Florence wouldn’t be Florence without the Arno, the river that threads its way through the city that grew around it. Discovering Florence from the water is a fascinating experience that not only gives you a different perspective on the cradle of the Renaissance but also lets you contemplate the city from an unusual and beautiful angle.
Easing gently along the Arno on the sand diggers’ old boats is a delightfully original way to explore the city for visitors. But who are these sand diggers, or renaioli? Theirs is an old occupation that has completely died out; they used to dredge the riverbed, bringing up the sand – rena in Tuscan dialect – for use in the building industry to construct Florence’s great palazzi.
But now they have reinvented themselves. The Associazione culturale dei Renaioli has restored some of the old craft, and you can take a trip on one to see the city’s main sights. A boat ride along the River Arno is yours to enjoy from May to September (or April to October, weather permitting), and it offers an unparalleled opportunity to observe Florence from a remarkable and unique vantage point, on a return trip from Ponte Vecchio to Ponte alla Carraia via Ponte Santa Trinita, of course.
Tours last around 45 minutes, so allow an hour (including boarding and disembarking). Boats depart from the quay in Piazza Mentana on Lungarno Diaz.
Here is what you will see from the boat:
- Palazzo della Borsa: Here is where the boat ride starts. The neoclassical building was built on the Lungarno Diaz between 1858 and 1860. Today is the seat of the Chamber of Commerce.
- Uffizi Gallery: Have you ever thought about seeing one of the most famous museums of the world from another angle? The Uffizi Gallery doesn’t need a presentation. The building of Uffizi was begun by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 for Cosimo I de’ Medici so as to accommodate the offices of the Florentine magistrates, hence the name uffizi, “offices”. Today, the Uffizi is one of the most populartourist attractions of Florence where you can find some of the greatest masterpieces by artists such as Cimabue a Caravaggio, passando per Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raffaello, Mantegna, Tiziano, Parmigianino, Rubens, Rembrandt, Canaletto e Botticelli.
- Vasari Corridor: It is a hidden elevatedpassageway the Medici Family used to move from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti passing also over the Old Bridge. The idea of an enclosed passageway was motivated by the Grand Duke’s desire to move freely between his residence and the government palace, when, like most monarchs of the period, he felt insecure in public, in his case especially because he had replaced the Republic of Florence.
- Ponte Vecchio: It’s the most famous bridge of Florence built at the narrowest part of the Arno. It’s the only remaining bridge to have houses and shops on it and the only bridge spared by the bombing during the WWII.
- Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli: It is one of the Florentine churches that mostly has kept its medieval style inside, situated in Piazza del Limbo.
- San Jacopo sopr’Arno: The church was built in the 10th-11th centuries in Romanesque style and has a great historical importance. According to the Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari, Filippo Brunelleschi built here a chapel, the Ridolfi Chapel, in which he studied, in smaller scale, architectural elements later used in his famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The chapel is now destroyed.
- Ponte Santa Trinita: The name of this bridge means Holy Trinity Bridge and it is the oldest elliptic arch bridge in the world. The elegant bridge was destroyed during the WWII by retreating German troops, but the bridge was reconstructed in 1958 with original stones raised from the Arno.
- Palazzo Corsini: Palazzo Corsini is one of the most prestigious examples of Baroque style in Renaissance Florence structured in two levels and with a U-shaped courtyard that opens towards the riverbank.