Florence – Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella & Accademia

Hi friends, welcome back to my Italy series! After exploring the Uffizi Gallery and grabbing sandwiches for lunch, Jon and I headed to visit the Basilica of Santa Croce. Tickets are eight euros and we purchased them onsite. You can also purchase an audioguide, but we passed on this. Santa Croce is the largest Franciscan church in the world. From the outside the church doesn’t look too big, but as soon as you step inside, you get a real sense for how massive this space is. There are sixteen chapels and the nave spans 115 meters in the shape of a cross.

Santa Croce is also where Galileo and Michelangelo are buried.

Construction of the church began in in 1294 and it was consecrated in 1442. Since then, it’s been a constant work in progress. In 1966 the Arno River flooded and it caused severe damage to Santa Croce that took decades to repair. Currently the Bardi chapel, featuring Giotto’s Stories of Saint Frances frescoes, is closed an estimated three years for restoration.

Outside the church, Piazza Santa Croce is lined with shops and restaurants. It seemed pretty quiet for a Saturday afternoon.

Another church to see in Florence is the Church of Santa Maria Novella near the train station. We only managed to see the exterior on a post-gelato stroll.  Construction on this church began in 1276 and it was consecrated in 1420. Inside there are famous pieces of art by Giotto and Brunelleschi. If I’m ever in Florence again I’ll make the time to stop inside.

The following morning, on our second full day in Italy, we had an early reservation at the Accademia. If you’re going to Florence, make sure you make reservations in advance for this museum! The line when we left was crazy long and the whole street was filled with people either with a group or waiting to get in. Our ticket entry was at 8:30 and it felt like we almost had David all to ourselves. We enjoyed the short audio tour in the Rick Steves app too.

It’s hard to think of a sculpture more famous than Michelangelo’s David. The statue is fourteen feet tall and weighs over six tons. Michelangelo was commissioned to carve this for the Duomo when he was twenty-six using only one block of marble. It was supposed to be on the roof, so he crafted the proportions so they would look correct from far below. The statue never made it to the Duomo, but stood outside Palazzo Vecchio instead for about 350 years. In 1873 they finally moved it inside for preservation.

David’s right hand is noticeably larger signifying the strength of God within him to defeat Goliath. There is also a crack in his left arm from damage caused during a riot in 1527. The toe was also damaged by a visitor in 1991.

This was what the area looked like by the time we left, noticeably busier even at 10am.

Michelangelo’s Prisoners line the hall up to David but most of them are unfinished. They were originally commissioned to be for Pope Julius II’s tomb. Michelangelo believed it was a sculptor’s job to reveal what God had designed in the marble.  


Michelangelo himself.

The Rape of the Sabine Woman depicts when the Romans stole the women from the neighboring city to increase Rome’s population. This is a model and the actual is in the outdoor gallery outside Palazzo Vecchio.

There is also a small musical instrument section of the museum we quickly perused through. The collection featured some old instruments we’d never seen before.

The Accademia is quite small and we spent about an hour and a half inside. If you’re visiting Florence, make your museum reservation as early as possible so you can experience David without all the crowds. You won’t be disappointed by an early wakeup! Stay tuned for our experience climbing the famous dome.

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36 thoughts on “Florence – Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella & Accademia

  1. Great memories for me Lyssy, all except the Academia. This was the museum we most wanted to see when we went to Florence, but the delays caused by our tour guide’s visits to all her kickback friends meant we arrived to late for the last admission. Now, at least I can see what we missed. I do love looking at what sculptors can drag out of stone. Have a great day. Allan

    1. Gotta love those kickbacks… It is impressive what they can make out of stone, I could barely manage a pinch pot out of clay. One wrong chip and it’s game over, but they can create such masterpieces. Hope you make it back one day 🙂

  2. So much history and culture. I can not get over the size of Santa Croce; the people look so tiny in there.

    1. There really is so much history and culture in Florence, I could’ve easily filled another day with activities. The people do really look tiny!

    1. They are so impressive! I’d definitely ruin every piece of marble they gave me.

  3. I was there years ago. I thought I would never be able to go back because of mobility. But I just did. Thank you for sharing. Your pictures are wonderful!

  4. Getting to see Michaelangelo’s works in person would be a dream come true, Lyssy! You were smart for booking the early entry time. And Santa Croce looks fabulous. Your photos are all amazing.

    1. Thank you! After your roadtrips you’ll have to visit all these masterpieces! The museum is so small that you could easily feel the influx of people as the day went on.

  5. I forgot Brunelleschi was an artist as well as an architect, but come to think of it Michelangelo was both as well. I also forgot David was intended for the top of the Duomo. I’m glad you mentioned the hallway of unfinished works because it only adds to the drama as you approach David. I’m surprised you can get so close to the statue and see it from all sides, esp. with that fairly recent incident where the toe was damaged.

    As for the churches, Santa Croce was one of my favorites in all of Italy, especially its distinctive white facade. It’s no wonder those famous names chose (or were chosen) to be buried there. Finally, you “perused” the Accaademia’s musical instruments? “Peruse” became my highlighted word for this week’s blog about an hour ago. Nice coincidence, Lyssy!

    1. It’s pretty amazing these guys could design art and buildings. The unfinished works so really highlight the star of the museum. There really didn’t seem to be that much security by David, I could have touched him briefly if I wanted to get kicked out or arrested.

      I was glad to see Santa Croce after seeing it from Piazza Michelangelo. Haha I got nervous I used the word wrong for a second, but I haven’t gotten any screen shots with words circled that are spelled incorrectly from my mom so I think I’m ok!

  6. Santa Croce is gorgeous and very distinctive in architecture! I remember seeing it when I visited Florence, so I don’t recall going inside…I remember seeing the statue of David, however, and had been surprised that he was much taller than I’d expected: more than life-size!

    1. It is so gorgeous and distinctive. We loved seeing all the different but gorgeous churches in Italy. I didn’t think I’d be so impressed by David, but he was bigger than I thought and I was mesmerized!

    1. He is special, and even more impressive in person. I can’t either, I can’t even make a pinch pot haha

  7. Santa Croce is mesmerising inside and out. Santa Maria Novella has an incredible facade. Since our arrival in the Caucasuses we have seen quite a few rather bare churches and monasteries. Seeing these Italian churches reminds me of why I’m always up for a good church visit. Well done for booking an early visit to the Academia.

    1. It’s amazing how many churches there are in Italy and how different they all are. I loved the ones in Rome that look so modest on the outside, but you walk in and it’s just unreal. I am very proactive about booking our activities months in advance to avoid the crowds and lines.

  8. I had no idea of the scale of David in real life- it is so much grander and awe-inspiring than I expected, even in your photos! I also found it incredible to see the half-carved marble statues- it truly looks like they were simply exposing what already existed inside the stone. This place would be on my must-see list whenever I make it to Florence!

  9. We visited the Accademia on free museum day (which is the first Sunday of the month) and thought the place would be completely packed. We went close to closing time and were pleasantly surprised to find it mostly empty. It was fantastic.

  10. Your clichés are very nice ! And Italy, and towns are so amazing. A lot of things to look at everywhere in the churches and museum… and famous artists !!!

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