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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrFlorence is a vast and beautiful monument to the Renaissance, the artistic and cultural reawakening of the 15th century. Writers such as Dante, Petrarch, and Machiavelli contributed to its proud literary heritage, but it was the paintings and sculptures of artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Donatello that turned the city into one of the world’s greatest artistic capitals. Florence is the capital of the central Italian region, Tuscany , one of the most important regions in Italy.
Exploring FlorenceHistoric Florence is a surprisingly compact area, and the majority of the sights can easily be reached on foot. Most visitors head for the Duomo, the city’s geographical and historical focus, ideally placed to explore the Campanile, Baptistery, and Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. To the south is Piazza della Signoria, which has long been the city’s political heart, flanked by the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall, and the Uffizi, one of Italy’s leading art galleries. To the east lies the Basilica di Santa Croce while to the west stands Santa Maria Novella, the city’s other great church, also adorned with fresco-filled chapels. Across the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno – the river that bisects the city – is the district, Oltrarno, dominated by Santo Spirito and the vast Pitti Palace.
What to See
Around the DuomoWhile much of Florence was rebuilt during the Renaissance, the eastern part of the city retains a distinctly medieval feel. With its maze of tiny alleys, it is an area that would still be familiar to Dante.
Rising above the heart of the city, the richly-decorated Duomo (cathedral) – Santa Maria del Fiore – and its orange-tiled dome have become Florence’s most famous symbols. Typical of the Florentine determination to lead in all things, the cathedral is Europe’s fourth largest church, and to this day it still remains the city’s tallest building. The Baptistery with its celebrated, bronze doors, may date back to the 4th century, making it one of Florence’s oldest buildings.
The Campanile, designed by Giotto in 1334, was completed in 1359, 22 years after his death. Brunelleschi’s dome, finished in 1463, was the largest of its time to be built without scaffolding. The outer shell is supported by a thicker, inner shell that acts as a platform for it. The top of the dome offers spectacular views over the city.
The entrance to the Duomo is free but there are always long rows of visitors. The entrance in the Campanile, Baptistery, and in the Dome has different prices with discounts for young people and complete tours.
Piazza della SignoriaPiazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio have been at the heart of Florence’s political and social life for centuries. The great bell once used to summon citizens to parlamento (public meetings) here, and the square has long been a popular promenade for both visitors and Florentines. The piazza’s statues (some are copies) commemorate the city’s major historical events, though its most famous episode is celebrated by a simple sidewalk plaque near the loggia: the execution of the religious leader, Girolamo Savonarola , who was burnt at the stake. The Fontana di Nettuno, located on the Piazza della Signoria, commemorates Tuscan naval victories.
Palazzo VecchioThe “Old Palace”, or Palazzo Vecchio, still fulfills its original role as town hall. It was completed in 1322 when a huge bell, used to call citizens to meetings or warn of fire, flood, or enemy attack, was hauled to the top of the imposing bell tower. While retaining much of its medieval appearance, the interior was remodeled for Duke Cosimo I in 1540. The redecoration was undertaken by Vasari, who incorporated bombastic frescoes of Florentine achievements. Michelangelo’s Victory statue graces the Salone dei Cinquecento, which also has a tiny study, decorated by Florence’s leading Mannerist painters in 1569-1573.
Uffizi GalleryThe Uffizi, Italy’s greatest art gallery, was built in 1560-1580 to house offices (uffici) for Duke Cosimo I. The architect, Vasari, used iron as reinforcement, which enabled his successor, Buontalenti, to create an almost continuous wall of glass on the upper story. This was used as a gallery for Francesco I to display the Medici art treasures.
The collection was divided up in the 19th century: ancient objects went to the archaeological museum and sculpture to the Bargello, leaving the Uffizi with matchless collection of paintings. The Uffizi offers not only the chance to see the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings but also the opportunity to enjoy masterpieces from as far afield as Holland, Spain, and Germany.
The Uffizi art collection is on the top floor of the building. Roman and Greek sculptures are displayed in the broad corridors (East, Arno, West) running around the inner side of the building. The paintings are bung in rooms off the corridors in chronological order to reveal the development of Florentine art from Byzantine to High Renaissance and beyond. Gothic art is in rooms 2-6; Early Renaissance in 7-14; High Renaissance and Mannerism in 15-29; and later paintings in 30-45.
