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Things to Do in Tuscany - page 4

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Santa Maria della Scala
7 Tours and Activities

Santa Maria della Scala was one of Europe’s first hospitals. Established by the Catholic priests of the Siena Duomo, it housed and cared for those making the pilgrimage across Europe to Rome, and also took care of the local poor and took in orphaned and abandoned children.

To impress God and each other, the local wealthy families of the 15th century gave generously to the hospital, including commissioning important artists to decorate the building. The external frescoes are now all lost but interior works remain, including a series of frescoes telling the story of the hospital located in the Pilgrim’s Hall on the fourth floor.

Nearby is the original church that the hospital grew around, Church of Santissima Annunziata. On the third floor is the original of Jacopo della Quercia’s Fonte Gaia, the fountain of joy – a copy is in the Piazza del Campo.

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Arezzo Piazza Grande
6 Tours and Activities

The oldest square in the Tuscan city of Arezzo has the appropriate name of Piazza Grande, or Great Square. Dating back to the Medieval era, the piazza was once the site of the city's main market. Today, it plays host to the monthly antiques market that is one of the largest in Italy. It's also where the annual Joust of the Saracen is held. Notable buildings surrounding the Piazza Grande include the 14th-century Fraternita dei Laici palazzo, a loggia designed by Giogio Vasari, a 13th-century Episcopal Palace, and part of the 13th-century Romanesque Apse of Santa Maria della Pieve.

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Siena Piazza del Mercato
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5 Tours and Activities

If you're at all familiar with the Italian language, you'll no doubt recognize that the Piazza del Mercato in Siena is the city's historic market square.

Located behind the iconic town hall and tower in Siena's historic center, the Piazza del Mercato was the setting for an outdoor market in this Tuscan town as far back as the 12th century. Vendors at those first markets sold the same things you'll find on sale at Italian markets today – meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, as well as household items, clothing, and even fuel such as coal and oil.

Early on, the stands were structures that remained in the Piazza del Mercato all the time, even when the market was closed. Later, the vendors were moved to the nearby Piazza del Campo, and in the 1950s the market was moved to Viale XXIV Aprile.

Today, even though the name Piazza del Mercato no longer reflects the purpose of the square, it's a good spot to go in Siena to enjoy views of the hills behind the town hall.

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San Frediano
4 Tours and Activities

Entering the neighborhood of San Frediano means historically passing through the Porta San Frediano, which was once a door to the walled city, leading to one of Florence’s most popular residential areas in the present day. The trendy area has a variety of culture, cuisine, and art that contribute to its cosmopolitan feel. The neighborhood is home to many artisans that have kept their workshops here for decades. It has been compared to the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Many will cross the bridges on the river from the historic city center to enjoy a greater variety of food and drink in a less expensive price range.

After crossing through the Porta San Frediano, the Chiesa San Frediano in Cestello becomes visible. The 17th century church was built on the site of an older monastery, Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was founded in 1450.

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Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)
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47 Tours and Activities

Behind the massive Pitti Palace lies the enormous Boboli Gardens - both were once the private domain of Florence’s ruling Medici family, but today they’re both open to the public. The Boboli Gardens are not only typical of formal Italian gardens of the 16th century - they’re actually some of the earliest examples of the style. Along with the manicured lawns, blooming plants, and fountains that you’d expect from a garden, these also have a fine collection of 16th-18th century sculptures on display in different parts of the grounds. The Boboli Gardens were originally started for the wife of Cosimo I de Medici in the 1540s, and were added to later in the 16th century and again in the 17th century. Notable features include tree-lined pathways, sculpture-filled grottos, and an amphitheater with an Egyptian obelisk at its center.

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San Marco Museum
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4 Tours and Activities

In a city filled with famous art, San Marco Museum has the distinction of holding the largest collection of sacred art in Florence. Some of its more significant pieces include the works of Mariotto Albertinelli and Fra' Bartolomeo and a large fresco by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, as well as Fra' Angelico's famous Annunciation on the upper floor. The monk’s cells are lined with beautiful frescoes meant to spur spiritual reflection. Another section displays a fascinating arrangement of sculpture and architecture, with a collection of old bells and fragments of demolished city center buildings.

