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Florence – Oltrarno

Boboli Gardens - Florence
The south side of the River Arno in Florence is called the Oltrarno. The Oltrarno is great for kids – there are parts of the old city walls, gardens, greenery and open spaces, and excellent views of Florence. It's quieter here, and it seems that the Tuscan countryside is in your backyard.
Pitti Palace - Florence
Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti) and Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli) – The Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens are really the Medici's creation. A Florentine banker Lorenzo Pitti built the palazzo, but sold it to the Medici's in the mid 16th century. From there on, the Medici's expanded the palace and formal gardens, and like Versailles, this is extravagence at its best.
      Tip: When we visited the Pitti Palace, it was a combined ticket for the Galleria del Costume, Museo degli Argenti, and the Boboli Gardens. The Galleria Palatina was separate ticket.
     

Galleria Palatina – The Galleria Palatina is the lavish living quarters of the Medici's, stacked to the ceilings with glorious paintings (just like home ...). As you explore the Galleria, strolling past the portraits and marble statues of Medici princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, through the red throne room, the green brocade room, the blue bedroom, the Chinese dressing room, look for fabulous works by Raphael, Boticelli, Fra Lippo Lippi, and Tintoretto, especially the luminous Madonna and child paintings. And don't miss the incomparable portraits by Titian and Raphael, the people in the paintings look so contemporary. The Medici jeweled trinkets are also fun – gold, enamel, ruby goodies, and a tiny golden baby crib, decorated with diamonds and pearls.

     

Galleria del Costume – The Italians are famous for fashion, and here you can see what a boy and girl wore in the 19th century, empire dresses, wide flared skirts and flounces, rich black velvets and and men's embroidered coats in the 19th century, beaded dresses in the 1920's, and evening gowns galore. Don't miss an amazing beaded jacket decorated with the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio, plus jewelry, purses, shoes and parasols.

      For the jewelry-minded, visit the Silver Museum (Museo degli Argenti) on the ground floor of Pitti, with gems, semi-precious stones, crystal vases, engraved cameos and gold cups.
Boboli Gardens - Florence

Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli) The Boboli Gardens are filled with marvelous grottos, ponds, fountains, an Egyptian obelisk, and Roman statues. It's like a huge maze, paths covered with trees that meet in the middle, or a whole shady forest, populated with chirping birds. There are benches and grassy spots to sit down, and room to run and stretch your legs. The gardens cover a big area (111 acres), plenty of places for kids to find their own secret spot.

      Tip: There are different entrances to the Boboli Gardens. In addition to the entrance to the gardens through the Pitti Palace, there are also separate entrances near the Forte di Belvedere and the Porta Romana.
Museo Zoologico - La Specola – Next door to the Pitti Place is the oldest zoological museum in the world, opened in 1775, and has an amazing zoological collection, especially extinct birds and animals, such as the Tasmanian Wolf, Great Auk and Passenger pigeon. There are two rooms of birds local to Italy.
Forte Belvedere - Florence

Forte di Belvedere – Just above the Boboli Gardens is the Forte di Belvedere, a 16th century star-shaped fort. Entrance to the fort is free, there are grassy areas and benches, and super views of the Duomo. Bring a picnic and relax, away from the hustle and bustle of central Florence. To get to the fort, walk up Costa di San Giorgio.

Next to Forte di Belvedere is Porta San Giorgio, and a whole section of the old city walls (see next section).

Old city walls - Florence

Old city walls and gates In the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, Florence was often feuding with some other town – good defenses were very important. Starting in the late 13th and 14th century, stone walls, gates and watch towers were built to protect the city.

Today in the Oltrarno, whole sections of the walls and five gates still stand (Porta san Niccolo, Porta San Miniato, Porta San Giorgio, Porta Romana, Porta San Frediano). The wall starts at Porta San Niccolo, the oldest gate (built in 1327), on the eastern edge of the old city, just below the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Porta San Niccolo - Florence
    Walk the city wall from Porta San Niccolo, along Via dei Bastioni, to Porta San Miniato. Continue following the wall (along Via di Belvedere) to Porta San Giorgio. The stone walls certainly look like they could keep out an army – crenelations, bastions, and solid construction. Walking along the city walls, kids can imagine Florence centuries ago, these walls give shape to the old city.
   

There's a gap in the city walls, as parts are now incoporated into the Boboli Gardens, but the next section to explore is Porta Romana to Piazza Torquato Tasso. The Porta Romana gate is impressive – very solid, massive masonry gateway, with two huge ancient studded wooden doors. Follow the city wall from the Porta Romana, all the way to the Piazza Torquato Tasso (follow the wall on the east side, it's more peaceful than the west side of the wall on Viale Franceso Petrarca).

      The last section of city wall and gateway is Porta San Frediano, just south of the River Arno, at Borgo San Frediano. Walk from the gateway north, up Via Lungo le Mura di Santa Rosa, to the river and Lungarno Soderini.

Piazzale Michelangiolo – Take a break from museums and head out to the Piazzale Michelangiolo (you could drive or take the bus, but it's most fun to do the walk). Start at the River Arno, pass through Porta San Niccolo, and stroll up to the Piazzale Michelangiolo. Here you'll find a wide open panorama of the city, ice cream and snacks are available at the restaurant and from vendors. The square also has copies of Michelangelo's David, and copies four statues from the Medici Chapels.

San Miniato al Monte - Florence

San Miniato al Monte – Just beyond the Piazzale Michelangelo is the church of San Miniato al Monte. It's well worth a stop, this exquisite church is much older than the Renaissance, and there's a great story that goes with it. In the 3rd century AD, St. Minias was a hermit living on this hillside. He was beheaded, but picked up his head, crossed over the river and returned to this site, where a shrine, and later the church was built.

Inside the church is an amazing 13th century mosaic of Christ and the Virgin Mary, embellished with fabulous winged creatures. Green and white geometric marble patterns adorn the church inside and out and in the crypt are supposed to be bones of St. Minias. This is one of the most beautiful churches in Italy.

     

From San Miniato al Monte, it's a great walk back down toward the Arno on Via Monte alle Croci (you'll come back down at Porta San Miniato). Or, if you have teens and want to take a longer walk, follow south on Viale Galileo Galilei, then return on Via di Leonardo, which ends at Porta San Giorgio and Forte di Belvedere. This is a super walk, the whole area is hillsides covered with greenery and olive trees, dotted with villas, it's an open feeling of what Florence was like outside the city walls in centuries past.

travel for kids | italy | tuscany | florence | florence - oltrarno
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