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When you’re visiting the iconic cities of Rome and Florence, you can explore some extraordinary places. Don’t settle for the obvious — go for the more hidden and lesser-known sites.
The Stranger Things in Rome
If you’re starting your tour from Rome and want to go underground to the catacombs, don’t miss the Catacomb of Priscilla, located under Via Salaria. This site is not as crowded as the more popular catacombs, but you can see perhaps the world’s oldest known image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Continue to Largo di Torre Argentina, a temple complex that also has part of the Theatre of Pompey. Julius Cesar died on the temple’s stairs during his stabbing in 44 B.C. Today, this place is also inhabited by over 250 cats, giving it its nickname the “Cat Sanctuary of Rome.”
Peculiar Stops in Florence
First, head to see the eerily realistic anatomical wax collection of La Specola, part of the Museum of Natural History in Florence. The museum is one of the oldest museums in Europe. Opening in 1775, it was one of the earliest science museums open to the public.
La Specola houses not only the taxidermy form of a hippopotamus that the Medici Family supposedly kept in their garden but also extraordinarily realistic wax models of humans and their intestines. Some of these gutted wax women depicted in “semi-erotic” poses were the favorites of the Marquis de Sade.
In the Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza Della Signoria hangs two huge, detailed globes designed by Giorgio Vasari for the Medici Family. One is for the earth, and another is for the heavens.
The Medici Hall
You’ll also find the famous Medici Hall of Maps in Palazzo Vecchio. Fifty-four maps made in the 16th century, inspired mostly by the Ptolemy’s “Geographica,” decorate the walls. Vasari also built the Vasari Corridor, a secret walkway for the Medici Family to travel between their two offices in Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. This secret passageway is accessible only by appointment, so make advance reservations.
Finally, pay a visit to the History of Science Museum on Piazza dei Giudici. At the museum, a glass egg holds the middle finger of one of the most remarkable pioneers of science, Galileo Galilei. Ninety-five years after Galileo’s death, somebody removed the finger from his body.
After traveling around for a few hundred years, the finger came to its eventual home at the Florence History of Science Museum. The finger is a strange piece to see in a museum. Even though the church labeled Galileo as a heretic in 1633, his finger has been treated like a saintly relic through the centuries. I think some great irony exists here.
Unusual Things in Rome and Florence
These destinations offer brief examples of the many lesser-known sites you could visit in Rome and Florence. If you dig a little deeper, both of these otherwise well-known cities can offer you much more than the most famous sites that everybody else visits.
Getting between the two cities are relatively easy and can take 1,5 to 3 hours by train. Check GoEuro.com’s train timetable page here which has all the information you need for travel between the two cities.
As Florence and Rome are popular tourist destinations throughout the year, it is best to book accommodation as early as possible. For example, Booking.com has a great selection.
A chapel inside of the Catacomb of Priscilla.
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