A quick overview over Florence
Florence is located in central Italy and is the capital city of Tuscany. It is Tuscany's most populous city with over 360,000 inhabitants. The city lies on the River Arno surrounded by gentle hills. It is internationally famous for its beautiful city center that looks like an open-air museum. Because of its monuments, churches and palaces, Florence Italy's historical center is a classified as a World Heritage Site.
In Florence you can experience the splendor of the Renaissance and visit some of the most beautiful Italian museums such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Academy Gallery where you can admire David's by Michelangelo, see universally known Florentine landmarks such as Ponte Vecchio, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) and much more.
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Brief history of Florence
Florence was one of the most important cities in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. But Florence's history starts a long time before that. Florence has been inhabited since the 10th century but historians conventionally date its foundation to 59 b.C. as a Roman settlement for retired soldiers with the name Florentia. It was built following the Roman military camp's style along the cardo and decumanus intersecting at the present Piazza della Repubblica.
During the Dark Ages Florence was a minor city in Italy and suffered different Barbaric invasions. It was in the 12th century that Florence started growing and became a Comune, a city state. For the following two centuries the city was fought for by the Guelphs (supporters of the Pope) and the Ghibellines (supporters of the Emperor) who each wished to rule the city. Even Dante Alighieri was a victim of these fights: he was exiled to Verona at the beginning of 1300 for being a supporter of the other side at that time in power.
It was from the 14th to 16th centuries that Florence became one of the most important cities in Europe when it was ruled by the Medici family. Lorenzo de' Medici was probably the greatest patron of the city. He transformed Florence into the cradle of the Renaissance by attracting excellent contemporary artists, architects and writers such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli to whom he commissioned various works.
In 1569 Florence became the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and Cosimo I de' Medici was named the Grand Duke of Tuscany by Pope Pius V. The members of the Medici dynasty passed down the title for the next two centuries up until 1737 when Gian Gastone, the last surviving male heir of the Medici clan, died and the Lorraine family took over. The Lorraine family ruled the city and region with great foresight and wisdom until 1860, when Tuscany became part of the Kingdom of Italy. Florence was the temporary capital of Italy for five years from 1865 to 1871. During those years the city was modernized following contemporary standards.The historical center had remained largely unchanged through the centuries and large parts of this medieval city was destroyed including the old market and the Jewish ghetto which were replaced by a new district with larger streets and the big square of Piazza della Repubblica.
During the Second World War, Florence experienced a year long occupation by the Germans and was heavily damaged by bombs. Curiously, as the German retreated from Florence, all of the bridges were blown up except Ponte Vecchio, many claiming it was considered too beautiful to destroy and spared by orders from Hitler himself.
On November 4, 1966 the Arno river flooded most of the city center damaging millions of art treasures and books. The flood left many marks on the city and its artistic patrimony, many pieces of artwork are still under restoration over 40 years later.
What to see in Florence Italy
Florence is incredibly rich in monuments, museums, churches and places. As a matter of fact, in 1982 the entire city center was listed in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Among Florence landmarks the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) with Brunelleschi's magnificient cupola stands out the most. Next to the cathedral stands Giotto's Bell Tower which offers a fine view of the city from its top. In front of both the cathedral and belltower sits the Baptistery of St. John with its beautiful bronze doors including the gold Gates of Heaven by Ghiberti, the original ones are preserved inside the Opera del Duomo Museum located to the back of the cathedral.
Heading toward the Arno River and passing through Via dei Calzaioli stands Piazza della Signoria with Palazzo Vecchio, headquarters of Florence's Municipality, the Loggia della Signoria with its sculptures and Neptune's fountain by Ammannati. Linked to Palazzo Vecchio by the Vasari corridor, which runs for about 1 km to Palazzo Pitti, is the magnificent Uffizi Gallery with its incredible collection of paintings. Steps away from the Uffizi stands Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), another famous landmark of Florence.
The bridge connects the center to the Oltrarno district that today remains the most Florentine part of the old city center. There stands the Pitti Palace, the Medici's last residence, which hosts many interesting museums such as the Palatine Gallery, the Modern Art Gallery and the Silver Museum and which overlooks the splendid Boboli Gardens. Near Pitti is Santo Spirito Church with its yellow facade and the wooden crucifix by Michelangelo. In the Oltrarno you'll also find the Brancacci Chapel inside the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine frescoed by Masaccio in the early Renaissance.
Other churches of importance in Florence include Santa Maria Novella Church with its beautiful cloisters, the monumental Church of Santa Croce with the Pazzi Chapel and tomb of notable historical figures such as Michelangelo, San Lorenzo Church with its perfect prospective construction and the Medici Chapels, the Church of San Marco and its Museum of San Marco with paintings by the Beato Angelico.
Other museums in Florence to be visited are the Accademia Gallery which hosts the original statue of David by Michelangelo, the Bargello Museum which displays works by Donatello, Giambologna and Michelangelo and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (museum showing the work of the highly specialized Florentine craft of working with semi-precious stones).
In Florence there are also beautiful libraries deserving to be visited. For example the stunning Biblioteca Laurenziana, part of San Lorenzo Complex, the Biblioteca Marucelliana, displaying stunning codicies and the Biblioteca Nazionale in Santa Croce. Other relevant libraries are the Oblate Library, the International Fashion Library at Polimoda and the Biblioteca Virtuale Centro Internazionale Studenti G. La Pira
What to do in Florence
Florence offers a vast selection of things to do all around the year. Of course some activities or events in Florence are strictly related to seasons.
One must to do when you are in Florence is walking up to Piazzale Michelangelo (better at sunset) and admiring the breathtaking view of the city under you. Or climbing up the Duomo and enjoy the skyline. Or get lost in the Boboli Gardens.
On Christmas holidays Florence is particularly beautiful with many decorations and lights around the center and special Christmas markets going on. Then on Epifany (January 6th) takes place a spectacular procession of the Magi - magnificent costumes inspired by Benozzo Gozzoli’s celebrated fresco in the Chapel of the Magi in Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
If you are in Florence on Easter Sunday don't miss the "Scoppio del Carro" - Explosion of the cart - that dates back to 1102. The cart - called Brindellone - dragged through Florence from two white oxen to Piazza Duomo in front of Cathedral's main door awaits to be fired by a dove-shaped rocket. If the cart explodes it ensures a good harvest, if it doesn't...well touch wood.
June is probably the best month to visit Florence. The weather is fantastic and at night you can enjoy Italian Dolce Vita. In June takes place the "Calcio Storico Fiorentino" - Florentine Historical Soccer - in Piazza Santa Croce that commemorates a Renaissance soccer game. The finale is on June 24th, St. John the Baptist day, when Florence celebrate its patron with wonderful fireworks.
In September you can taste the "Vino Novo" (new wine) and enjoy the colorful procession of Rificolone (paper lanterns) along the Arno River.
Of course wine tasting is one of the major activities in Florence. All around the city you can find many wine bars, wine shops and restaurants that offer wine tastings. If you like experiencing more of it you can also take a day drip to the Chianti region where Chianti wine comes from. And what better than having a glass of wine while tasting typical Tuscan food? You'll be delighted by Florentine cuisine: don't miss ribollita soup, crespelle alla fiorentina (rolled omelets with spinach and cheese), Florentine steak, trippa and ice cream!
Accommodation in Florence
Florence is one of the most visited cities around the world. It offers many different types of accommodations: Florence bed and breakfast overlooking the major monuments, hotels close to the train station, farmhouses on Florence hills. Whether you decide staying in Florence city center or in the surrounding Florence hills you can find the perfect accommodation for you and experience the traditional Florentine hospitality.