle Medicee

San Lorenzo

This magnificent complex includes the Cappella dei Principi, the Medici chapel and mausoleum that was begun in 1605 and kept marble workers busy for several hundred years, and the Sagrestia Nuova (New Sacristy), designed by Michelangelo and so called to distinguish it from Brunelleschi's Sagrestia Vecchia (Old Sacristy) in San Lorenzo.

Michelangelo received the commission for the New Sacristy in 1520 from Cardinal Giulio de' Medici (1478–1534), who later became Pope Clement VII. The cardinal wanted a new burial chapel for his cousins Giuliano, Duke of Nemours (1478–1534), and Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino (1492–1519). He also wanted to honor his father, also named Giuliano, and his uncle, Lorenzo il Magnifico. The result was a tour de force of architecture and sculpture.

Architecturally, Michelangelo was as original and inventive here as ever, but it is, quite properly, the powerfully sculpted tombs that dominate the room. The scheme is allegorical: on the tomb on the right are figures representing Day and Night, and on the tomb to the left are figures representing Dawn and Dusk. Above them are idealized sculptures of the two men, usually interpreted to represent the active life and the contemplative life. But the allegorical meanings are secondary; what is most important is the intense presence of the sculptural figures and the force with which they hit the viewer.

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Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, Florence, 50100, Italy
055-294883-reservations
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Rate Includes: €9, Closed Tues., and 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sun. of month

Cenacolo di Sant'Apollonia

San Marco

The frescoes in the refectory of a former Benedictine nunnery were painted in sinewy style by Andrea del Castagno, a follower of Masaccio (1401–28). The Last Supper is a powerful version of this typical refectory theme. From the entrance, walk around the corner to Via San Gallo 25 and take a peek at the lovely 15th-century cloister that belonged to the same monastery but is now part of the University of Florence.

Chiostro dello Scalzo

San Marco

Often overlooked, this small, peaceful 16th-century cloister was frescoed in grisaille by Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) and Franciabigio with scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, Florence's patron saint. Note that temporary closures are a possibility at this site, so check on accessibility before visiting.

Galleria dell'Accademia

San Marco

The collection of Florentine paintings, dating from the 13th to 18th century, is largely unremarkable, but the sculptures by Michelangelo are worth the price of admission. The unfinished Slaves, fighting their way out of their marble prisons, were meant for the tomb of Michelangelo's overly demanding patron, Pope Julius II (1443–1513). But the focal point is the original David, moved here from Piazza della Signoria in 1873. It was commissioned in 1501 by the Opera del Duomo (Cathedral Works Committee), which gave the 26-year-old sculptor a leftover block of marble that had been ruined 40 years earlier by two other sculptors. Michelangelo's success with the block was so dramatic that the city showered him with honors, and the Opera del Duomo voted to build him a house and a studio in which to live and work.

Today, David is beset not by Goliath but by tourists, and seeing the statue at all—much less really studying it—can be a trial. Save yourself a long wait in line by reserving tickets in advance. A plexiglass barrier surrounds the sculpture, following a 1991 attack on it by a self-proclaimed hammer-wielding art anarchist who, luckily, inflicted only a few minor nicks on the toes. The statue is not quite what it seems. It is so poised and graceful and alert—so miraculously alive—that it is often considered the definitive sculptural embodiment of High Renaissance perfection. But its true place in the history of art is a bit more complicated.

As Michelangelo well knew, the Renaissance painting and sculpture that preceded his work were deeply concerned with ideal form. Perfection of proportion was the ever-sought Holy Grail; during the Renaissance, ideal proportion was equated with ideal beauty, and ideal beauty was equated with spiritual perfection. But David, despite its supremely calm and dignified pose, departs from these ideals. Michelangelo didn't give the statue perfect proportions. The head is slightly too large for the body, the arms are too large for the torso, and the hands are dramatically large for the arms.

The work was originally commissioned to adorn the exterior of the Duomo and was intended to be seen from below and at a distance. Michelangelo knew exactly what he was doing, calculating that the perspective of the viewer would be such that, in order for the statue to appear proportioned, the upper body, head, and arms would have to be bigger, as they would be farther away. But he also sculpted it to express and embody, as powerfully as possible in a single figure, an entire biblical story. David's hands are big, but so was Goliath, and these are the hands that slew him.  Music lovers might want to check out the Museo delgli Instrumenti Musicali, also within the Accademia; its Stradivarius is the main attraction.

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Giardino dei Semplici

San Marco

Created by Cosimo I in 1550, this delightful garden was designed by favorite Medici architect Niccolò Tribolo. Many of the plants here have been grown since the 16th century. Springtime, especially May, is a particularly beautiful time to visit, as multitudes of azaleas create a riot of color.

Museo Archeologico

Santissima Annunziata

Of the Etruscan, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman antiquities here, the Etruscan collection is particularly notable—one of the most important in Italy (the other being in Turin). The famous bronze Chimera was discovered without its tail, which is a 16th-century reconstruction by Cellini. If you're traveling with kids, they might particularly enjoy the small mummy collection. Those with a fondness for gardens should visit on Saturday morning, when the tiny but eminently pleasurable garden is open for tours. If you're going to the Uffizi, hang on to your ticket, as admission to this museum is free.

