It may be surprisingly small, yet it sits at the top of many a world’s must-see list. A life-sized treasure chest of grandiose works of art and architecture, Florence is the cradle of Italian Renaissance. Its bankers financed the Portuguese explorers who would pioneer the route around Africa, India and Asia; its famous sons include Galileo Galilei, the “father of observational astronomy” and poet Dante Alighieri, whose Divine Comedy is a masterpiece in world literature; and the likes of Paolo Uccello, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo all contributed to the city’s artistic heritage.
Let’s also not forget, Giovanni Panerai, who founded Florence’s first watchmaking shop on the famed Ponte alle Grazie in 1860, or his descendants who would go on to make precision instruments and watches for the Royal Italian Navy. Previously reserved exclusively for military clients, Panerai wristwatches were only made available to the public in 1993. Although now a major player in the fine watchmaking market, the brand enjoys a cult following of loyalists quite like no other. For Panerai enthusiasts visiting Florence, here are five places not to be missed.
1 Ponte Vecchio
No visit to Florence can be complete without time spent dawdling along this great Florentine icon, which crosses the Arno river at its narrowest. The bridge as we know today was built around 1345, after a catastrophic flood destroyed its predecessor. The bridge has always hosted a variety of shops including vegetable sellers and butchers, but today, it is best known for its quaint wood-shuttered jewellery shops. A picturesque site for taking out those selfie sticks, Ponte Vecchio also boasts a good view of its neighbouring bridge, the Ponte alle Grazie – the first site of Giovanni Panerai’s watchmaker’s shop. In World War II, Ponte alle Grazie was destroyed by the retreating Germans and was reconstructed in 1945 without shophouses.
2 Bottega Panerai, Piazza San Giovanni
Since the beginning of the last century, Bottega Panerai has called the Archbishop’s Palace on Piazza San Giovanni home, where it directly faces the Baptistery and Duomo of Florence. Until last November, it was an intimate space of just 58sq-m, but has quintupled in size to now boast four display windows (instead of one) and a second-floor VIP room with a view of the octagonal-shaped Baptistery. Constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style, it was where Dante and members of the Medici Family were baptised. The store’s recent Patricia Urquiola-makeover has seen it take on the design concept seen at its Paris, Hong Kong and New York shops, but with unique elements, including striato olimpico marble flooring, which resembles the geometric patterns of the Duomo’s facade. The store is also the only one in Italy to house instruments from the brand’s historic museum.
3 Paolo Uccello clock, Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
The city’s most iconic landmark, Florence’s Duomo began its construction in 1296, was consecrated in 1436 and had its neo-Gothic facade installed in the 19th century. A Unesco World Heritage site, it is also home to one of the few clocks in the world that keeps Italic Time (also known as Julian Time and Ave Maria Time), which calculates sunset to sunset. The original clock was built in 1443 by the Florentine clockmaker Angelo di Niccolò and its 7-m dial was painted by the great Renaissance artist Paolo Ucello. Last year, Panerai, whose historical boutique is just footsteps from the Duomo, helped restore the mechanism of the clock mounted in a space between the inner and outer facades of the Duomo. An area not open to the public, it can only be reached through secret doors and steep stairwells.
4 Museo Galileo
Housed in the 11th-century Palazzo Castellani, Museo Galileo – formerly the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza (Institute and Museum for the History of Science) – was revamped and reopened in 2010. On permanent display are over 1,000 scientific objects and experimental apparatuses gathered over three centuries by the Medici and Lorraine dynasties. Among them are numerous innovations by Galileo, including the only two surviving telescopes of the many that he built. Celebrating its fellow Tuscan’s contribution to modern horology, Panerai constructed and donated the Jupiterium to the museum. An exceptional planetary clock with a perpetual calendar, it shows the movements of Jupiter and its four satellites as discovered by Galileo.
5 Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
Located in the 15th-century Palazzo della Gherardesca, the 116-room Four Seasons Hotel Firenze houses a wealth of history in the form of original frescoes, bas-reliefs, stuccowork and oriental silk paper, that celebrate Florence’s ancient excellence in art and craftsmanship. It is also home to Panerai’s second Florentine boutique, which has been designed to respect the historical and artistic attributes of the premises. Fittingly, the frescoes within the boutique depict ancient sailboats, a reminder of the brand’s longstanding relationship with the Royal Italian Navy. When visiting, be sure to amble through the hotel’s private 11-acre park, which had been kept unseen for hundreds of years.