The tour starts from one of the most important churches of Florence: the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Begun in 1279, this building with a majestic façade in white and green marbles, is a testament of the vibrancy and activity of the Dominican community in Dante’s Florence. Here the Poet attended the famous Studium, one of the most important centres of theological and philosophical learning in Europe and had the opportunity to see the revolutionary Crucifix by Giotto (still visible in the Basilica today) and the Rucellai Madonna by Duccio (now housed in the Uffizi Galleries).
In the annexed museum, there is an interesting portrait of Dante among his contemporaries between the magnificent frescoes of the Cappellone Spagnoli or Spanish Chapel.
From Santa Maria Novella, cross Via delle Belle Donne and Via De' Tornabuoni to reach the Basilica of Santa Trinita. This church, with gothic interior and original internal façade of the eleventh century, witnessed many of the historical and cultural transformations of the thirteenth century Florence. It hosted important political meetings between the city’s warring factions, the White and Black Guelphs, and it was the place where Dante was sentenced to exile.
An image of the fifteenth century frescoes by Ghirlandaio ( Sassetti Chapel, to the right of the high altar), depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi, gives to observers the possibility to see how Santa Trinita area, church included, looked in the early thirteenth century. Among other artworks, the church also included the Maestà altar piece by Cimabue, now in the Uffizi Gallery.
Very close to Piazza Santa Trinita, there is the small church of Santi Apostoli. The Romanesque building was founded in mid-eleventh century and maintains its unadorned original façade and, inside, the typical mediaeval rounded arches and flat wooden roof. A building which takes us directly to the daily religious scenes of Dante’s period and whose rarefied atmosphere seems to have inspired the Poet vision of the so-called Limbo, whose nature was the subject of lively debates in the thirteenth century, described in his Comedy.
In fact, Santi Apostoli stands in Piazza del Limbo which was originally used as a cementary for infants, who having died before baptism, were believed to reside in this ‘unknown place’ in the afterlife.
To reach the tour's fourth stage, pass through the Borgo of Santi Apostoli and enter the Piazza della Signoria. Here, it is inevitable to look at the magnificent Palazzo Vecchio. Constructed between the late thirteenth century and the early fourteenth century to host the Priori and the Gonfaloniere of Justice, it was the political heart of the city. Although Dante did not see the first construction phase - started in 1299 and concluded in 1315 - it is an essential place to understand the political history of Florence which influenced the life and ideologies of the Poet.
Inside the museum (which also includes a work by Michelangelo in the Salone De' Cinquecento), there is Dante's funeral mask. Recently the archaeological area with remains of the Roman theatre and the Arnolfo Tower have been opened to the public.
From Piazza della Signoria, turn into Via dei Calzaiuoli, on the left there is the Orsanmichele Church and Museum. The building’s history, which can be located between the civil and religious architecture, is unique: the original small church of San Miniato in Orto (ninth century), was replaced in the 1280s by a grain market constructed by Arnolfo di Cambio and then re-converted in church. The image of the Virgin Mary (replaced by Madonna and Child by Bernardo Daddi), located on a pillar of the grain market loggia, attracted soon a devotional cult. Devotees gathered around it singing religious songs; Dante describes a similar scene in his Comedy where a group of souls came together to sing a praise.
Following the perimeter of the church, you can reach the Palazzo dell'Arte della Lana where the Italian Società Dantesca is based, born in 1888 with the aim of disseminating Dante’s knowledge and works.
Leaving Orsanmichele towards Piazza del Duomo, turn into Via Dante Alighieri: you are walking through what has come to be known as the Dantean quarter of the city. This area is characterized by a dense network of narrow streets and "case torre" or tower houses. These are typical medieval buildings somewhere between dwellings and fortifications (in the city there were more than 200 tower houses, some higher than 60 m.); one of the most meaningful example is the Torre dei Cerchi situated between Corso and Via dei Cerchi.
While little direct evidence is available to us, it is possible that Dante lived in this area of the city. In fact, in the nineteenth century a replica of a medieval tower house was built, now know has the Casa di Dante (Dante’s house), where there is also a museum about Dante, his life and works. The museum is located next to the Church of Santa Margherita dei Cerchi which houses the tomb of the beloved of whom Dante writes in his Comedy: Beatrice Portinari.
