Ciao da Europa! It has been almost three months since I left Geneseo to spend my spring semester studying and living in the beautiful city of Siena, Italy. Like many other European countries, Italy is full of museums, galleries, cathedrals and much more. If you’re studying art or simply appreciate it, this is the place for you!
That being said, you don’t necessarily have to love art to appreciate the rich history and various activities this continent holds. It’s a sin for one to travel and miss some of Europe’s most popular destinations. In Italy itself, there is almost too much to see and do. While I am still traveling and studying art, I want to share some of the best art I have seen thus far in Italy and beyond, as well as some must-see places with tips and dos and don’ts for students who are considering studying abroad.
Siena is the concentration of Italy’s finest medieval art, pre-Renaissance art, sculpture and Gothic architecture. Unfortunately, I have found that it is rare for churches and museums to grant free entry to students. One little-known fact, however, is that all of Italy opens its doors to museums, galleries and churches free of charge on the first Sunday of every month. But if you can’t make it during that time, attend mass for a few minutes on any Sunday morning to see the inside of a church without any cost.
The Museo Civico and the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo are two museums worth a visit and they are both within walking distance of the Duomo di Siena—or Siena Cathedral—whose majestic architecture is worth a Sunday trip.
Situated in the heart of Siena’s main square Piazza del Campo, you’ll find the Museo Civico’s main attraction: the frescos of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s “Good and Bad Government.” These frescoes are filled with symbolism and images that depict what both good and bad government look like. It fills walls of a whole room, so make sure you take your time looking at the social ideals of the time depicted through art.
The Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo has to be my favorite of Siena because inside you’ll find Duccio’s majestic “Maestà.” Hopefully, most students who have at least taken an introductory art history class will recognize this enthroned Madonna. Have a seat on the bench in front of it to admire Duccio’s brilliant use of gold and religious iconography. Sneak a picture—without flash, of course, because photos are not allowed. Before you leave, make sure to go up these stairs that lead to the top of the museum to find a spectacular view of the city from high up.
Once the thriving center of all of Italy, Florence remains the heart of Italian Renaissance art and architecture. It’s only an hour away from Siena, and I find myself spending most weekends here––Florence requires more than a day to see and experience everything it has to offer.
The Galleria dell’Accademia should be your first museum stop because the line will take up most of your day—trust me. The museum itself is surprisingly small. It’s basically a home for Michelangelo’s “David”—a giant, towering marble statue that leaves you speechless. Photography is permitted here.
Another famous museum is the Uffizi Museum, where you will find splendid works by Caravaggio, da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rogier van der Weyden, Cimabue and many more. Some of my personal favorites are Botticelli’s “Primavera” and the “Birth of Venus,” as well as Simone di Martini’s “Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus.” The symbolism and story behind “Primavera” will show you just how powerful the Medici family—the family in which Florence flourished under—was. Even as you walk around the Uffizi, you’ll notice how much the museum bears some relation to the Medici.
After the Uffizzi, a visit to Florence isn’t complete without climbing the Brunelleschi’s Duomo of the Florence Cathedral. The 500 or so steps you have to climb will be worth it when you reach the top and overlook the entire city.