Tours in Florence

Florence is the queen of walkable cities. Within its historic center are the sights that people from all over the world comes to see! My tours are always private, always personal. You have 100% of my attention, 100% of the time. I can personalize your tour to focus on your own special interests. Tell me about your favorite artists, architects, special places you’d like to explore. Perhaps you’re a fan of of the medieval guilds and would like to learn more about them! Or maybe you’d enjoy an exclusive private tasting of Tuscan delicacies and wines followed by a walk about the bustling food market before visiting Michelangelo’s stunning sculptures in the basilica of San Lorenzo!  Let me develop a custom itinerary just for you and make your Florentine vacation an experience you’ll never forget.  Here are some ideas for your perfect itinerary. You can choose an itinerary to follow, or we can combine aspects from any of these suggested tours to create your own personalized tour! Your imagination and curiosity are your only limits!

Florence Discovery Tour

© Ars Opulenta

A fun and fascinating walking tour of the heart of Florence’s centro storico (historic center) – perfect for Florence “first timers.” We’ll visit the most important sights of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Florence: the Duomo, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry, Piazza della Repubblica, the Bargello, the basilica of Santa Croce, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria where we can admire  Palazzo Vecchio, the Loggia dei Lanzi, the Galleria degli Uffizi and its many exquisite outdoor sculptures. As we walk the narrow medieval alleys of the city, I’ll tell you all about its 2000+ years of history, legends and traditions. Do you have a passion for a particular artist or architect from Florence’s past? Is there a period of Florentine history that you’d like to know more about, from Roman times through the 1944 Battle of Florence? Tell me – I’ll design a personalized itinerary that will focus on the things that you’re most curious about – you’ll enjoy Florence in an unforgettable way!

Masterpieces of European Art: the Great Museums of Florence

Raffaello - La Velata, Galleria Palatina

Florence was the economic, political and cultural center of the western world for centuries. Explore that world through the eyes of the artists who helped create and interpret it, and in so doing, take home a new appreciation for our own place on the continuum that links us to the past and future. Join me in the historic halls of Florence’s great museums and understand the meaning of the masterpieces, the lives of their creators and their patrons – the wealthy merchants, bankers and politicians who commissioned them. You’ll understand  these famous works in the context of their times. We’ll view and comment on famous masterpieces like Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and “Spring,” Leonardo’s “Adoration” and Michelangelo’s “Tondo Doni.” I’ll introduce you to the artists and tell you all about the world they lived in – Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Piero della Francesca, Giotto and so many others will come to life! We’ll talk about the way they all influenced each other, and what their lives were like living in times of great social and political upheaval. Each era, each style and school will relate to its world, to those who came before and after so that you’ll understand the continuum of human creativity that the florentine collections so superbly express. Don’t come to Florence just to see a lot of pretty art. Come to see and understand how great art can enrich our lives.

Waiting time to enter the Uffizi and Accademia without reservations can be as much as two hours or more. When you book these museums with me, I’ll be happy to arrange the reservations for you.

The Churches of Florence – Repositories of Great Art

© Ars Opulenta

There are more churches than can be counted in Florence, and each of them has treasures to discover. From the Duomo and its Baptistry to the San Lorenzo complex, to the great monumental monastic churches, to the tiniest oratorio, there are frescoes, sculptures, altarpieces, tombs that are testiments to a city that equated beauty with eternity and immortality. Works by the likes of Giotto, Masaccio, Donatello, Lippi (both father and son), Michelangelo, Giambologna. And the architecture! And the history! Just some of the treasures that await you:

• Santa Maria Novella and its museum where you can ponder the complex iconography of Andrea Bonaiuto’s fresco cycle in the Spanish Chapel  • Santa Croce, the burial place of the “illustrious Tuscans,” the home of frescoes by Giotto and his school, Donatello’s wooden crucifix, Bronzino’s altarpiece, “Descent into Limbo”, Cimabue’s  crucifix which, ruined in the 1966 flood, has become the emblem of the spirit of the city of Florence and the love the people of the world have for it. • Santa Maria del Carmine, where Masaccio revolutionized painting  • San Marco and its museum, the home of Fra Angelico  • Santissima Annunziata, a rare and beautiful example of Florentine Baroque

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine

Florence produced some of the western world’s most brilliant artists, among them the one and only Michelangelo Buonarroti. He was born in a tiny mountain village on the edge of Tuscany where his father, a minor Florentine beureaucrat fallen from grace, had been sent to serve as magistrate. As soon as his father’s term was up, the family returned to Florence, Michelangelo still an infant. As was fitting for people of their position (debauched as it may have been), babies were never raised by their own mothers! Instead they were sent to live with a wet nurse. Michelangelo was sent to Settignano, on a hill overlooking the beautiful city, where he was raised by the wife of… what else? A stone cutter! Later, as an adult, he would comment that sculpture was his destiny – after all, he’d breathed marble dust practically since he was born and had a hammer and chisel as his first toys! How do you come to Florence and not explore the gifts this incredible yet difficult and troubled man left us! Come with me to see his early “Drunken Bacchus” and “Brutus,” his “Victory,” two “Pietà”, the stunning allegorical groups “Night and Day” and “Dawn and Dusk,” his “Prisons” and “David” and one of the three portable easel painting firmly attributed to him, the “Tondo Doni”. And let’s not miss the newest, and controversial, arrival to Florence’s treasure chest of Michelangelo masterpieces: the much talked about “Wooden Crucifix” now at the Bargello. Come with me on th Michelangelo trail to admire his art and discover the complex personality that changed the world of art forever. You’ll meet the man who had the audacity to say ‘no’ to a pope, who trusted no one, whose very tight circle of influential friends sent him on the lam from the Inquisition… and you’ll meet Tommaso Cavalieri, the only other person who he truly loved!

