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A Tour of Florence’s Renaissance Architectural Landmarks


Being the birthplace of Renaissance, it’s no surprise that Florence is home to many of the world’s most beautiful buildings. In the Tuscan capital city, you’ll find famous landmarks, like the Cathedral and Santa Croce, but also lesser-known beauties like Santa Maria Novella and San Lorenzo. Let’s have a look ay these stunning Renaissance treasures.

Obviously your Florentine tour must start with a visit to Florence’s cathedral. This fabulous basilica is the city’s most iconic landmark and also one of the most important Italian churches. Even if the construction of the cathedral begun at the end of the 13th century, the most important part of it, the cupola of Brunelleschi, was added in the 15th century. Inside the church are hidden gorgeous frescoes, but visit the dome as well – from the very top it is possible to admire the best view of Florence.

Near to Santa Maria del Fiore, Palazzo Vecchio is one of the major attractions in Florence and also the seat of the town’s government. This stunning palace is a true jewel, full of sculptures, frescoes and courtyards from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Unfortunately, only few portions of it are open to the public, but you can easily walk inside the courtyard close to the entrance and admire the colored ceiling.

Another impressive palace in town is Palazzo Pitti, one of the most opulent buildings in Florence and a beautiful example of Renaissance architecture. Originally commissioned by the banker Luca Pitti, it became part of the Medici’s heritage. Today the Palace hosts six museums, included Galleria del Costume, which is one of the most important fashion museum of Italy. If you are a nature lover you can also visit the adjoining Boboli Gardens with stunning sculptures, fountains and caves and spend a few hours surrounded only by nature.

One of the most important monastic complexes in Italy is the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. The church is located near the train station, so it’s very easy to find it: You just need to cross the street.

The Basilica was built in the 14 th century, but most of the decorations inside are later additions. This church might not be at the top of your list of places to see in Florence, but it is definitely worth a visit; it’s one of the most important Gothic churches in Tuscany and holds extraordinary works of art, including Masaccio’s Trinità, Giotto’s crucifix and a fresco of Ghirlandaio. The stunning marble exterior, which is work of Fra Jacopo Talenti and Leon Battista Alberti, is the oldest façade of all the churches in Florence.

Other not-to-miss places to visit in Florence are Santa Croce and San Lorenzo.

Santa Croce is the second most famous church in Florence after the Cathedral, and it is a stunning Gothic building known for the many tombs of great artists, writers and scientists buried there, like Galileo, Machiavelli and Michelangelo. Seriously damaged after the big flood of Arno river in 1966, the church has been restored, but many of the works inside will never be the same. Among the many things to see are the beautiful structure designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and stunning frescoes, the Cappella dei Pazzi (one of the 16 chapels of the church) to the left of the altar with its traditional Nativity scene.

The Basilica of San Lorenzo, on the other side, is one of the oldest churches in Florence and was consecrated in 393 by St. Ambrose. The current architectural structure was designed by Brunelleschi in the 15 th century. Its exterior was to have been covered by a façade realized by Michelangelo which was never added (a model of the exterior can be seen at Casa Buonarroti). The church looks unfinished, but it has its charm. Of all the places in Florence associated with Michelangelo, San Lorenzo is perhaps the most important. Here you will find his sculptures for the tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici. San Lorenzo is also the burial place of the Medici family in what are called the Medici Chapels.

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5 Key Ideas of the Renaissance

The Renaissance was one of Europe’s most significant historical periods, and is often characterised by the magnificent outpouring of art, literature, and scientific developments witnessed between the 15th and 17th centuries.

During this time new ideas spread across the continent, focused on the possibilities of mankind, the achievements of the individual, and the teachings of the ancient world – pushing Europe out of the ‘Dark Ages’ and towards a more enlightened and modern society.

Here are 5 key ideas fostered during the Renaissance:


The Renaissance – meaning rebirth – found its roots in a growing reverence for the classical world that was emerging amongst scholars in the 15th century. Many believed that the societies of ancient Rome and Greece demonstrated qualities highly important to the success of civilisation, and that their emulation would reinvigorate Europe’s stunted progress during the ‘Dark Ages’.

A scramble for lost ancient texts thus began, with humanists methodically searching the monastic libraries of Europe, where many lay disregarded on dusty shelves.

It was not until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that many of these texts resurfaced however, when Byzantine scholars were forced to flee to northern Italian cities like Florence, bringing them with them a host of new material. These texts laid the foundation of the Renaissance in Italy and indeed Europe as a whole, influencing everything from artwork to political tracts.

As such, the ancient world is reflected in many of the Renaissance’s most famous works – from Raphael’s School of Athens to Shakespeare‘s Coriolanus, ancient figures feature as characters to emulate or learn from.