Walking down the Quarter, you can see the 33 commemorative plaques about Dante’s Comedy. Can you find them all?
Moving from Via Dante Alighieri and walking down Via dei Clazaiuoli, enter Piazza del Duomo. On the left you can see the Baptistery of San Giovanni. This magnificent Romanesque building, lined with white and green marbles, is dedicated to the patron saint of the city.
The Baptistery, called by Dante in his Comedy as “my beautiful San Giovanni”, was the place where Dante was baptised and the one he thinks about when the exiled poet hopes to return to his home city. Entering the Baptistery, the striking golden mosaics of the ceiling show us thirteenth century vision of Heaven and Hell, visions which Dante himself explores in the Comedy. Also depicted are the lives of Christ and Jhon the Baptist, and stories from the book of Genesis.
Leaving the Batpistery, enter the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo) and descend into the crypt of Santa Reparata. The crypt is archaeological site of the old cathedral of Santa Reparata (third century Christian virgin martyr). This was the real church of Dante and his contemporaries.
Behind the Cathedral, in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo there is a reconstruction of the ancient arnolfian façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, among whose statues stands out Boniface VIII, the famous Pope opposed by Dante and stigmatized in the Comedy.
From Piazza del Duomo, walking down Via del Proconsolo, you will run into the Monastery of Badia Fiorentina, characterized by the slim Gothic bell tower. Founded in the late tenth century, it belonged to the powerful Benedictine monastic order and was an important centre of religious, political and commercial activity. Before the construction of the Palazzo della Signoria, it hosted the meetings of the Priori and the magistrates of the Republic of Florence. In the 1280s, the Badia was transformed in a Gothic church and then renovated giving it its present Baroque style (the original plain brown stone façade is still visible on Via del Proconsolo).
Following the same street, you will run into the Bargello. It is the oldest public building of the city and has a very long history: it was built in 1250 as the palace of the Capitano del Popolo (People's Captain), then Palazzo del Podestà, a prison and finally a museum. Today, it collects one of the most extraordinary collections of Italian sculpture ( works by Donatello, Michelangelo, Verrocchio and Cellini). Between the frescoes of the Chapel of Magdalene, it is possible to see a portrait of Dante.
From the National Museum of Bargello, walk down Via della Vigna Vecchia and Via San Giuseppe to reach Piazza Santa Croce. In the thirteenth century this area was reclaimed marshland and stood outside of the city walls; the Franciscan friars chose to live in this humble quarter in order to serve the surrounding poor. The expansion of the original Santa Croce was begun in 1294, again probably under the supervision of Arnolfo di Cambio. The large area inside cointains some of the most important art works of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century Florence including the Cimabue Crucifix and frescoes by Giotto in the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels showing scenes from the lives of St Francis, St Jhon the Baptist and St Jhon the Evangelist. The Basilica is also home to the tombs and monuments of famous Florence’s citizens (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Galileo Galilei, Niccolò Machiavelli, Ugo Foscolo, Gioacchino Rossigni) and to an empty monument to honour Dante in his native city.
Looking at the façade of the church, on the left you can see the statue of Dante, made by Enrico Pazzi (in 1865) in occasion of the sixth centenary of Dante's birth.
To reach the last stage of this tour, cross the Ponte alle Grazie towards the famous Piazzale Michelangelo and going up towards the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte. The church – constructed between 1018 and 1207 - is dedicated to Saint Minias, a third century Christian martyr who died in Florence. The church contains characteristic examples of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture: the floor laid out in intricate and mysterious patterns (including a Zodiac); the walls and façade lined with polychrome marble inlay; the golden mosaic which fills the ceiling above the altar and depicts Christ, the Virgin Mary and Saint Minias and the more ancient crypt where the monks still gather today for Vespers.
Climb up to the church following the via crucis which is compared by Dante to the ascent to the Mount of Purgatory in the Comedy. Enter and surrender to the inevitable mystical experience of peace medieval worshippers might have had on entering this sanctuary.
Finally, once out, you can enjoy one the most beautiful views of Florence.