Could UFO’s have been flying over Renaissance Italy?
There is a little extraterrestrial intrigue at the Palazzo Vecchio in the historic heart of beautiful Florence. Up on the top floor of the palace in the Hall of Hercules there is a large tondo (circular frame with the painting inside) measuring about one meter across, featuring the Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist.
It’s quite lovely, right? But there may just be a little more to this painting than meets the eye. We don’t know exactly who painted it. It has alternately been attributed to Tondo Miller, Bastiano Mainardi and Arcangelo di Jacopo del Sellaio but no one seems to know for certain who’s work it is. It happens, and this is not the only painting in Florence with an artist we can’t name.
At first glance it looks like any other Renaissance Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist. It is nice enough but you wouldn’t necessarily stop and swoon over it. In a city with more art within one square kilometer than any other city in the world, this painting is lovely but expected. You can imagine it on the walls of any Florentine palazzo. She is pretty, wears a red dress with a dark cape and a young John the Baptist is there with with baby Jesus. Ho hum.
But look over Mary’s shoulder and things get interesting. In the countryside behind her we see a shepherd with his small flock and his dog. Look more closely at both the shepherd and the dog. He has his hand raised to his forehead in awe and both he and the dog are looking up to the sky. Follow the line of their gaze and you will see what appears to be a B movie style flying saucer.
I’m not kidding! A grey, oval object is moving across the sky, with spiky golden rays emanating from it. Could it be a UFO?
The painting is dated to 1510-1520, a time during which there were no flying machines. Leonardo started work on his ornithopter around 1485 but the skies over Italy in those days were occupied only by birds. So what exactly is going on here?
UFOlogists are adamant that this is proof that UFOs were being sighted during the Renaissance. Some art historians say the odd looking grey object is an angel appearing as a cloud (I don’t see it – they were realllly good at painting angels back then. Renaissance painters specialized in angels, and none of them were painted as grey blobs with golden spikes coming out of them.) The historians also say the shepherd is shielding his eyes from the light of God and that the nativity star with the three smaller stars in the left hand corner represent Mary’s continued virginity, before, during and after childbirth.
What do you think? UFO or grey blob of angel? Or could it be something else altogether?
Are you planning a trip to Florence? Would you like to know my favorite secret spots in Florence? My favorite places for lunch and dinner, where to have a drink with a view, the best markets and even a secret jewelry shop behind a hidden door! Get my Secret Florence PDF for free. Download your copy HERE
Florence is one of my absolute favorite cities in the world. It doesn’t matter how many times I go to Florence, I always discover something new. I never get bored with Florence, and I never feel like I’m done. Florence is magic.
I’ve spent a great deal of time in Florence over the past 10 years. I’ve been to the all the main tourist spots (multiple times!) but I have also explored the city from one end to the other. Along the way I have discovered some wonderful secrets in the city on the Arno.
Most tourists miss out on some of the most amazing things to do in Florence, so I have made you a list of 10 items that you need to add to your travel itinerary.
I am always asked about my favorite restaurants and shops in Florence, so I have added an option for you to get a PDF of my Secret Florence at the end of this post.
Here are 10 things that you absolutely MUST do when you are in Florence:
1. Go For An Early Walk.
Get up early (at least once while you are there) and go for a long walk.
Florence gets so packed with tourists during the day and into the night that it becomes almost impossible to get one on one time with her statues, her famous doorways, the great piazzas. During the day you can hardly ever snap a photo without other travelers getting in the way.
But in the early mornings the streets are empty, and she is all yours.
Florence is full of amazing churches with amazing art, but to me Santa Croce is one of the most spectacular.
Santa Croce Church in the shadow of the early morning
The art inside Santa Croce is considered to be some of the most impressive church art in all of Florence. From Giotto’s fresco cycles to Cimabue’s breathtaking Triumphal Cross, the art in Santa Croce is spectacular. It is also the home to Florence’s most impressive tombs, and has memorials to Michelangelo, Rossini, Dante Aligheri, Ghiberti, Galileo and Machiavelli. Largely overlooked by tourists, the church at Santa Croce is an absolute must.
4. Get Up High
The Duomo seen from the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio on a misty, moody December afternoon
Whether you choose to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, or perhaps the vastly fewer stairs to the top of the Palazzo Vecchio tower, get up high and take in the mesmerizing view of one of Europe’s most magnificent cities.
Just as early morning walks are a must in Florence, so are long evening walks after the sun has gone down.
One of the great loves of my life lives in Florence, ( if you are going to fall in love, it might as well be with an Italian, right?) and for many years evenings in Florence were synonymous with long strolls around the city, taking in all the incredible palazzi and churches, the magnificent doorways, the statues, the very essence of Florence, bathed in the moonlight.
As beautiful as she is by day, Santa Maria Del Fiore (the Duomo) is just mesmerizing by night. In fact Florence is pure magic by night.
