In 1733 the Swiss family moved to Florence and sold pastries and sugared donuts from their bozzolari, or pastry shop in Piazza Duomo. In the 1800s they moved to via degli Speziali before finally making it to their current, and permanent home in Florence’s Piazza della Repubblica. Along with Giubbe Rosse and Paszkowski who also share the piazza, Gilli has become an institution in the Renaissance city.
Gilli is world famous for its incredible artisan made sweets and pastries.
A Swiss clock separates the pastry shop in the front of the store from the restaurant in back, an old world restaurant, known for its seasonal Tuscan dishes and fine wines.
I particularly love the outdoor dining area, shaded from the intense Tuscan sun. This is a glorious place to stop for a coffee or a glass of wine, or the ultimate Florentine cocktail, a Negroni.
Over the past century this has been a hangout for artists, musicians and writers, including Hemingway, fabulous footsteps for you to follow in!
Caffe Gilli can boast having the world’s most celebrated authority on the Negroni as its head bartender. Luca Picchi, who literally wrote the book on Count Camillo Negroni and the drink created expressly for him. Negroni Cocktail, An Italian Legend by Luca Picchi.
This beautiful and fascinating book is available on Amazon, either in Italian or in English and in hardback or on Kindle/Kindle app.
If you belong to my Private Member’s Newsletter you will be receiving some fabulous information about Luca, the Negroni and the variations on the drink. If you don’t belong to the newsletter you can join here and bounce me back an email requesting the Negroni info.
For those of you who will be making a first trip to Florence, Piazza della Repubblica and Caffe Gilli are midway (give or take) between the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria in the heart of the historic center of Florence. Gilli is the easiest place to find and you are guaranteed to walk past it several times in one day!
Five Things You Must Do At Caffe Gilli
5 Things You Must Do At Caffe Gilli
Try a pastry or a slice of panforte
Have a coffee
Order a Negroni
Get a photo with Luca!
Are you planning a trip to Florence? Get my free Secret Florence pdf to discover my favorite restaurants, shops and cocktail bars, guaranteed to take your trip from great to fantastic! Click HERE
One of my favorite museums in all of Florence is the National Museum of the Bargello. Where the Uffizi is the mecca of Renaissance painting in Florence the Bargello is the home to sculpture. It is nowhere near as big, crowded or overwhelming as the Uffizi, and at least when I have been there, it doesn’t seem to get the legions of people checking another item off the bucket list. It gets fewer people and they seem to have a germane interest in the art inside.
Which makes it right up my alley!
Located between the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio, the Bargello is right in the middle of where you will be anyway, and really should be on your list of things to see and do in Florence.
Before we get into the art inside I want to draw your attention to the building itself, because frankly it is fantastic.
The Palazzo Bargello
The fortress-like Palazzo Bargello was built in 1255 to house the first Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the people), then in 1261 the Podesta, who was the highest magistrate in the Florentine city council. The palazzo was originally called the Palazzo del Podesta and is the oldest public building in Florence. When you look at its crenellations you can see a resemblance to the Palazzo Vecchio down the street, the design of which was modeled on the Bargello.
In 1574 the Medici eliminated the job of the Podesta and installed the police chief or bargello in the palazzo instead. The building became a prison and for 240 years (give or take) executions took place in the palazzo’s courtyard. It remained a prison until 1859 when it became a museum.
The building itself is magnificent and takes on new meaning when you consider it was a prison for 300 years!
It is designed around an open courtyard with a central well and an external staircase taking you up to the second floor. It is quite beautiful, with a loggia and porticos and the coats of arms of the various Podesta and judges covering the walls. If you look under the porticos you can see the insignia of the quarters/neighborhoods of the city. In the loggia you can see Giambologna’s bronze birds from the Medici Villa at Castello.
16th century statues by Giambologna, Danti, Bandinelli and Ammannati are against the wall. The courtyard takes my breath away every time I walk inside.
The museum has the largest Italian collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculpture. There is of course lots to see here and I recommend having a good look around, but I want to direct your attention to these 5 things:
Donatello’s Bronze David
I would come all the way to Florence just to look at this one piece, and it is my favorite here in the Bargello.
There are 2 David’s by Donatello in this room and one by Verrochio,but the one I want to draw your attention to is the bronze David. Unlike Michelangelo’s big brawny David (created around 60 years later) this one is quite effeminate and somewhat incongruous in the role. He is naked except for a hat and boots. Or you could look at it from the perspective that for some reason this naked guy is wearing a hat and boots. During restoration it was discovered that the hair, hat and boots were originally gilded, so they would have sparkled in the light.
