From the first set of walls, which date back to 15-30 B.C., till the last one in the mid-sixteenth century, up to five or six different wall designs (the count is controversial!) were built over the centuries to defend the city, following its various expansions and contractions.
Today, just a small portion of the last walls remains: the southern part, in the Oltrarno area. The walls of the north side of the Arno river were destroyed to create today’s boulevards in the nineteenth century, when, for a brief period, Florence was the capital of Italy.
Fortunately, some strong and impressive remnants of the ancient city walls still survive: the doors (porte) and a few towers.
Here is the list of the doors that can be seen in town (clockwise, starting from the north), with some information and curiosities on each, and a few tips about where to spot the “invisible” ones!
The door is located in the south part of the busy Piazza della Libertà (Freedom Square); facing another huge monument, the Arch of Triumph.
The construction of the door began in 1285, as shown by an inscription, and the keys are today conserved in the Florence Historical and Topographical Museum (which is currently closed).
This monumental gate of 1284 (perhaps designed by Arnolfo di Cambio) is now in the middle of Piazza Beccaria. The name comes from the cross that was once in this area, indicating the place where, according to tradition, San Miniato, the first martyr of Florence, was beheaded.
The door used to be higher but, like almost all the other gates and towers in the city, was lowered in the sixteenth century, during the siege of 1529-1530, to make it less vulnerable to gunfire.
Today, it is considered an “oasis of salvation” for the pedestrians that need to cross the busy boulevard.
This was the tower that used to “close” the eastern part of the walls; today, it stands isolated and massive at the crossroad between the boulevard and the Lungarno.
In the sixteenth century, it was lowered, like the other doors, and connected to a series of buildings with machines that were powered by water. Among these was the Zecca fiorentina – the Florentine Mint – where the city’s “golden florins” were coined (the three floors of the tower are expected to house the Museum of the Florin in the future).
To the Torre della Zecca is also linked the dream of the Florentines to someday pass under the Arno! In fact, a few narrow corridors start from the underground floors of the tower and one of them (now flooded) is said to pass under the river, to the other side of the city.
It was the door/tower from which the southern part of the city walls began; it was built in 1324, during the work for the last set of walls, and it’s one of the most beautiful and best preserved (and recently restored) doors in town. Its charm and grandeur is due to the fact that, unlike the others, it was not lowered in the sixteenth century and thus is the only door that retains its original height (however, the battlements were added in the nineteenth century).
A tip and an anecdote:
- Since 2011, visitors can climb the tower during the summer months and enjoy one of the most spectacular views of the city.
- In June 2012, Florentines woke up to find the tower like this and a smiling Clet!
This door of the 1320 is inserted in one of the few well-preserved sections of the wall and this gives it considerable charm.
It has a completely different structure from that of the other doors, lacking the tower.
The wooden door is a recent copy of the original one.
A small door from 1324 (lowered in the sixteenth century, following the suggestion of Michelangelo, who was at the time in charge of fortifications) in one of the most beautiful, greenest and lesser known parts of Florence.
The door has a bas-relief of the fourteenth century in the lunette of St. George slaying the dragon by Andrea da Pontedera (it’s a copy; the original is located in Palazzo Vecchio) – and a Madonna and Child with Sts Leonardo and George by Bicci di Lorenzo, on the inside.
Built in 1326, it was an important point of access to the city as it still is today. The two large wooden doors are originals.
The door was part of the sixth set of walls of the city and was built between 1332 and 1334 based on a design, attributed to Andrea Pisano. It was probably the most majestic door, but (unfortunately) was lowered in the sixteenth century, like the others.
Among all the doors of Florence, this is the one in which the original wooden door, including the bolts, is best preserved. On the outer wall, the iron rings to tie the horses are those of the time.
Above the arch, on the side facing the city, you can see the crest of Florence.
It is now basically converted into a traffic-island and yet is one of the oldest doors of the city among those still remaining (1285, with subsequent lowering, of course).
The name is derived from that of the forecourt, once called “Il Prato” (The Field), because it was not paved and was used for the cattle market.
The hidden doors:
A few meters from Porta a Prato, almost hidden, is a tower that was built on the spot where the walls formed a corner, guarding a small door used by the military to access the walkway. The “Serpe” (serpent) was a famous head-guard.
A fourteenth-century door that can be identified by looking the Fortezza da Basso from the outside (it was incorporated in the fortress during the first half of the sixteenth century).
It marks the point where the fourteenth-century walls stopped, continuing ideally in the river. It was also known as the “Torre della Saggina” (Tower of Garbage): in this area, outside the walls, garbage and carcasses of dead animals were abandoned.