Museo dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure

San Marco

Adjacent to this fascinating small museum is an opificio, or workshop, that Ferdinand I established in 1588 to train craftsmen in the art of working with precious and semiprecious stones and marble (pietre dure means hard stones). Four hundred–plus years later, the workshop is renowned as a center for the restoration of mosaics and inlays in semiprecious stones. The museum is highly informative and includes some magnificent late-Renaissance examples of this highly specialized and beautiful craft. If you're going to the Uffizi, do keep your ticket, as entrance to this museum is free.

Museo di Casa Martelli

San Lorenzo

The wealthy Martelli family, long associated with the all-powerful Medici, lived, from the 16th century, in this palace on a quiet street near the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The last Martelli died in 1986, and, in October 2009, the casa-museo (house-museum) opened to the public. It's the only nonreconstructed example of such a house in all of Florence, and for that reason alone it's worth a visit. The family collected art, and while most of the stuff is B-list, a few gems by Beccafumi, Salvatore Rosa, and Piero di Cosimo adorn the walls. 

Museo di San Marco

San Lorenzo

A former Dominican convent adjacent to the church of San Marco houses this museum, which contains many stunning works by Fra Angelico (circa 1400–55), the Dominican friar famous for his piety as well as for his painting. When the friars' cells were restructured between 1439 and 1444, he decorated many of them with frescoes meant to spur religious contemplation. His unostentatious and direct paintings exalt the simple beauties of the contemplative life. Don't miss the famous Annunciation, on the upper floor, and the works in the gallery off the cloister as you enter. Here you can see his beautiful Last Judgment; as usual, the tortures of the damned are far more inventive and interesting than the pleasures of the redeemed.

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Palazzo Medici-Riccardi

San Lorenzo

The main attraction of this palace, begun in 1444 by Michelozzo for Cosimo de' Medici, is the interior chapel, the Cappella dei Magi, on the piano nobile (main floor). Painted on its walls is Benozzo Gozzoli's famous Procession of the Magi, finished in 1460 and celebrating both the birth of Christ and the greatness of the Medici family. Keep in mind that the admission fee is a bit pricey when you consider that visits are limited to 15 minutes and the chapel is the only interesting thing to see in the building.

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Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi

Santa Croce

One of Florence's hidden treasures, a cool and composed Crucifixion by Perugino (circa 1445/50–1523), is in the chapter house of the monastery below this church. Here you can see the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist with Mary Magdalene and saints Benedict and Bernard of Clairvaux posed against a simple but haunting landscape. The figure of Christ crucified occupies the center of this brilliantly hued fresco. Perugino's colors radiate—note the juxtaposition of the yellow-green cuff against the orange tones of Magdalene's robe. Entrance to this beauteous fresco is through the Liceo Michelangelo (a high school). Check on temporary closures, a possibility at this site, before visiting.

Via della Colonna 9, Florence, 50121, Italy
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Rate Includes: Suggested donation €1, Check on opening days and times as this site has experienced temporary closures

Santissima Annunziata

San Lorenzo

Dating from the mid-13th century, this church was restructured in 1447 by Michelozzo, who gave it an uncommon (and lovely) entrance cloister with frescoes by Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530), Pontormo (1494–1556), and Rosso Fiorentino (1494–1540). Another fresco is note is the very fine Holy Trinity with St. Jerome in the second chapel on the left. Done by Andrea del Castagno (circa 1421–57), it shows a wiry and emaciated St. Jerome with Paula and Eustochium, two of his closest followers. 

Piazza di Santissima Annunziata, Florence, 50121, Italy
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Rate Includes: Free

Spedale degli Innocenti

San Lorenzo

The building built by Brunelleschi in 1419 to serve as an orphanage takes the historical prize as the very first Renaissance building. Brunelleschi designed its portico with his usual rigor, constructing it from the two shapes he considered mathematically (and therefore philosophically and aesthetically) perfect: the square and the circle. Below the level of the arches, the portico encloses a row of perfect cubes; above the level of the arches, the portico encloses a row of intersecting hemispheres. The entire geometric scheme is articulated with Corinthian columns, capitals, and arches borrowed directly from antiquity.

At the time he designed the portico, Brunelleschi was also designing the interior of San Lorenzo, using the same basic ideas. But because the portico was finished before San Lorenzo, the Spedale degli Innocenti can claim the honor of ushering in Renaissance architecture. The 10 ceramic medallions depicting swaddled infants that decorate the portico are by Andrea della Robbia (1435–1525/28), done in about 1487.

Within the building is the small Museo degli Innocenti. Although most of the objects are minor works by major artists, they're still worth a look. Of note is Domenico Ghirlandaio's (1449–94) Adorazione dei Magi (Adoration of the Magi), executed in 1488. 

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