St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, constructed between 1506-1626 in the Renaissance style. Its columns, dome, and arches all evoke the architectural design of ancient Rome.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Classicism also translated heavily into Renaissance architecture, with symmetry, proportion, and geometry viewed as beautiful and valuable attributes to have in the public sphere. The columns, domes, and niches of ancient Rome reappeared in Italy’s cities and soon spread throughout Europe, replacing the more complex and irregular designs of medieval buildings.


Often intertwined with and informed by the classical world was the study of humanism. Humanism placed man at the centre of his own universe, and awarded great emphasis and interest in the study of humans and their activities throughout history. Thus, it threaded itself throughout many aspects of Renaissance life where humanists teachings could be widespread.

This became far easier in 1450 when the Gutenberg printing press was invented and a more rapid spread of information and ideas was now available. Texts by Italian humanists such as Petrarch and Boccaccio were printed and distributed, encouraging a return to ancient cultures and values, and it became easier than ever to be informed on new ways of thinking.

In spreading these ideas, humanists sought to create a society in which every citizen was able to speak, read, and write eloquently, contribute to their civic societies and encourage virtue in one another – as they believed the societies of the classical world had.

On the humanist agenda was also the sometimes-tricky subject of religion. Though most humanists were religious, many sought to ‘purify and renew Christianity’, seeking a return to the simplicity of the New Testament and a move away from the complicated doctrines of medieval worship.

Erasmus, often termed the ‘Prince of Humanism’, was influential in preparing new Greek and Latin versions of the New Testament in the 16th century that had wide-reaching implications for the future of Catholic worship, particularly with the Protestant Reformation looming on the horizon.


One of the period’s most pertinent and long-lasting ideas was that the individual was capable of great things, and should aspire to be well-rounded and skilful in many disciplines.

This gave rise to the concept of the polymath or the ‘Renaissance man’, someone who was skilled in a variety of pursuits from art and sculpture to engineering and mathematics. Leonardo da Vinci for example, was both an extraordinary artist and a skilled inventor, while Michelangelo excelled in both sculpture and architecture.

With this new focus on individualism, artists in particular enjoyed a new-found sense of freedom and creativity. Often they had wealthy secular patrons who afforded them a degree of control over their work, and were as such not consigned to painting only religious or monarchical subjects. They painted self-portraits, signed their work, and strove to refine their skills, with artists like da Vinci conducting lengthy studies on the human form and its individual attributes.

Superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck by Leonardo da Vinci, c.1510.

Image Credit: Royal Collection / Public domain

With personal success also came personal wealth and the ability to choose one’s lifestyle. A rise in the merchant class and available markets meant a wider range of goods were available, with exploration bringing a vast array of new commodities to Europe such as sugar, coffee, and spices to delight the tastebuds. Individual tastes were allowed to blossom, accompanied by a growing appreciation of the secular world.

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Alongside Renaissance ideas of the individual came a rise in secularism and worldliness. More value was placed on life on earth and making it as special and comfortable as possible, rather than just passing it in sufferance on the journey to heaven. Many Renaissance figures believed cities and public spaces in particular should be beautiful to uplift their citizens and encourage them to behave in civilised and gracious manners.

Religious paintings became more lifelike and relatable, encouraging active rather than merely contemplative virtue in their audiences. Images of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus were no longer stiff and unapproachable, and goodness could and should be achieved by anyone, not just those inside the walls of the monastery.

Sistine Madonna by Raphael, c.1513-14. Here the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus reflect a relatable quality – they look like a real mother and infant child, rather than a pair of heavenly beings.

Image Credit: Public domain

This philosophical mission was largely instigated by powerful patrons of the arts such as the Medici family, who aspired to build their cities as glorious centres of truth, virtue, and progress as the ancient societies had done, and commissioned art that too encouraged these attributes.


Another key idea of the Renaissance was scepticism, with Renaissance thinkers encouraged to ask questions, ponder, consider, and experiment. Where previously an unwavering faith in God’s plan was encouraged by the medieval Church, the Renaissance promoted the idea that the world was full of mysteries waiting to be discovered through human achievement.

Developments in science rapidly followed after a period of stagnation during the Middle Ages, with new and world-altering discoveries in astronomy, mathematics, anatomy, geography, and engineering exploding during the period. Mathematician Luca Pacioli developed the basis of modern-day accounting, while Andreas Vesalius reached important conclusions regarding the human skeleton.

Portrait of Luca Pacioli by Leonardo da Vinci, 1495. Pacioli was an Italian mathematician and early contributor to the field of accounting.

Image Credit: Public domain

Astronomy in particular made huge leaps during the Renaissance. Copernicus first hypothesised that the Earth moved around the sun, not the other way around as had been previously assumed, while Galileo invented the first telescope revealing that the moon was in fact cratered and did not give off its own light, but instead reflected it.

