Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (The Museum of the Works of the Cathedral, Florence)

Many years ago, on my first visit to Florence, I visited the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (the museum associated with the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, usually referred to as “the Duomo”). At that time (1996), the museum was a jumble of a space, small and crowded with poorly displayed art and artifacts from the famous cathedral. I was not inspired to return.

Detail from a sculpture by Ticciati, once part of the main altar in the Duomo, now in the redesigned museum entry

Detail from a sculpture by Ticciati, once part of the main altar in the Duomo, now in the redesigned museum entry

 In recent years, the museum has been enlarged and has undergone a top-to-bottom renovation (completed in 2015). On a recent trip to Florence I decided to revisit the museum to see the changes – and my only word is WOW - what a change! 

16th century bust of Mary Magdalene, Giovanni Bandini

16th century bust of Mary Magdalene, Giovanni Bandini

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The museum is now an amazing space, full of light, open galleries, and fascinating art and artifacts from throughout the cathedral’s history.

The displays are well organized, beautifully presented, and provide good historical context.

Many of the pieces are original, moved from the cathedral itself. These include Ghiberti’s bronze baptistery doors, an evocative Pietà by Michelangelo, a carved wooden Mary Magdalene by Donatello, and portions of a larger-than-life sculpture from what was once a main altar in an earlier version of the cathedral (top photo).

A reproduction of the church facade, lined with statuary, fills the long, high gallery on the ground floor. How wonderful to get a closer look at these examples of statues that are so high up on the actual cathedral’s exterior. The facade can also be enjoyed from a viewing gallery on the floor above, which provides an even closer look at the statues high up on the recreated facade.

Statue gallery

Statue gallery

 Across from this wall of statues are the two massive bronze baptistery doors by Ghiberti. I could spend hours looking at the details of the panels that make up these doors. Each panel tells a story in intricate detail.

Detail of panels from the north baptistry doors

Detail of panels from the north baptistry doors

Wooden model of the lantern that rises above the cupola

Wooden model of the lantern that rises above the cupola

Central to the history of the cathedral is the building of the cupola (dome). Designed by Brunelleschi, it is a marvel of engineering and architecture.

The museum has an area dedicated to its construction that includes models of the dome and the lantern that caps it, a video presentation, and a display of tools used in the dome’s construction.

 Considering that the cupola was built in the 15th century, is this impressive engineering or miracle?

 One of my favorite displays was the reproductions of the stained glass windows.  More than a static display, the dynamic technology brings the windows up close, allowing the brilliant colors and designs to unfold before one’s eyes to be viewed in detail.

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Of course a cathedral must have music and  the museum includes beautifully illustrated books of sacred music and two marble choir lofts (actually designed for organs not choirs). One loft was designed by della Robbia and the other by Donatello.  Both are beautiful but quite different in character.

Joyful children play across della Robbia’s sculpted choir loft

Joyful children play across della Robbia’s sculpted choir loft

Detail from large book of sacred music

Detail from large book of sacred music

To end a visit here, be sure to view the actual dome from the viewing platform on the museum’s top floor.

The redesigned Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is nothing short of marvelous. Kudos to the redesign team - what a gift they have given us.   - Post by JMB

Location:   Piazza del Duomo 9, 50122 Florence, Italy

Hours:  Sunday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Closed Mondays and first Tuesday of the month.  Hours subject to change; best to check ahead of time

Cost: an 18 euro ticket allows access to the museum and baptistery .  Several combined museum tickets also area available 

Mercato Sant'Ambrogio, Florence

Visiting a market in Italy always makes me long for a kitchen, a stove, and a reason to cook. This is particularly true in Florence, especially since I discovered the Mercato Sant'Ambrogio, which according to a local is the "mercato delle mamme" (mamma's market). 

No doubt the Mercato Centrale is larger and better known, especially to tourists. It has shops and food stalls downstairs and restaurants on its upper floor, along with an Eataly market and demonstration kitchen. It was renovated several years ago and now feels upscale; it's a Florentine hot spot. However, I prefer the smaller, lower key, and much less touristy Sant'Ambrogio market in the Santa Croce neighborhood. Serving this neighborhood since 1873, the Mercato Sant'Ambrogio has the look and feel of a classic Italian market, inside and out. Shoppers here are largely Italian speakers, which for me is a big part of the draw as it means I have the chance to shop and practice my Italian. Perfetto!

