If you keep walking up past Piazzale Michelangelo, you will find San Miniato Church perched on a hill. This vantage is even higher than Piazzale Michelangelo, and you can see see more of the surrounding hills of Florence. The church is free to enter and at around 5 pm the monks chant in the lower crypt, creating some eerily beautiful sounds. It’s a very calming place to sit and enjoy authentic Florence.
There is an old, winding street in the Oltrarno where you can see Galileo’s former residence. Costa San Giorgio is a quiet residential street that bends and curves up through narrow alleys. Galileo’s address was Costa San Giorgio 19, and it was here that he made his most important astronomical breakthroughs. You can’t enter his house because it is a private residence now, but it’s still worth a look!
As you continue up to Porta San Giorgio, you will notice Forte Belvedere on you right and Museo Bardini on your left. These you will have to pay to enter. When you walk through Porta San Giorgio, one of the doors to the old city, take a left along the old city walls until you reach Porta San Minato where you can either head up to Piazzale Michelangelo by the stairs or down into San Niccolo, where you will find many little trattorie, ristoranti and enoteche. It all makes for a gorgeous walk through the quiet streets of the Oltrarno.
The hidden gems or secrets of Florence are always free as well. These are things that are kept secret from tourists and visitors. Instead of paying for a tour to see these particular sites, why not find them yourself? For example, behind the dome in Piazza del Duomo, there is a large stone circle embedded in the cobblestones. What happened there? A violent storm tormented the city on January 17th, 1600. A large bolt of lightening hit the large ball of copper on top of Brunelleschi’s dome which was originally placed there in 1472. The lightening was so brutal it broke apart the supporting bracket of the copper ball and it rolled down the rim of the dome before landing firmly in the cobblestones of the piazza. People don’t usually notice any of these wee things in a grand city like Florence.
Wine doors — windows made for serving wine to Florence’s lower class — are prevalent throughout the city as well, located in large wealthy palazzi. Some can be found with the original wooden doors and others have been covered over with cement. Wine-making families harvested large amounts of wine each season, so they would sell the excess of wine they had to people on the street at a discount.
Stay tuned for more secrets from Florence; I will be posting more soon. There are many free things to partake in while visiting Florence; enjoy this enchanting city by walking in the footsteps of many fiorentini. To find more hidden gems of Florence, go to the Hidden Gems Guide.