Alongside the telescope came eyeglasses and microscopes, while the first mechanical clocks and cannons signalled a move away from the feudal medieval world of ‘church time’ and knights in armour.

Scepticism and the rise in new scientific discoveries was not welcomed by all however. When Galileo publicly agreed with Copernicus’ hypothesis on the earth’s movement, he was put under house arrest by the Catholic Church!

Spreading throughout the length and breadth of Europe, the Renaissance made an enduring impact on art and architecture, science, politics and law. Rob Weinberg puts the big questions about this world-changing period to Professor Jerry Brotton of Queen Mary University of London.

Similarly, when Martin Luther’s denial of the Catholic Church’s authority and virtue became influential in the Protestant movement, they launched a brutal and bloody Counter-Reformation in attempts to stamp out what they considered heresy. Even Erasmus who had remained a moderate Catholic all his life risked being accused of heresy for his questioning of the Church, and soon many forms of Renaissance thinking became akin with religious dissent.

With a whole new sphere of ideas rippling throughout Europe, the stage was set for brand new social and religious challenges. Blind subservience to the Catholic Church was no more, new realms of the globe had begun to be colonised, new technologies had been harnessed on an increasingly wide scale. The making of the modern world had begun.

12 Italian Renaissance Places to Visit in Italy

Renaissance is the period following the Medieval Age and is marked as the period ‘rebirth’ of European culture, art, politics, and economics. The period is believed to begin in the 14th century and lasted throughout the 17th century. This era has seen some of the greatest artists, scientists, authors and thinkers that ever existed in human history.

The renaissance started in Florence, Italy and spread throughout Italy. If you want to know more about the Italian Renaissance, we curated this article on Italian Renaissance Places for you. There are many places that became popular during the Italian Renaissance.

Here is a list of 12 Italian Renaissance Cities which are known for its architectural marvel of the Renaissance Structures.

Italian Renaissance Architecture and Places

Check out these beautiful and historic Italian Renaissance Places in Italy.

1. Milan

Milan: Italian Renaissance

flickr: David Martyn Hunt

Milan is a city in Italy, which is known as the global capital of fashion and design. Not only in terms of fashion, but Milan also has a lot in store for the people looking for Renaissance treasure and is home to a number of Rennaisance structures.

The main attraction in this city is Leonardo da Vinci’s infamous painting, ‘The Last Supper’ in the Church of Santa Maria Della Francesca. Brera Museum too has an innumerable masterpiece by great artists like Mantegna, Raphael and Piero Della Francesca to name a few. Milan’s spiked gothic cathedral of the Duomo has never failed to amaze people. It took 500 years to build this piece of pure excellence. The rooftop gives a mesmerizing view of the gilded Madonnina at the pinnacle and consists of 3600 statues and 135 spires.

2. Venice

Venice: Italian Renaissance

Image by Valter Cirillo from Pixabay

Venice used to be one of the most influential city-states in Europe during the prosperity of the Italian Renaissance. All the major trade routes between East and West were under the control of Venice, which made Venice rich. This richness still reflects in Venice’s exquisite architecture.

Visitors are attracted by the sheer elegance of the magnificent palaces, churches, and monuments. People can visit the Piazza San Maco and admire the mosaic-decked domed basilica. Venice’s historic art gallery, Galleria dell’Accademia, Venetian masterpieces by Bellini, Titian and others are available. These masterpieces date from the 14th century to the 16th century.

3. Ferrara

Ferrara: Italian Renaissance

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Ferrara, which is now a hidden treasure with lots of palaces and luxurious houses, was once the hub of intellectuals. It was home to some of the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance. This place is designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO for its beauty. It has a lot of Renaissance structures.

Ferrara is a host to the court of the ruling d’Este family. The former home to the House of Este is a luxurious palace with splendid chambers, secret hallways, and creepy cells. Visitors may visit the Palazzo Schifanoia to admire the frescoes by Cosme Tura, an early Renaissance painter and the dazzling Renaissance-style palace with a façade of 8,500 marble blocks carved to represent diamonds – Palazzo dia Diamanti.

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4. Arezzo

Arezzo: Italian Renaissance

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Arezzo is infamous for its connection with Piero Della Francesca, an esteemed early Renaissance artist. His ‘The Legend of the True Cross’, is a series of frescos, that is one of the foundations of Italian Renaissance art. It is found in the church Basilica di San Francesc.

Other attractions include the Piero Della Francesca’s fresco of Mary Magdalene found in the Gothic cathedral. People can also enjoy the view of the 16th-century Palazzo Delle Logge Vasariane at Piazza Grande.