At times this piece was incredibly controversial. Sculpted for Cosimo de’ Medici David was originally placed in the courtyard of the Medici palace. This was the first free standing bronze statue of the Renaissance. Look closely and you will see a laurel on his hat, symbolism of victory Donatello borrowed from ancient Roman culture.
The wing from the giant’s helmet lies against naked David’s inner thigh, which was thought to be quite sexual at the time. It’s also probably considered quite a sexual overture now.
There is some thought that Cosimo and Donatello may have been lovers, which adds an entirely different dimension to this statue. Whether true or not they were definitely close. Cosimo gave him multiple commissions and Donatello is buried mere feet away from Cosimo.
Donatello’s St George
Against the back wall of the Donatello room you will see a vertical marble niche holding a sculpture. This is the original niche and sculpture commissioned by the armory gild for the exterior of Orsanmichele. We see a youthful, somewhat lanky St George, holding his shield, ready to battle the dragon.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Orsanmichele, it was a granary in the middle of the historic center of Florence that after a miracle or two became a church. The exterior of the church is wrapped in niches like this one, each with its own statue, one for each of the major gilds of Florence. These were some of the first sculptures of the Renaissance. You can see pictures and read about it here.
While here look to the relief panel below the statue of St George. This may be the first example of a technique Donatello invented called rilievo schiacchiato, or flat relief. It tells the full story of St George, the perspective drawn out in just ½ a centimeter. It’s very cool and one of those details you can easily miss if not pointed out to you. (Which is how I learned about it.)
In 1496-97 the 21 year old Michelangelo created this piece, one of only two surviving sculptures from his first time in Rome. The following year in 1498 he created the magnificent Pieta in St Peters.
I love that rather than the big strong bodies we associate with Michelangelo’s sculptures Bacchus is fleshy, almost womanly, and is drunk. Bacchus, the god of wine, is propped up by a satyr while leaning against a tree. He looks about to trip and fall, a trick Michelangelo created by giving him a high center of gravity.
Ivy was sacred to Bacchus, so he wears an ivy wreath instead of the vines we associate with wine. Instead of looking God-like Michelangelo has made this Bacchus look like a vapid drunk human. It’s brilliant.
Michelangelo’s Pitti Tondo
This is another of my favorite Michelangelo works in Florence.
Tondos were typically made for private homes and were considered a more domestic type of art. This is one of two tondos that he made for families in Florence around 1503-05. It features the Madonna and Child.
Take note of how exquisitely beautiful Mary’s face is. I love the way her head comes out of the frame, and the intimacy between her and little Jesus is just palpable. It feels like we are getting a glimpse into a real and very relatable moment in their day. It’s just gorgeous.
The bronze doors of the Baptistery San Giovanni in front of the Duomo are famous and fabulous, and like everything in Florence have incredible stories behind them. The most celebrated are Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, which were the third and final set of doors. This story is about the second set of doors commissioned for the Baptistery.
In 1401 a competition was held to find the artist to create the second set of bronze doors for the Baptistery. Competitors had to make a bronze quatrefoil panel telling the story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. The panels were small and had to include the father and son, an altar, a donkey, 2 servants, a tree and a hill. This was an enormous amount of detail to fit into a small square, and required phenomenal skill.
Once the winner was announced all the panels were melted down and reused except for that of the winner and the runner up. The competition was so close and the work of the runner up was so spectacular. Some say the runner up only lost because hi panel used a heavier bronze, so his doors would cost more to make. We will never know for sure.
The consequences of this competition changes the face of Florence forever. The winner, Lorenzo Ghiberti not only created these doors but also the Gates of Paradise doors. The runner up, Filippo Brunelleschi was so incensed at losing, he turned his back on the craft forever and focused instead on architecture. He designed the dome of the Duomo, many of the most beautiful chapels in Florence, and much of the architecture we still love today!
The two panels are here at the Bargello, side by side. They need to be on your must see list. Without looking at the signs see if you can figure out which was the winning panel!
Again, there is so much to see at the Bargello and these are just 5 of my favorite pieces. I always find art museums, palaces and churches are much more manageable when I have a handful of specific things to look for. Whenever possible I recommend doing google searches before visiting a museum and finding 5 or 10 pieces to look for. You can also search for a favorite artist’s work such as Michelanglo at the Bargello and get a list of items that you can read up on and then seek out while there. It’s awful when you get home and discover that a Caravaggio or a Donatello that you would have loved to have seen was there and you didn’t know to look for it.