The museum is housed in a former Dominican convent that was restored by the architect Michelozzo in the period of the De Medicis. Its light-filled library contains a collection of historic illuminated manuscripts, as well as a present day convent library with books on philosophy and theology.

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Ospedale degli Innocenti
2 Tours and Activities

Florence’s one-of-a-kind Ospedale degi Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) is the oldest orphanage on the continent and offers travelers the perfect blend of Italian history, Roman artistry, classic architecture and lush gardens. It can only be described as one of the city’s oddest—and most beautiful—attractions. Built during the early 15th century, Ospedale degli Innocenti has served as a center of care for infants and children for more than 500 years and today also operates as a home for some of the nation’s best-known works of art.

In addition to a vast gallery, this historic landmark is also home to open cloisters and plenty of hospital-like rooms, including an infirmary and group dormitories. Travelers can explore the grounds and bear witness to giant frescos that depict scenes from the historic site’s lengthy past.

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More Things to Do in Tuscany

Brancacci Chapel (Cappella Brancacci)

Brancacci Chapel (Cappella Brancacci)

3 Tours and Activities

Inside the Santa Maria del Carmine church in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood is a particularly famous chapel, the Brancacci Chapel. It’s famous not for who is buried there or who the chapel honors, but for the art that decorates it.

The cycle of frescoes that adorn the walls of the Brancacci Chapel were painted largely by Masaccio. He began work in 1424 when he was only 21 years old. Masaccio died only six years later in Rome, leaving the frescoes unfinished. Some were later completed by Filippino Lippi. After some restoration work, the chapel - called by some the “Sistine Chapel of the early Renaissance" - has been cleaned of centuries of dirt, making the frescoes appear almost as colorful as they might have been when they were first painted. Among the more famous panels is Masaccio’s “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” and “Payment of the Tribute Money.”

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St Mark’s Anglican Church

St Mark’s Anglican Church

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2 Tours and Activities

This historic Anglican Church in Florence, Italy has English roots — remaining one of three worship centers that form the chaplaincy of the Church of England (the other two are St. Peter’s in Siena and a growing congregation in Bologna.) Built in 1881, it is steeped in local history — part of an old Medici palace, later owned by Machiavelli, and then renovated in neb-renaissance style. It is known as a symbol of Renaissance architecture.

The church often serves the homeless community of Florence and holds mass regularly. It remains a center of Anglo-Catholic religion for the British expat community in Florence. The beautiful interior of the Anglican Church is furthermore a hub of historic art and one of the most celebrated concert venues in Florence with classical performances in music, choral singing, and opera as well as a variety of visiting performers. With only 150 seats, it is an intimate venue to experience a live concert.

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National Art Gallery of Siena (Pinacoteca Nazionale Siena)

National Art Gallery of Siena (Pinacoteca Nazionale Siena)

1 Tour and Activity

Since 1932, one of Italy's largest art collections has been housed here in the Late Gothic Palazzo Buonsignori. Begun in the late 18th century by collector Abbot Giuseppe Ciaccheri, the collection continued to grow through donations and bequests and was taken over by the Italian State in 1930.

The collection is made up of masterpieces from the Sienese school of the 14th and 15th centuries including paintings by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers. The painters from Siena might not be as famous as the big stars from Florence (Michelangelo, da Vinci, etc.) but their painting is just as impressive, if less concerned with changing the world of art.

In the 1970s, the Spannocchi Collection was added which focuses on Northern and Flemish artists such as Durer. There is also now a Sala delle Sculture to house sculpture from the Sienese school of the 14th and 15th centuries.

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Piccolomini Library (Libreria Piccolomini)

Piccolomini Library (Libreria Piccolomini)

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The Piccolomini Library is a library within the cathedral in Siena, Italy. The library was designed in the 1400s, and visitors can admire the beautiful ceiling that is covered in frescoes painted by Pinturicchio in 1502. The colorful frescoes depict images of figures in luxurious clothing, indoor settings, and detailed landscapes. The walls show important stages of the life of Pope Pius II in ten different sections. Some of the parts of his life that you can see painted here include when he was an ambassador to the European courts, paying homage to the new Emperor and then to the Pope at the time, presenting Eleonora of Aragon to the Emperor Frederick III, becoming a cardinal, and then becoming the Pope.