6. Look Up
While taking night time strolls you have the opportunity to see frescos and incredible ceilings hidden to you during the day, but visible by night when people turn their lights on. When we would be out at night (and still even now, as the dearest of friends) he always tells me “Look up!” as we walk by breathtaking frescoes on the upper floors of the various palazzi, scattered everywhere in the city.
When I was in Florence this past December I was incredibly lucky to have a private tour of the secret passages and hidden rooms in the Palazzo Vecchio. It was so awe-inspiring that I immediately promised myself that every time I go back to Florence I will take a little tour of some place special. This medieval city is so full of hidden corridors and passageways, there is art up in the rafters, there is art inside the walls. It’s rich history of intrigue and treachery and treasures means there are endlessly fascinating secrets to be discovered. The perfect way to experience them is with an art historian filling you in on all the stories, bringing them to life for you.
8. Eat The Best Sandwich Of Your Life
A couple of blocks from the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi on the Via Dei Neri you will find Osteria All’ Antico Vinaio
It is super easy to find because they have a trattoria on either side of the road, and until late each night there are always locals spilling out onto the sidewalk with giant focaccia sandwiches in one hand and big glasses of lusty red wine in the other, while their brethren queue patiently in lines that weave down the street, waiting for as long as it takes to get their turn at the counter. I guarantee you will never have had a sandwich quite like these before!
You can custom order, but I learned from the people waiting with me in the line and the others having spasms or gastronomic delight as they leaned against the walls or sat on the curb eating their panini, that the way to tackle this beast was to order from the posted list of favorites. (90% of the patrons were all ordering the same thing, so I figured I would just have what they did. Perhaps one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.)
This is no nitrite, no nitrate, no Monsanto, fresh, local, real food.
You won’t find anything as crass as a soda fountain here but you will find a selection of local red wines that they sell by the bottle or by the glass.
And just how much do you think the best sandwich of your life will cost you? €5. It’s the bargain of the century!
9. Explore Oltrarno
Literally “the other side of the Arno”, there is so much to see when you cross the river. You have the big sights, the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michelangelo and San Spirito with its Brunelleschi designed interior, but you also have endless medieval streets full of antique stores and local artisans. As you wander through you’ll find fewer and fewer tourists, which means the price of everything goes down. It’s easy to spend days on end losing yourself in Florence’s neighborhoods – there is so much to discover.
While wandering find your way to Santa Maria Del Carmine. The Cappella Brancacci houses a renaissance fresco cycle that changed the course of western art. Begun by Masaccio and Masolino in around 1424 and finished 50 years later by Filippino Lippi, this cycle uses a then revolutionary technique employing single point perspective. Look to the upper left entrance pier to Adam and Eve and notice the dramatic way their bodies reflect a light that seems to emanate from within the world of the painting, but outside the frame. It is magnificent.
Florence is world famous for it’s amazing leather goods.
If you are not shopping at the Gucci and Prada price point, then this is the city for you! You can buy beautifully made leather bags, belts, luggage, wallets and jackets all over Florence, especially at the San Lorenzo market, but you have to either know what you’re buying, or who you are buying it from to make sure you are getting good quality and not a Made-In-China rip off.
For years and years now I have been buying leather goods from my very dear friend Jimmy Ahmed of Jimmy’s Leather Collection. I’ve sent so many people to Jimmy over the years, and everyone is always super happy to have gone there. Read more about buying leather in Florence here
I’m giving you a bonus tip, because I can’t refine it down to just 10 tips…
Panforte with coffee makes for a perfect mid-morning snack
This is actually a Sienese delicacy but you can find it all over Florence. Not a bread, and yet not quite a cake panforte is a divine flourless combination of nuts, dried fruits, honey and spices. My favorite type is Mandorlata. You do so much walking all day every day in Florence, it’s easy to justify a small slice with your morning cappuccino.
If you would like to know my favorite restaurants, rooftop bars, a secret jeweler who designs for Dior but who also sells to regular ladies in the know at sensible prices, even a Medici perfumer, I have a Secret Florence PDF that you can download and print.
I’ve loved her for years. She is one of the most magnificent cities in the world.
Early morning Duomo
One of my absolute favorite things to do in Florence is to get up early and go walking.
Before the crowds descend, before the views get obstructed by the human masses, before the lines of tourists wrap around the buildings.
Ponte Vecchio before everyone arrives
The shops on Ponte Vecchio before they open for the day
Pitti Palace with the early morning sun
There is a magic hour in Florence after the sun is up and before the shops are open, when there is almost no one around. That is my favorite hour. This is when the city is my own, and I don’t have to share her with anyone.
Piazza Della Signoria before the crowds arrive
Florence street in the early morning
Santa Maria Novella
All images taken on my iPhone while walking in Florence.