I have always found that the docents working at the museums, palaces etc are more than happy to direct me to a given work, and sometimes will walk there with me. This is a fabulous bonus because they always know interesting facts that I haven’t read about, and love telling the stories behind the various pieces.
Even though we can’t travel at the moment that doesn’t mean we can’t be researching and planning for future trips. Sometimes just escaping for a few minutes with a blog post or a travel TV show can be the soul food that gets us through a stressful or worrying day. I hope the blogs I post over the next few weeks will give you some inspiration and add some extra dimension and points of interest to your future travels. Hang in there friend, we will get through all of this and one day find ourselves back in the beautiful piazzas of Italy
Florence is a beautiful Renaissance city that most travelers to Italy seem to add to their itinerary. Today I want to give you 13 interesting things you may not have known about its most important, most influential family.
The Medici family ruled Florence for 300 years. Their family crest is everywhere in the city, and everywhere you turn you see their influence on art and architecture.
Understanding the Medici and their impact on Florence can add a whole new dimension to your trip. They came from somewhat humble beginnings, started a bank and went on to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in all of Europe.
I recommend my Glam Italia Tour travelers watch the Netflix series The Medici, Masters of Florence. What it lacks in historical accuracy it more than makes up for in attaching you to the fascinating characters in the family, and introducing you to their amazing story, a story that for 600 years has held people all over the world completely spellbound.
13 Fascinating Facts About The Medici
You may already know some of the Medici family lore, but chances are you don’t know all 13 of the following facts:
1. They Invented Double Entry Accounting
In 1397 Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici opened a bank in Florence, the banking capital of Italy. (He already had one in Rome) During the 1400’s the gold coin of Florence, the florin, became the standard European currency. Leading Florentine banking families had gone bankrupt over the recent years but Giovanni thought up genius new ways to make his bank thrive. He made each branch of the Medici Bank a separate business so if one failed it wouldn’t bring down the others. He also invented a new way of keeping the ledgers and keeping track of the money, called double entry accounting. The practice we still use today!
His son Cosimo grew the bank to become the richest and most powerful bank in all of Europe. From there Cosimo used his wealth to influence politics, and launched the Medici dynasty.
2. They Owned Much Of Florence
In the 1400’s the Medici family owned most of Florence. As their wealth and power grew they bought up much of Florence and surrounding Tuscany, and then awarded themselves more. They were the center of Florentine society as well as the behind the scenes power brokers.
3. There Were Four Medici Popes
The Medici Bank got the Papal account in 1410 after financing the campaign of a pirate from Naples named Baldassare Cossa, who became Pope John XXIII.
In 1513 Giovanni de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, became the first Medici Pope, Pope Leo X. In 1523 his cousin and best friend Giuliano de’ Medici became the second pope in the family, Pope Clement VII. Two more family members became Pope over the years, Pope Pius IV in 1559 and in 1605 Alessandro Ottaviano de’ Medici became Pope Leo XI (for one month).
At age 14, Florentine Catherine de’ Medici was married off to Henry de Valois, son of King Francis I of France. Henry became king in 1547 and Catherine reigned as Queen of France until his death in 1559. She was mother to 3 French kings. Their son Francis was king for a year until he died in 1560. Then Catherine became regent to her 10 year old son Charles. Catherine was considered the most powerful woman in Europe in the 16th century.
Catherine de Medici is a completely fascinating character. You can read more about her here and here in these two critically acclaimed and frankly, quite brilliant books.
In 1600 Marie de’ Medici became Queen of France when her husband was crowned King Henry IV. He died in 1610 and she became regent to their son Louis XIII, who took power in 1617 and promptly exiled her.
5. They Were The Godfathers of the Renaissance
After coming into power in 1434 Cosimo de’ Medici began the family legacy of becoming the world’s greatest patrons of the arts. He built the first public library in Florence, commissioned Michelozzo as his architect, changed the face of architecture in Florence, and commissioned art and sculpture all over the city.
His grandson Lorenzo (the Magnificent) is considered the world’s greatest and most influential patron of the arts. Not only did he commission works at an unprecedented level, Lorenzo also negotiated a balance of power that brought about peace in Italy for 50 years, allowing the Renaissance to flourish. The Renaissance began as a direct result of the Medici’s interest in the arts.
6. They Discovered Michelangelo
One way Lorenzo the Magnificent supported the arts was his creation of a sculpture garden and artist school in San Marco. He put some of his incredible collection of Greek and Roman sculptures in the garden for apprentice artists to study and learn from.