The library was built by Pope Pius III to house the manuscripts of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, his uncle who was Pope Pius II before him. Though most of the manuscripts are not here, visitors can see several hand-designed volumes on display.

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Stibbert Museum

Stibbert Museum

1 Tour and Activity
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Villa Gamberaia

Villa Gamberaia

1 Tour and Activity
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Siena Cathedral Museum (Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana)

Siena Cathedral Museum (Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana)

Also known as the Duomo Museum, the building was intended to be part of the Nuovo Duomo, the expansion of Siena’s cathedral to become the largest in Italy in the 14th century. However, the plague of 1348 put a stop to such grand plans and now what was once a nave is a museum housing important art works from the cathedral.

On the ground level are sculptures including the 13th century statues by Giovanni Pisano that once adorned the front of the Duomo. Upstairs is an early 14th century masterpiece by Duccio di Buoninsegna, the Maesta (Virgin Mary in Majesty). It’s a double sided screen which was once on the high altar in the next-door cathedral. Other important paintings of the Senese school are here including Lorenzetti’s Birth of the Virgin which broke with tradition and could have signaled a new genius if he hadn’t died of the plague.

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Michelangelo's Statue of David (Il Davide di Michelangelo)

Michelangelo's Statue of David (Il Davide di Michelangelo)

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There is no shortage of “David” statues in Florence, but if you want to see the real thing—the one that inspired all the copies—you've got to go to the Galleria dell'Accademia, or Accademia Gallery. It was custom built to showcase Michelangelo's masterpiece, and it does so beautifully.

Michelangelo's “David” was carved from 1501 to 1504 and originally stood at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza della Signoria. Not long after the statue was unveiled, a particularly rowdy fight taking place in the Palazzo led to a chair getting thrown out of a window—directly onto the David's arm, which broke in three places. The statue was moved to its present home in 1873 to further protect it from damage, and a replica was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the spot where the original first stood.

The marble Michelangelo was given to work with for this statue was imperfect and had already been partly carved by his predecessor.

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Montalcino

Montalcino

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7 Tours and Activities

The pretty Tuscan hill town of Montalcino is about 25 miles southeast of Siena, and perhaps best known for its exceptional Brunello di Montalcino wine.

The founding of Montalcino is closely associated with the nearby Abbey of Sant'Antimo – the monks likely established a church on this hill in the 9th century as they were establishing their monastery. The medieval walls (dating from the 13th century) still surround part of the city, and the 14th century fortress still occupies the summit of the hill. Many of the buildings in Montalcino date from the 13th-14th centuries.

As you might expect from a wine-producing town, many of the slopes of the hills surrounding Montalcino are covered in vineyards. The famous Brunello di Montalcino is made from local sangiovese grapes, and is responsible for much of the economic growth of the town in recent decades. Montalcino and another wine-producing town nearby, Montepulciano, are great day trips in Tuscany for wine lovers.

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Abbey of Sant'Antimo (Abbazia di Sant'Antimo)

Abbey of Sant'Antimo (Abbazia di Sant'Antimo)

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Reportedly founded by the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne back in 781, the abbey church at Sant'Antimo is one of Tuscany's most beautiful sights, set against a backdrop of olive-smothered hills in a river valley. Constructed of mellow, cream-colored travertine, the structure more likely began life in the ninth century before the apse, delicately frescoed side chapels and cloisters were completed in 1260. Its Romanesque style features a façade carved with figures of the Apostles, while an ornate bell tower is decorated in Lombardian style with two bells. Travelers can further admire the church's luminous, alabaster interior and its carved columns while keeping an eye out for the 13th-century crucifix that guards the altar. Thanks to its proximity to the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between France and Rome, Sant'Antimo was once one of the most powerful Benedictine abbeys in Tuscany before it was closed by Pope Pius II in 1462.

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