Palazzo SrrozziSheer size accounts for the impact of the Palazzo Strozzi and although it is only three stories high, each floor exceeds the height of a normal palazzo. It was commissioned by the wealthy banker, Filippo Strozzi, who had 15 buildings demolished to make way for the palazzo; he hoped it would rival the Medici palaces elsewhere in the city. Strozzi died in 1491, just two years after the first stone was laid. Work on the building continued until 1536, with three major architects contributing to its design.
San LorenzoSan Lorenzo was the parish church of the Medici family and in 1419, Brunelleschi was commissioned to rebuild it in the Classical style of the Renaissance. Almost a century later, Michelangelo submitted some plans for the façade, and began work on the Medici tombs in the Sagrestia Nuova. He also designed a library, the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana, to house the family’s collection of manuscripts. The lavish family mausoleum, the Cappella dei Principi, was started in 1604.
Santa Maria NovellaThe church of Santa Maria Novella was built by the Dominicans between 1279 and 1357. The lower Romanesque part of its façade was incorporated into one based on Classical proportions by the pioneering Renaissance architect, Leon Battista Alberti, in 1456-70. The Gothic interior contains superb frescoes, including Masaccio’s powerful Trinity. The famous Green Cloister, frescoed with perspective scenes by Paolo Uccello and the dramatically decorated Spanish Chapel now form a museum.
Palazzo PittiThe Palazzo Pitti was originally built for the banker, Luca Pitti. The huge scale of the building, begun in 1457 and attributed to Brunelleschi, illustrated Pitti’s determination to out-rival the Medici family through its display of wealth and power. Ironically, the Medici later purchased the palazzo when building costs bankrupted Pitti’s heirs. In 1550, it became the main residence of the Medici and subsequently, all the rulers of the city lived here. Today, the richly decorated rooms exhibit countless treasures from the Medici collections.
The Palatine Gallery, which forms the heart of the Pitti museum complex, contains many masterpieces by artists such as Botticelli, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Peru-gino. The works of art, accumulated by the Medici family and the house of Habsburg-Lorraine, are still hung much as the grand dukes wished, regardless of subject or chronology.
Boboli GardensThe Boboli Gardens, a lovely place to escape the rigors of sightseeing, were laid out for the Medici after they bought the Palazzo Pitti in 1549. An excellent example of stylized Renaissance gardening, they were opened to the public in 1766. The formal parts of the garden, nearest the palazzo, consist of box-wood hedges clipped into symmetrical, geometric patterns. These lead to wilder groves of oak and cypress trees, planted to create a contrast between artifice and nature. Countless statues adorn the gardens, particularly along the Viottolone, an avenue of cypress trees planted in 1637. High above the gardens stands the Forte di Belvedere, designed by Buontalenti in 1590 for the Medici Grand Dukes. The Forte di Belvedere offers an unique and charming view of all the city.
Ponte VecchioPonte Vecchio, the oldest surviving bridge in the city, was built in 1345, the last in a succession of bridges and fords on the site dated back to Roman times. Designed by Giotto’s pupil, Taddeo Gaddi, it was originally the domain of blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners (who used the river for disposing of waste). They were reviled for their noise and stench and were evicted in 1593 by Duke Ferdinando I – replaced by jewelers and goldsmiths. The elevated Corridoio Vasariano runs along the eastern side of the bridge, above the shops. Giorgio Vasari designed the corridor in 1565 to allow the Medici family to move about their residences without having to mix with the public. This was the city’s only bridge to escape destruction during World War II, and visitors today come to admire the views as to browse among the antique shops and specialized jewelry shops. A bust of the famous goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini,stands in the middle of the bridge.
Galleria Dell’AccademiaThe Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1563, was the first school established in Europe specifically to teach the techniques of drawing, painting, and sculpting. The art collection displayed here was formed in 1784 to provide material for students to study and copy. The most famous work is Michelangelo’s David (1504, a colossal (5.2 m) nude of the biblical hero who killed the giant, Goliath). The sculpture was commissioned by the city for Piazza della Signoria, but it was moved to the Accademia for safekeeping in 1873. One copy now stands in its original position and a second is on Piazzale Michelangelo. Michelangelo’s other masterpieces in the Accademia include the Quattro Prigioni, sculpted between 1521 and 1523 and intended to adorn the tomb of Pope Julius II. The statues were presented to the Medici family in 1564 by the artist’s nephew, Leonardo. The Accademia also contains an important collection of paintings by 15th and 16th century Florentine artists, among them Filippino Lippi, Fra Bartolomeo, and Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio.
