Firenze (Florence)

Firenze (Florence)


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Florence was one of Europe's important cultural and political centers in medieval times. Much of the original city remains and it has an absolutely unique atmosphere. The only drawback is that Florence attracts so many tourists that this atmosphere is completely different during the busy summer season.

It is thought that Florence was founded around 200 BC, as an Etruscan colony. But the city didn't really develop until 59 BC, when Julius Ceasar used the area as a military base.

During the early Middle Ages Florence suffered from the plague and rapid political developments, but by the 12th century commerce thrived and the city became very rich. This caused cultural life to get into higher gear and started the period we now know as the Renaissance. The Medici family was one of the most important forces for this to happen. They were bankers with political powers and influence in the church. Their artistic and cultural consciousness did the rest. In 1860 Florence became Italy's capital, but in 1875 it lost this position to Rome. Many of the city's cultural treasures were badly damaged by retreating Germans at the end of WWII and again in 1966 because the Arno River exceeded its capacity and caused massive floods.

Two good reference points when exploring the city include the Santa Maria Novella railway station and the Duomo. The city's central area is not very large and can easily be explored on foot.

Places to Visit

Piazza del Duomo

The skyline of Florence is dominated by the huge dome of its Duomo. The dome is the tallest construction in Florence and it provides excellent views over the city. Construction of the world's fourth-largest cathedral started in the 16th century and it took about 200 years to complete. Its pink, white and green marble façade was not finished until the 19th century. The Duomo's Campanile was designed by Giotto.

One of the city's oldest buildings is the Baptistery, next to the Duomo. It was originally a pagan temple but in the 13th century, its ceilings were covered with mosaics of the Last Judgment. Beautiful gilded bronze doors were added to the Baptistery later. The ones on the eastern side, facing the Duomo, are called the Gates of Paradise. They were created by Ghiberti between 1424 and 1452 and are regarded as some of the original products that started of the Renaissance era.

The Duomo Museum is directly behind the Duomo. Original panels from the Baptistery's doors are on display there, as well as Brunelleschi's death mask (Brunelleschi designed the dome), numerous sculptures and original tools that were used to build the dome.

Piazza della Signoria

Some of Florence's most important buildings can be found around Piazza della Signoria. There are numerous sculptures on the square, including the loggia, the statues of Perseus and Rape of a Sabine and a copy of Michelangelo's David; the real one can be seen at the Accademia Gallery. The copy guards the Palazzo Vecchio, which has been Florence's town hall since 1322. The building can easily be recognized by its unique tower. An elevated walkway, known as the Vasari's Corridor, was used by the Medici family to visit their scattered palaces without having to mingle with the ordinary people. It leads from the Palazzo Vecchio, across the Arno River, to the Palazzo Pitti. The Uffizi Gallery is the building behind the loggia. In 1993 a Mafia-related car-bomb explosion caused severe damages to the gallery.

The 14th-century Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge that escaped destruction in WWII. It is lined with small shops, where mostly gold and silver items are sold.

Santa Croce

In the 19th century geometrically colored marble was added to the façade of Santa Croce Church, but the greatest treats lie inside, in the form of tombs lining the walls, and 276 tombstones that were used to pave the floor. The graves belong to famous Italians such as Michelangelo, Macchiavelli, Galileo and Bardi. The museum of Santa Croce is housed inside the church and features a unique crucifix that was damaged by the 1966 floods.

Around the corner from the Santa Croce is the Casa Buonarroti that was owned by Michelangelo, although he never lived there himself. Copies from many of his works are on diplay there.

Other Churches

There are numerous other interesting churches in Florence. The Orsanmichele is a church, filled with interesting statues. In the Santa Trinità and All Saints' you can see marvelous frescoes, while the Santa Maria Novella posesses the famous Trinity from Masaccio. Also worth a visit are the SS Annunziata, the San Marco and the Church of the Holy Spirit.

Piazza San Lorenzo

The main attraction of the Piazza San Lorenzo is the San Lorenzo Basilica, regarded as one of Florence's purest Renaissance churches. Brunelleschi began construction of the church in 1425, but he never saw its completion. San Lorenzo was the parish church of the Medici family and many of them are buried there, the most powerful family members in the Medici Chapels, which are decorated with precious marble. The church's eastern façade reveals the antique brickwork. The Laurenziana Library, where the Medici's huge library was kept, can be reached passing through the cloister. A staircase and the New Sacristy were designed by Michelangelo.

On the Piazza San Lorenzo, adjacent to the basilica are several beautiful palazzos with rustique courtyards. The busy central market is also situated there.

Bargello Museum

The Bargello Museum houses one of Italy's most important collections of medieval and Renaissance sculptures, including works by Michelangelo, Donatello, Giambologna and Brunelleschi. The Bargello was originally built as a police headquarters and prison. Nearby Dante's House was the home of Dante and has an exhibition on his life.

Pitti Palace

The Pitti Palace is on the southern banks of the Arno River and connected to Palazzo Vecchio by the Vasari's Corridor. As so many other buildings in Florence, Brunelleschi designed the Pitti Palace for the Pitti family. Their rivals the Medicis soon confiscated the palace and stored a huge art collection in it. The massive building gives a good idea of the lavish lifestyles of the Medicis and the Savoys who usurped them. Inside the building is an art gallery where modern art works are on display.

Around the Pitti Palace are the beautiful parks of the Boboli Gardens, the Forte di Belvedere and the Piazzale Michelangelo, which is down the Via del Belvedere and offers some magnificent views of Florence.

Other Palaces

Other interesting palazzos in Florence include the Strozzi Palace, the Rucellai Palace, which houses a photographic museum and the Pazzi Palace.

Accommodation and Restaurants

There is an enormous choice of hotels, hostels, pensions, dormitories, private rooms and other sorts of accommodation in Florence, but despite of the huge quantity of rooms it is very hard to find vacancies. Many places are situated near the central railway station and around the old town. Florence is the capital of the region of Tuscany, which is known for its fine cooking. Especially meat dishes and classic Chianti, prepared in olive oil should not be missed. Most of the original restaurants are near the central market on Piazza San Lorenzo and on the southern banks of the Arno River.

Entertainment

Most people who come to Florence to experience its culture miss the city's most important cultural events, which include festivals, fairs, exhibitions, opera, dance, ballet and cinema. There are numerous live-music ventures and nightclubs in town. Programs are available in the news sheets of Festival Today and Firenze Information.

Around Florence

There are several interesting towns in the area around Florence that are well worth a visit.

Medici Villas

The Medici family built numerous lavish villas and country houses around Florence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Many of them still exist and are open to the public. The Villa della Petraia, built in 1576, is probably the most magnificent one. It features lush gardens and lies some 3.5 km north of Florence.

Mugello Region

Some of Tuscany's most authentic villages can be found northeast of Florence in the Mugello Region. The area is excellent for trekking and horse riding, but it is also possible to canoe on the Sieve River, which winds through the countryside. Places of special interest include the Montesenario Convent and the town of Rufina, where wines can be tasted in the viticulture museum.

Fiesole

The beautiful town of Fiesole offers fantastic views over Florence.

Prato

Prato is an interesting city, 15 km northwest of Florence.


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Miscellaneous Information

Latitude:    43 46 N
Longitude: 11 15 E
Elevation:  n/a

Population: n/a
Cost-of-living compared to Washington D.C.: n/a

Hours from UTC: 2
Daylight savings time: Late March through late October

City phone code: n/a
Country phone code: 39

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