Places off the beaten path
Visiting Florence can be challenging for two main reasons. The first is the incommensurable amount of palaces, museums, garden and galleries that you can visit. The second is the fact that all these places are often packed full with tourists, so much that even in low or mid season you might have to queue for a long time before you get in. This is why we would like to suggest you a list of places that are often ignored by tourists, for no good reason whatsoever. If you could not book a visit at the Uffizi Gallery and the queue outside the Duomo is just daunting, these are some of the valuable alternatives that Florence can offer.
La Specola Museum
La Specola Museum, in via Romana, is a section of the Natural History Museum of the University of Florence and it is the most ancient scientific museum in Europe. Its names comes from the observatory that was built on its roof, commissioned by Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo.
Nowadays, the Museum hosts two collections: one about zoology and one about anatomy. The zoological collection is probably the most important collection of stuffed animals in Italy. The anatomy section was build upon request of Pietro Leopoldo and of the first Museum Director, Felice Fontana, so that tridimensional anatomy could be taught without the use of corpses. The anatomical models, made out of wax, mostly date to the XVIII and XIX centuries and amount to about 1400.
The Museum also includes the Galileo Tribune, opened in 1841 by the last Grand Duke Leopoldo II di Lorena on the occasion of the III Congress of Italian Scientists. The Tribune hosts a statue of Galileo Galilei and a collection of paintings on the theme of scientific knowledge. On the first floor you will also find the Skeletons Saloon, which hosts – as the name suggests – a wide collection of human and animal skeletons. Among them, there also is the biggest whale skeleton hosted in Italian museums.
Anthropology and Ethnography Museum
Located in via del Proconsolo, very close to the Duomo, this Museum is another section of the Natural History Museum of the University of Florence. The building was designed upon request of the Strozzi family by architect Bernardo Buontalenti. Over the centuries, it has undergone several changes and had several uses until 1869, when Senator Paolo Mantegazza founded the National Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. The management was then allocated to the University of Florence.
The Museum's collection is divided in 25 rooms and covers most of the planet's populations, from African cultures – with a special attention to the former Italian colonies – to the Asian cultures of Indonesia and Japan, those of Australasia's islands and the Amazonian areas of South America. The collection also comprises historical relics from the Medici family's collection as well as from Sir James Cook's thirds expedition.
The history of this elegant 'villa' begins at least halfway through the XIX century, when the building was bought by Baroness Fiorella Favard de l'Anglade – a noblewoman whose real name was Suzanne Bacheville. The Baroness commissioned architect Giuseppe Poggi to renovate the building. And not only did Poggi renovate the building, but he also realised stables, a new gateway from via Aretina and a chapel, which now hosts frescoes by Annibale Gatti e Giovanni Dupré. Particular attention was also given to the gardens. Poggi kept the original Reinassance design, realised by Bacco d'Agnolo, but introduced elements from the British botanical tradition.
Villa Favard became famous in the Florence cultural scene and hosted habitual rendezvous for artists and literates. When the Baroness died in 1889, its decline began. In World War II, the building was occupied by German troops and in 1949 it was donated to the Opera Pia Madonnina del Grappa, a religious institution, until the complex was eventually fractioned in the Seventies.
Today Villa Favard has been renovated thanks to the Province of Florence. The villa now hosts part of the Luigi Cherubini National Music Conservatory, whereas the gardens are open to the public every day from 8:00 to 20:00.
Marino Marini Museum
Located in Piazza San Pancrazio and hosted in the old church of the same name, This Museum is one of the most interesting spaces dedicated to contemporary art in Florence. Marino Marini (1901-1980) was in fact one of the most important Italian artists of the XX century. Born in Pistoia, he studied in Florence before he moved to Milan, where he taught at the prestigious Brera Accademi of Fine Arts.
When Marini died, his works collection was donated to the city of Florence. The City therefore decided to renovate the old church of San Pancrazio and make a museum of it. The architects in charge of the renovation, Lorenzo Papi and Bruno Sacchi, redesigned the church's spaces and gave them a modern take based upon their reading of Marini's work.
The final effect is one of particular harmony between the artworks and the exhibition spaces. Today the Museum hosts about 200 pieces, arranged by an order that reflects the themes of Marini's work.