A vibrant selection of vegetables in the mercato.

A vibrant selection of vegetables in the mercato.

An artistic arrangement of peppers.

An artistic arrangement of peppers.

Outside of the main market building is a covered area with a variety of food vendors  - fruits, vegetables, porcini, flowers, breads, fresh eggs, and local honey fill the bench tops. The displays are artful and everything is colorful and fragrant. This is fresh food at its best.

Fresh porcini at the Sant'Ambrogio market.

Fresh porcini at the Sant'Ambrogio market.

Inside the mercato, salami and proscuitto fill the shops of the salumiere. The macellerie (butchers) sell thick Tuscan steaks along with pork, fowl, and beef trimmed and ready to cook, and the pescivendoli (fishmongers) display the day's catch on ice.  

Salumi

Salumi

There are cheese shops with rounds of gorgonzola dolce, balls of fresh mozzarella and burata, logs of goat cheese, wedges of taleggio, tubs of fresh ricotta, and wedges of hard cheeses like pecorino, Parmigiano, and grana padano. In short, if you love cheese this is bliss!

Perhaps my favorite shop is the one selling pasta fresca. The display is a pasta lover's dream (and a carb-phobic's nightmare). Here you'll find fresh pasta in every size, shape, and color; simple pastas, filled pastas, gnocchi, gnudi. You name it, they have along with sauces to make the dish complete. If only I could find pasta like this closer to home!

 A morning of shopping at the mercato calls for a coffee or lunch break (maybe both). No problem - in the middle of the mercato is a typical bar serving coffee as well as wine and other drinks - make like a local and have yours standing at the bar. There is also a trattoria where you can sit and have a tasty, market fresh lunch.

The Mercato Sant'Ambrogio is a feast for the senses and I easily spend whole mornings here. I confess that on one short stay in Florence I skipped the Duomo and headed for the mercato instead. After a happy morning shopping, and a mid-morning cappuccino, I left with a treasure trove of goodies - cinghiale salami, pecorino cheese, bread, apples, and pears, which made for a tasty picnic for my group of friends as we left Florence the following morning on a train. But the next time I visit, I really want that kitchen!     -post by JB

The House of Dante

With all the amazing sites to see in Florence, it’s hard to find time to visit some of the lesser-known museums. During my spring trip to Italy, I took an hour or so to visit the Museo Casa di Dante (Museum House of Dante) because how could I pass up the chance to learn more about the man considered the father of the language I love so much?

A bust of Dante hangs on the outside wall of the Museo Casa di Dante.

A bust of Dante hangs on the outside wall of the Museo Casa di Dante.

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 and the Museo Casa di Dante is said to be where he and his family lived. The museum is housed on three floors of a historic building in the heart of Florence. It was established in 1965 and offers a peek into the various aspects of Dante’s life. Dante, after all, wasn’t just the man credited with establishing the national language of Italy. He also was a politician and epic poet, whose “Divine Comedy” is one of world literature’s masterpieces.

Museo Casa di Dante in Florence

Museo Casa di Dante in Florence

In addition to providing information about Dante, the museum looks at what was happening in Italy at different periods of Dante’s life. There’s a reproduction, for example, of what Italian soldiers wore way back when, as well as weapons from the Battle of Campaldino, in which Dante fought.

Reproductions such as this one of a soldier offer a glimpse into what life was like in Florence in the 14th century.

Reproductions such as this one of a soldier offer a glimpse into what life was like in Florence in the 14th century.

One of the most moving parts of the museum is the second floor, which includes information about Dante’s exile from Florence. One display case includes a reproduction of the “Libro del Chiodo,” or “Book of the Nail.” The book is a record of sentences handed down in Florence during the 14th century. It is called the “Book of the Nail” because it was bound in wooden covers and hung from a nail in the courtroom. Among the sentences in the book is Dante’s – if he ever returned to Florence, he was to be burned at the stake.

The "Libro del Chiodo," or "Book of the Nail"

The "Libro del Chiodo," or "Book of the Nail"

The top floor of the museum is devoted to the “Divine Comedy” - a topic I could write about for days (but I won’t). It doesn’t take long to visit the Museo Casa di Dante, although most first-time visitors to Florence with limited time will no doubt choose to gaze at the David and try to conquer the Uffizi instead. But language and literature lovers should definitely stop by this small museum, which is located not far from the Duomo.                                                                             -post by JG

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