5. Cortona

Cortona: Italian Renaissance

flickr: roberto

Cortona is known as an Italian Renaissance city and is associated with Fra’Angelico, an early renaissance painter. It was his home as well as his workplace in the late 14th century. Museo Diocesano displays two of his infamous works, ‘Annunciation’ and ‘Madonna with Child and Saints’.

The entrance of church San Domenico features another work of artist Fra’Angelico which was painted in 1436. The museum also displays the work of Giuseppe Maria Crespi called the Ecstasy of Saint Margaret. People can also visit the villa Bramasole where the movie TuscanSun was shot in 2003.

6. Florence


Image by Andrea Corsi from Pixabay

Florence is located in central Italy and is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance by many scholars. It now hosts some of the most remarkable works of that period. The infamous Uffizi Gallery exhibits works of Botticelli, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio. Visitors are advised to reserve their entrance in advance as it is one of the most visited art galleries of the world and it remains quite crowded.

Another site for tourist attraction is the dome-shaped cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as The Duomo. Even after 600 years of its existence, it is the largest dome built. People may also be interested to visit the church of San Lorenzo which contains the mausoleum of the Medici family- Medici Chapel.

7. Rome

Rome: Italian Renaissance

Image by Mauricio A. from Pixabay

Rome is the capital of Italy, is an abode to several Renaissance structures. The most famous Renaissance architecture in Rome is the Piazza del Campidoglio which was built by Antonio de Sangallo and completed by Michelangelo. Works of Caraviaggo can be seen hanging in the churches Our Lady of the People and Church of Saint Augustine.

The Vatican museums are an attraction for people as it displays world-famous art. Another tourist attraction is the Sistine Chapel which is famous for the frescoed ceiling by Michaelangelo and depicting the last supper on the altar wall.

8. Pisa


Image by Christoph Schrattbauer from Pixabay

Pisa, as everyone knows, is infamous for its Leaning Tower. But, there are other Renaissance structures that attract people in this city. One of them is the Piazza del Duomo, also known, s as Piazza Dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). It is house to the Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistry and the Campo Santo (the monumental cemetery).

Another place of attraction is the Palazzo Reale aka the Royal Palace which belonged to the Caetani patrician family. It is famous as it is the place where Galileo Galilei showed the planets he discovered with his telescope to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The palace is now a museum.

9. Siena

Siena: Italian Renaissance

Image by Guy Dugas from Pixabay

Siena is Italy’s one of the most visited places. It has been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is infamous for the Palio horse race. Tourist attractions around the city include Piazza del Campo which is a shell-shaped town square. It is surrounded by Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia. All of these structures display a fine work of architecture.

Palazzo Pubblico contains an important art museum that displays some finest frescoes by Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti and also the infamous frescoes depicting the Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’si.

10. Genoa


Image by Jasmin Sessler from Pixabay

Also known as Genova, Genoa is the sixth-largest city of Italy. One of the famous tourist attractions of the city is San Lorenzo Cathedral which has a marvelous portal and dome designed by Galeazzo Alessi. The Lanterna, which is an infamous lighthouse of Genoa, is another attraction for the visitors. This old and upright lighthouse is visible across a distance of 30km beyond the sea. The city is also famous as the home of Christopher Columbus.

The Christopher Columbus House, where he is said to have lived as a child is located outside the city walls. The building was destroyed by the French naval bombing of 1684 and the current building was reconstructed in the 18th-century.

11. Mantua

Mantua: Italian Renaissance

flickr: Jennefer

Mantua is known as the Italian capital of culture. Apart from its architectural excellence, artifacts, and renaissance structures, the city is also notable for its crucial role in opera. Out of many mesmerizing monuments, one of them is the Palazzo Ducale which was once the residence of the Gonzaga family.

The structure has a room, Camera Degli Sposi, which was frescoed by Andrea Mantegna. Another notable structure is Palazzo te where Giulio Romano lived in his last years. This palace is built in Renaissance style and was the summer residential villa of Federick II of Gonzaga.

12. Verona


Image by Adrián Winter from Pixabay

Verona is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Italy because of the heritage of its artworks and various fairs and shows. The phenomenal architecture and structures have put Verona’s name in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. One of the main attractions from the renaissance is the Verona Urbs Picta. The walls of the palace became canvasses upon which artistic frescos were made by the local painters.

Renaissance architecture in Verona includes structures like the first Renaissance palace of the Veneto: the wonderful Loggia del Consiglio, as well as palaces and monumental works of Michele Sanmicheli.

Italy, during the Renaissance, saw the upheaval of many artistic, cultural and architectural marvels. Many of the cities, to date, speaks for the wonders that were created during that era. People who are interested in historical monuments and arts should visit these Italian Renaissance cities to admire the beauty that they behold. If you are going Europe the first time, do read Travel tips for europe for first-timer.




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