The Medici, a merchant and banking family, ruled Florence for centuries, but not continuously - sometimes they lost power, and were banished from the city. In this neighborhood, the family built an elegant Renaissance palazzo, and the Medici are buried in the church of San Lorenzo and Medici Chapels.
Church of San Lorenzo (Basilica di San Lorenzo) - San Lorenzo is one of the oldest churches in Florence, founded in 393. In the 15th century, the Medici hired Brunelleschi (the architect for the Duomo dome) to rebuild the basilica.
Crypt and Treasury
- Before going into the church, stop into the crypt to see the impressive tomb of Cosimo the Elder by Verrochio, and tomb of Donatello. In the Treasury are gilded crystal saint's reliquaries, a reliquary with piece of the True Cross and Crown of Thorns, gold and silver containers for the Eucharist made from gold, silver and precious stones.
- The classic Renaissance design of the church in gray and white is light and lovely. Head over to the Old Sacristy, the Medici mausoleum with sarcophagus of Giovanni de Bici de' Medici, Cosimo the Elder's dad in the center. In the dome are terra cotta scenes of the four Evangelists by Donatello over the two doors are reliefs of patron saints St. Lawrence (San Lorenzo) and St. Stephen on the left, St. Cosma and St. Damian on the right.
Throughout the church look for the the Medici coat of arms, red balls (palle) on a golden shield, decorating ceilings and walls, in stained glass, inlaid wood, exterior doors.
Tip: The entrance to the Medici Chapels is a separate entrance and ticket from the Basilica.
Medici Chapels - Entrance is on the east side of the church at Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini.
Step into the crypt which has gold and silver reliquaries, including a reliquary of San Lorenzo, and tombs of various Medici.
Go up the stairs to the Chapel of the Princes (Capella dei Principi). It does rather take your breath away. An immense eight-sided chapel, every inch - walls, ceiling, floor - is covered with marble, red and green jasper and semi-precious stones. On the walls are giant size sarcophagus of Medici grand-dukes, lower down, coat of arms of 16th differerent Tuscan towns. You can't miss the huge mosaics on the floor with the Medici emblem.
New Sacristry - Michelangelo designed this room, and sculpted two of the three Medici tombs. On the left is Lorenzo, duke of Urbino dressed as an ancient Roman and wearing a swoopy helmet. Tip: Machiavelli dedicated his book The Prince to Lorenzo.
Also in the room is an exquisite statue of Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. The two statues on either side are Cosmas and Damian, Medici patron saints.
Palazzo Medici - Riccardi - Built in the mid-1400's for Cosimo the Elder, this palazzo was the primary home for Medici family until 1540 (when Cosimo I left to take up residence in the Palazzo Vecchio). In the 17th century, the Riccardi banking family bought the Palazzo, today much of the building is used by the provincial government, not open to the public. However, the reason to visit this museum is to the see the glorious Journey of the Magi frescoes.
Courtyard (Cortile d'Onore)
- In the courtyard, imagine it's 1469. Lorenzo the Magnificent is getting married. His bride arrives at the palazzo on a white horse, for three days there are banquets with guests dining in the courtyard, garden and loggia. Tip: Look for the Medici coat of arms in the courtyard and garden decorations.
Chapel of the Magi
- A jewel-like chapel, with painting of Mary and the baby Jesus above the altar, and on surrounding walls, a manificent procession of the Magi, the three kings Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior, accompanied by richly-robed nobles, camels, cheetahs!, on their way to Bethlehem.
The Palazzo is open daily, closed on Wed.
Mercato Centrale - It's fun to explore this market, strolling through aisles on the ground floor filled with cheese, meat, fish, seafood, vegetables, fruits, breads, pastries, cookies. Head upstairs (first floor) for a delicious lunch - wood fired pizza, fresh pasta, Tuscan dishes, sandwiches, vegetarian, artisan breads and pastries, chocolates and ice cream. Mercato Centrale is closed on Sunday.