At age 13 Michelangelo was able to secure one of these apprenticeships when Lorenzo offered Ghirlandaio space for 2 of his students. Lorenzo observed Michelangelo’s skill quickly and moved him into the Medici palace, raising him as a son along with his own children and his orphaned nephew Giulio. Giulio and Lorenzo’s son Giovanni would go on to become the first 2 Medici popes.
Lorenzo understood artists were wired differently, temperamental and couldn’t thrive under regular rules, so he created the perfect environment for Michelangelo, gave him the best education, surrounded him with the greatest minds – artists, writers, philosophers, poets and gave him the freedom and the patronage to hone his craft.
7. One Of Their Biggest Enemies Was A Friar
In the 15th century a religious zealot by the name of Girolamo Savonarola came to Florence and became a friar at the Medici funded convent of San Marco. Savonarola was into deprivation and saw Florence’s love affair with the arts and the humanities as an affront to God.
Two years after Lorenzo’s death his son Piero was overthrown and in 1494 Savonarola became Florence’s reformist leader. In 1497 he had his supporters collect priceless books, art, musical instruments, furniture and other items he called “vanities” and had himself a bonfire – The Bonfire of The Vanities.
In 1498 Savonarola was excommunicated and shortly thereafter hung til near death then burned at the stake in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. A marble plaque in the ground marks the spot he was burned. (Just in front of the Fountain of Neptune.)
8. They Got Exiled Quite Often
Starting with Cosimo’s exile to Venice in 1433, the family was exiled several times. His great grandson Piero was exiled in 1494. Five years later the family was exiled again, returned to power in 1512 but then were exiled yet again in 1527.
While Giulio di Giuliano de Medici (who would become Pope Clement VII) was living in Rome at the home of his cousin Lorenzo II, he got a black slave working in the home pregnant. The child was named Alessandro and was known as Il Moro, the Moor, due to his dark skin.
In 1532 his father, Pope Clement VII made Alessandro the first Duke of Florence, not only creating the hereditary succession that lasted until 1737, but by doing so making Alessandro the first black leader in the western world.
Alessandro was the last member of the main Medici bloodline. He had 2 illegitimate children, but no legitimate offspring, so with him Cosimo’s lineage ended.
10. The World’s 1st Ballet
In 1581 the world’s first ballet was performed in France for the court of Catherine de’ Medici.
11. The World’s 1st Opera
Ferdinando de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany who sits astride his horse in Florence’s beautiful Piazza SS Annunciata had his own huge cultural achievement when he introduced opera to Europe. To celebrate the wedding of his niece Marie de’ Medici to King Henry IV of France in 1600 he put on a lavish performance of the opera Euridice.
12. Galileo Was A Medici Tutor
Not only were the Medici patrons of the arts, they also supported scientists, including the physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei.In the early 1600s Galileo needed money to support his family and took a job tutoring Ferdinando’ son Cosimo. When Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter he named them after the Medici. He published a book about the discoveries he had made with a telescope he invented, “The Starry Messenger”, and dedicated it to his former student, Cosimo. Cosimo hired him as mathematician and philosopher to the Grand Duke, a lucrative position.
13. A Debauched Duke Ended It All
The 7th and final member of the family to serve as Grand Duke of Tuscany was Gian Gastone de’ Medici. He came to power in 1723, led a wild life full of debauchery, and died without any heirs. The leading European powers decided he should be succeeded by Francis, Duke of Lorraine, who would in turn become Holy Roman Emperor and father of Marie Antoinette.
Gian Gastone’s only sibling, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici died in 1743 without any children. She willed the Medici family’s enormous art collection, libraries and other treasures to the Tuscan state with the condition they must always remain in Florence.
When In Florence…
When you do go to Florence take time to explore the lives of the Medici. Their Florentine life took place in the historic center of town, and you can see them everywhere, if you know where to look. Just knowing a little about Cosimo, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Cosimo I, and one of my favorites, Ferdinando I can completely change your experience in the Renaissance city and add depth and color to the tapestry of your trip.
I have a free downloadable pdf of my Secret Florence, telling you my favorite bars, restaurants, places to buy jewelry and souvenirs and much more. You can download your Secret Florence pdf here.
Do you belong to my Private Members Newsletter? Twice each month it tells you about special foods to try, festivals happening in Italy and under the radar places to visit, both within the big cities as well as villages around the country. You can get on the list and become a member (for free) here.
Want to know more about the Medici? The following is a list of really tremendous books that give you insight into the fascinating lives, stupendous rise and ultimate fall of the Medici Family. Each book has an Amazon affiliate link.