Commesso Fiorentino – the Florentine Mosaic

An original Commesso Fiorentino created by one of Florence's great family workshops

In 1588, Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici founded the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. The institution, which exists today was established to produce the extraordinary stone inlay works that would come to be known as commesso fiorentino, or Florentine mosaic. The Medici were still one of the most wealthy and powerful families in Europe and wished to possess objects of such rare beauty that everyone else would desire but could not have. Commesso Fiorentino was born of this need to possess and display the best of the best, objects of precious exquisiteness available only to them. It was, and remains, a technique that requires enormous skill, impeccable taste and the use of only precious and semi-precious stones. In this full-day tour, we begin at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure where you’ll be introduced to some of the works that it produced for the Medici family. You’ll see the hand tools that were used to cut semi-precious stones into the thin slices used in the 16th century to create incredibly intricate designs and scenes. Next stop, the Medici Chapels, also known as the “Chapel of the Princes” – the mausoleum of the Medici princes, entirely decorated from head-to-toe in commesso fiorentino. Then Palazzo Pitti, residence of the Medici and Hapsburg-Lorrain rulers of Tuscany, to see collections of objects created from semi-precous stones, like amber, ivory, and rock crystal. We end our day with a visit to the workshop of one of the last families still operating a workshop that creates exquisite commesso Fiorentino works using the same techniques as those used in the 16th century. The artists and their master craftsmen will demonstrate their art, from the preparation of the raw stone to the presentation of finished works of art. Of course, during the day we will break for a gelato mid-morning and a welcome glass of wine in the afternoon!

There can be no history or art without FOOD!

Ars Opulenta "Cooking in Chianti" chef Antonio with our book, at the Mercato Central!

Where would we be today if the artists, philosophers, rulers and average Joe’s of the past had no food? Why not break up your experience of Florentine history and art with a visit to one of the city’s magnificent markets where you’ll learn about the traditions of Tuscan cooking and taste specialties like aged traditional and non-traditional balsamics, a variety of extra virgin olive oils, Tuscan herbs, condiments and mostarde and more! But food without wine? Unheard of! We’ll duck into one of the oldest cellars in the historic center for a tasting of the local Tuscan wines that have become legends. Naturally, all meals must end sweetly – in Florence we don’t need the excuse of a meal to enjoy one of the world’s favorite treats, and a Florentine invention: gelato! A tasting of five different fruit and cream gelati is not only an historical/cultural experience… it’s just plain delicious!




Forbidden Florence: the Gay City and the Office of the Night in the XV Century

Florentines in the thirteenth century were so reknowned for their enthusiastic enjoyment of sodomy that the word “florenzer” came to be used in Northern Europe to refer to homosexual men! By the fifteenth century a special magistrate called the Office of the Night was formed to police the frisky Florentines. By the end of that century, one in two men had come to the attention of the authorities. Seventy years of denunciations, interrogatins and sentencing (often but not always resulting in great leniency) by the Office of the Night has left an extraordinary record of this fascinating yet little known aspect of Renaissance Florence. During our walk through the historic center of the city we’ll talk about how the age of humanism reconciled strict religious values with sexual liberties that are still, today, unseen in most of the world. We’ll meet many famous Florentine artists, poets and politicians and learn about their not-so-secret lives: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Benvenuto Cellini, Giambologna, Pietro Tacca, Pico della Mirandola and even Lorenzo the Magnificent! Incredibly, two of these artists, lovers, are buried together in the same sarcophogus in one of Florence’s most important churches. We’ll pay them a visit after admiring their sculptures in the piazza outside the church. Come with me to explore this unique side of Florence!

The Battle and Liberation of Florence – 1944

Ponte Santa Trinita - June 1944

Everyone comes to Florence for the Middle Ages and Renaissance, yet a major era-defining event played out right here, and in living memory: World War 2, the Battle of Florence and the liberation of Italy. In the spring and summer of 1944, Allied Forces fought their way up the peninsula after landing in Sicily, Salerno and Anzio and approached Tuscany and the heavily-defended Gothic Line just to the north of Florence. Other Italian cities were spared devastation by both sides, agreeing to declare them “open.” Open cities were off limits for combat. Florence, too, was an open city, yet it would not be spared. Allied commanders decided to chase the Nazi occupiers right through the city itself, resulting in a battle that would leave the most civilian casualties in the entire Italian campaign. As we walk the streets and alleys of the city, you’ll learn why the Allies ignored Florence’s Open City status. We’ll talk about the conflicts and clashes among the various Allied Forces on one hand, the German Nazis and Italian Fascists on the other and the Italian partisans in between. We’ll visit sites of bitter fighting and heartless executions, and come to understand what life was like under occupation. We’ll walk along the only bridge to survive the war – you’ll learn how and why it was spared. And you’ll learn the exciting and heroic story of how Florence’s greatest patrimony – its art – was saved from looters and bombs. Anyone who wants to discover how the remote and recent past are intimately entwined with our present and future will appreciate this tour.