Other than that, I wandered about discovering free history and art surprises in churches, cloisters, civic buildings, art galleries, gardens and parks. Just by looking up at the facades of buildings I was given a free course on renaissance architecture. Sometimes I planned where to go, sometimes I just stumbled upon (yes, uneven sidewalks) something wonderful and surprising. And all for free just by wandering about.
Churches and Convents
The ground floor of the Church of Orsanmichele is open daily free to the public. On Mondays, however, you can also climb to the very high ceilinged first and second floors.
We twenty-first century tourists have become conditioned to think of churches as standalones, but when we peak around a corner or walk through a door left ajar, we see the expanse of the church complex of Late Medieval (trecento) and Renaissance (quattrocento) Florence.
You never know when a cloister, chapel, refectory, or convent room will be open for a day or two. I keep looking, and if a door is not shut, in I go. This spring the magnificent cloister adjacent to Santissima Annunciata was open to the pubic to display a contemporary art exhibit.
Cloisters are integral to the set of buildings that comprised the convent or monastery configuration surrounding a church. Today many cloister entries are separate and free. To the left of the Church of San Lorenzo is the entrance to its beautiful cloister with a view of the nearby Duomo and Campanile.
Speaking of Last Supper paintings, you can spend a week just viewing different artistic renditions in refectories, many with free entry. The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo) by Castagno (1447) hangs in its original spot in the refectory of one of the largest nunneries of fifteenth century Florence, the Convent of St. Apollonia on Via VXII Aprile. I spent an hour gazing at the expansive fresco, examining scinope (fresco sketches) on the side walls, and imagining I was a nun praying during my daily meal.
St. Croce was undoubtedly the largest monastic complex of quattrocento Florence, and is well worth the admission charge. The entrance to its Scuola del Cuoio (leather school/shop), however, is free. Walk along Via S. Giuseppe to the left of the church to a rather modest entrance at 5R; continue along the driveway to the rear and follow the signs. On the way you get a sense of the enormity of the church complex.
Climb the entrance steps, watch artists demonstrating their craft as they make the exquisite leather products sold in the shop, and learn the history of the school and its mission to educate orphans after World War II.
5. Palazzo Vecchio
If there is a perfect place to start your Free in Florence tour, it might be the museum on the ground floor of Palazzo Vecchio, the civic building of the Trecento and Quattrocento. Off the courtyard near the ticket office is this little museum that holds artwork depicting Florence through the centuries, from early paintings of the Arno to photographs of the 1966 flood.
Perhaps palace is a misnomer for the homes of the wealthy families in Renaissance Florence. After all, the families were not of royalty but their homes were palatial. Many of these magnificent stone buildings are now homes to museums, schools, banks, and even the local police. In many cases there is free access to the ground floor courtyard.
The Medici-Riccardi Palace accommodates offices of the local police as well as a gallery of contemporary art. To appreciate this home built by Cosimo Medici in 1444, and where his grandson Lorenzo Il Magnifico entertained humanists, scholars, poets, and artists, you only need to be walking by when the entrance to the courtyard is open. Go on in, gaze up, and wander around.
Private Homes, Parks, and Gardens
Casa Guidi at Piazza San Felice, 8, was the home of Elizabeth and Robert Browning from 1847-1861. Today, under the auspices the Browning Society and The Friends of Casa Guidi, this eight room apartment is open free of charge to the public Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. Ring the bell, wait for the click of the door opening, and walk up one flight of stairs. You will be welcomed into the homey apartment where Elizabeth spent most of her days while living in Florence. http://www.browningsociety.org/casa_guidi.html
8. Park of the Art School of Porta Romana
There are public gardens and parks throughout Florence ready to welcome you. Buy a sandwich a bottle of water and enjoy.
I love to walk along Via Romana to the vast park of the Art School of Porta Romana. I eat my lunch and write, and watch people exercising their dogs, playing Frisbee and soccer, sitting and chatting, and reading and napping. The property abuts the Boboli Gardens, where alas, and entry fee is charged.
9. Piazzale Michelangelo and Environs
Everyone visiting Florence takes to time view the city from Piazza Michelangelo.
Further on is the church of San Miniato al Monte, one of my most absolute favorite spots to visit in Florence. Entrance to this Romanesque church is free; Gregorian Chant concerts are performed without charge from time to time.
Explore on line.
AND, a friend just reminded me: The first Sunday of the month all museums in Italy are free!