The tour starts from one of the most important churches in Florence, the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Construction began in 1279 and the building has a majestic façade in white and green marble. It's a testament to the vibrancy and activity of the Dominican community in Dante’s Florence. Here, Dante attended the famous Studium, one of the most important centres of theological and philosophical learning in Europe and had the opportunity to see the drastically different Crucifix by Giotto, that's still visible in the Basilica today, and the Rucellai Madonna by Duccio which is now housed in the Uffizi Galleries.
In the annexed museum, there's a striking portrait of Dante among his contemporaries in 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 Trinità. This church, with a gothic interior and its original internal eleventh century façade, witnessed many of the historical and cultural transformations of thirteenth century Florence. It hosted important political meetings between the city’s warring factions, the White and Black Guelphs, and it was also the place where Dante was sentenced to exile.
An image of the fifteenth century frescoes by Ghirlandaio in the Sassetti Chapel to the right of the high altar depicts the life of St Francis of Assisi, giving visitors the possibility to see how the Santa Trinità 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 Trinità, lies the small church of Santi Apostoli. The Romanesque building was built in the mid-eleventh century and maintains its unadorned original façade and internal typical medieval rounded arches as well as a flat wooden roof. This building takes us directly to the daily religious scenes of Dante’s period; its unique atmosphere inspired the poet's vision of Limbo, the subject of lively debates in the thirteenth century, described in his Comedy.
Santi Apostoli actually stands in piazza del Limbo which was originally used as an infant cemetery, who having died before baptism, were believed to reside in this ‘unknown place’ in the afterlife.
Pass through borgo of Santi Apostoli and enter piazza della Signoria. Here, you're presented with 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 and still is the political heart of the city. Although Dante didn't see the first construction phase - started in 1299 and concluded in 1315 - it's an important place to visit in order to understand the political history of Florence which influenced Dante's life and ideologies.
Inside the museum (which also includes a work by Michelangelo in the Salone De' Cinquecento), you'll find Dante's funeral mask. Recently the archaeological area containing remains of the ancient Roman theatre and the Arnolfo Tower have been opened to the public.
From piazza della Signoria, turn into via dei Calzaiuoli and on the left stands Orsanmichele Church and Museum. The building’s architectural history straddles civil and religious purposes. Built on the original small church of San Miniato in Orto in the ninth century, it was replaced in the 1280s by a grain market constructed by Arnolfo di Cambio before being re-converted into a church. The image of the Virgin Mary, subsequently replaced by Madonna and Child by Bernardo Daddi, located on a pillar of the grain market loggia quickly attracted 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 in praise.
Following the perimeter of the church, you'll get to the Palazzo dell'Arte della Lana where the Italian Società Dantesca is based. It was started in 1888 with the aim of disseminating Dante’s knowledge and works.
Leaving Orsanmichele towards piazza del Duomo, turn into via Dante Alighieri. This area has come to be known as the Dantean quarter of the city. It's 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 notable examples is the Torre dei Cerchi situated between corso and via dei Cerchi.
While little direct evidence is available to us, it's 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 known as the Casa di Dante or Dante’s house, it's home to a museum about the poet, his life and works. The museum is located next to the Church of Santa Margherita dei Cerchi where Beatrice Portinari is buried, Dante's love interest who sadly died when she was only 24 years old.
Walking through the Quarter, you can see the 33 commemorative plaques about Dante’s Comedy. Can you find them all?
Moving away from via Dante Alighieri and walking down via dei Calzaiuoli, you'll enter piazza del Duomo. On the left is the Baptistery of San Giovanni. This magnificent Romanesque building, cladded with white and green marble, is dedicated to the patron saint of the city.
The Baptistery, referred to by Dante in his Comedy as “my beautiful San Giovanni”, was the place where Dante was baptised and what he thinks about when, exiled, he hopes to return to his home city. Entering the Baptistery, the striking golden mosaics of the ceiling show us a thirteenth century vision of Heaven and Hell, visions which Dante himself explores in the Comedy. Also depicted are the lives of Christ and John the Baptist as well as stories from the book of Genesis.
Leaving the Baptistery, enter the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo) and go down into the crypt of Santa Reparata. The crypt is the archaeological site of the old cathedral of Santa Reparata, named after the third century Christian virgin martyr. This was Dante and his contemporaries' church.
Behind the Cathedral, in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo there's 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'll find the Monastery of Badia Fiorentina, characterized by its slim Gothic bell tower. Founded in the late tenth century, it belonged to a 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 into 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'll reach the Bargello. It's 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 (a public figure that managed noble family's authority and power), it then became the palazzo del Podestà, a prison before becoming a museum. Today, it houses one of the most extraordinary collections of Italian sculpture with works by Donatello, Michelangelo, Verrocchio and Cellini. Between the frescoes of the Chapel of Magdalene, you'll find 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 complex was begun in 1294, again probably under the supervision of Arnolfo di Cambio. The large area inside contains some of the most important art works of the late-thirteenth and early-fourteenth century Florence including a Cimabue Crucifix and frescoes by Giotto in the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels showing scenes from the lives of St Francis, St John the Baptist and St John 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) as well as 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 in 1865 by Enrico Pazzi for 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 head 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 is laid out in intricate and mysterious patterns (including a Zodiac); the walls and façade are lined with polychrome marble inlay; golden mosaic tiles fills the ceiling above the altar and depicts Christ, the Virgin Mary and Saint Minias and the older crypt where the monks still gather today for Vespers.
Arrive at the church by following via Crucis which, in his Comedy, Dante compares to the ascent to the Mount of Purgatory. Enter and acknowledge the peaceful atmosphere that has characterised the church for centuries, a sanctuary up, above and away from the city.
At the top, you can enjoy one of the most beautiful views of Florence.