Best Time to TravelFlorence is always buzzing with tourists, they can be found in large groups surrounding attractions such as the Duomo di Firenze, even in the worst weather. If you are looking to visit and experience warm weather, head to Florence in early April before it becomes too hot and humid in the city. The restaurants and cafés will open up their outdoor seating when the warm weather rolls in. If you're looking to escape the crowds, January and February deter some tourists due to the cold. Try to avoid traveling to Florence in August because of the smoldering heat. Many Italians flee the city to go on holiday and because of this, most popular shops are closed for the month.
How to Get There
By PlaneFlorence's Amerigo Vespucci International Airport (known to locals as “Peretola”) has good connections to the center of the city, which can be reached in about fifteen minutes by taxi or bus.
Much cheaper flights to destinations throughout Europe can be found at Pisa Airport. Low-cost airlines which fly to Pisa include Easyjet, Ryanair, Wizzair, and HLX. Pisa airport and Florence are connected by rail and by bus. Both leave from and arrive at the main entrance to the airport.
By TrainModern, fast trains connect Florence with Italy's main cities, and local trains from other parts of Italy and express trains from around Europe arrive in Florence. The main station is Firenze Santa Maria Novella, on the edge of the historic old town. Other small stations are Firenze Campo Marte (near Florence Stadium) and Firenze Rifredi.
By CarFlorence is connected by good highways to the rest of Italy. The easiest way to get in and out of the city from the A-1 Autostrada, which connects Florence to Bologna, Milan, and the North, and to Rome and the South, is to use the Firenze - Impruneta exit. This is the same route for those leaving for or arriving from Siena on the Fi-Si highway. If you are arriving from or leaving for Pisa and the West on the A-11 Autostrada, it may be best to go by way of Firenze-Scandicci and use the A-1 to connect to and from the A-11.
Where to Eat
- Trattoria Mario - The restaurant opens for lunch and they sit you with other people walking into the restaurant. There is a menu on the wall and the food is great and if you can, save room for a secondi (meat plate).
- Il Giardino di Barbano - The restaurant just on the edge of the center offers a great way to escape the tourist restaurants and enjoy a good pizza between the locals. This restaurant offers great wood-oven pizza's (try the O' Sole Mio) that you can enjoy in the garden (in summertime) or take-away and has friendly staff (that recognize you on your second visit). €6-€ €10 ($12) per pizza.
- Salumeria Verdi - This is the place to eat a panini in Florence. Salumeria Verdi is referred to as ‘Pino's’ by locals because the owner, who also happens to be extremely friendly, is named Pino. It is always filled with locals eating pasta and college students grabbing a cheap, yet mouth-watering panini. Pino has named several of his favorite sandwiches which are displayed on a board with the 2 most popular being “The Best” with roast beef and “Springtime” with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes.
- Restaurant Terrazza Brunelleschi - From the panoramic Terrazza Brunelleschi Restaurant you can catch all of Florence in a glimpse: the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, designed by Brunelleschi and Giotto's famous campanile, the roofs of the age-old buildings of the historical center, and the green hills that surround the city on the horizon.
- Torta di riso is a traditional Tuscan desert consisting of rice cake served with a simple fruit sauce and seasonal fruit. It’s delicious!
- Bistecca alla fiorentina, grilled over an open fire, is a large, tender steak that can be seasoned with oil and herbs and garnished with fresh lemon. The typical Florentine lunch.
- Gelato: All the flavors of ice-cream can be found in Florence. And the Italian “Gelato” is simply the best.
- Ciao Hostel Florence - The Ciao Hostel Florence is a modern hostel in Florence close to the Santa Maria train station with fifteen bedrooms of different sizes, divided in dormitory; double, triple and quadruple with shared bath. Services available are free internet, satellite TV, kitchen, towel, air conditioning, and garden. Rates start from € €27 ($31).
- B&B Duomo View Florence – The Duomo View is a bed and breakfast in the historic center of Florence with a large choice of double bedrooms. Services are in common and some of the guestrooms boast a fantastic view of the Florentine Duomo. Internet connection and breakfast also available. Rates from € €50 ($58).
- Hotel Florence Masaccio - A cozy and inviting hotel housed in a villa built in the early years of last century. Located in the residential “Campo di Marte” area and close to the town center. 9 rooms, a bar, and a restaurant that specializes in Tuscan dishes.
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Author: d.todorovski. Last updated: Feb 17, 2015