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About city What to see Gallery Where to stay

Florence, the capital of Tuscany, can easily be called the cradle of Renaissance or even an open-air museum. This city, located in central Italy and home to almost 400,000 people, has a history that stretches back several millennia. It was established by a battalion of Caesar’s war veterans, who chanced by this hilly valley of River Arno in 59 BCE and set up a camp here. Legend has it that since the valley was dotted with flowers, the founders of the new settlement called it Florentia (from the world flora and the Roman celebration honouring the goddess Flora).

The history of Florence is long, rich and reflected in the city’s architecture, so let’s head on a journey through its dark and narrow Old Town streets, where we’ll find traces of former Roman inhabitants, several rough medieval stone towers, Renaissance churches and even some mid-19th century Classical palaces.

Probably the most impressive object in the whole of Florence is the complex that involves the Santa Maria del Fiore, the Giotto Steeple, and the San Giovanni Baptistery. This church, considered to be one of the largest Catholic churches in the world, is astonishing not just in its exquisite and colourful marble-decorated façade, but also due to the excellent dome, created by the Italian architect Brunelleschi. The dome that the city government and the church representatives desired was so big it wasn’t possible to make it using only traditional medieval engineering and architectural knowledge. After a long discussion, it was decided that the building of the dome will be entrusted to Brunelleschi. It was him who developed the double-layered, self-supporting 25,000-tonne dome – the largest brick dome in the whole world.

Florence ,Santa Maria del Fiore , Firenze, Italia
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  Florence ,Santa Maria del Fiore , Firenze, Italia

The city’s rooftops, towers and the jagged stonework of the Palazzo Vecchio (the past and present home of the local government) can be seen both from the dome and from the steeple. This palace-fortress, built in 1299 where the Roman amphitheatre and residential houses used to be, was the workplace of the signoria. For a little while, it was ruled by the church reformer Savonarola. But once the Palace fell into the hands of the Medici family, it was expanded and richly decorated. Apart from looking around the square, situated in front of the Palace, and marvelling at its sculptures, we also recommend you take part in the tour round the secret nooks and crannies of the Palace, or visit the surviving ruins of the Roman amphitheatre, located underneath the Palazzo.

Not far from the Palace you’ll find the River Arno and one of the most famous and unique buildings in the world – the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge. Rest assured, this name did not come about randomly – the arched bridge, built in the 14th century, was the only bridge to remain intact during the Second World War. In the middle of the 16th century, the meat and fish merchants, who worked in the surrounding buildings, were “asked to leave” and were replaced by goldsmith workshops, which can still be visited today.

Florence ,Ponte Vecchio, Firenze, Italia
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  Florence ,Ponte Vecchio, Firenze, Italia

As you’re marvelling at the extraordinary bridge, don’t forget to lift your head up and notice the long corridor, located on the eastern side of the bridge that stretches not just over the bridge, but also over the other buildings of the city. This 1.2-km-long mid-16th-century corridor connects Palazzo Vecchio with Palazzo Pitti. At the order of Cosimo I de Medici, the famous artist and writer Giorgio Vasari completed this unusual project in just six months. Why, you ask? This was done so the duke could more easily reach his private Palace of Pitti.

If you were to follow the wall of the corridor, keeping the corridor itself in sight, you’d find yourself standing in front of the large Renaissance-style Pitti Palace, which used to belong to the banker Luca Pitti. As the Palace was soon bought by the beautiful Eleanor of Toledo – the wife of Cosimo I de Medici – we may speculate that business wasn’t going very well. It was at her order that the gigantic and astonishingly beautiful Giardino Bardini was built. Here you can spend a few hours enjoying nature, sculptures, fountains and the panorama of suburban hills. Don’t forget to bring sandwiches! And if you decide on visiting the Palace, remember that it has as many as seven different museums, which means you might need more than just one day to visit them all.

Speaking of museums, by the way, Florence has so many of them that even the pickiest are bound to find something to their interest.

Let’s begin with one of the world’s most famous museums, the Galleria degli Ufizzi, where you can see the works of such distinguished artists as Lippi, Botticelli, Bronzino, Raffaello, Michelangelo and many others. Just keep in mind that if you come here during season, you might have to wait in a long queue.

Piazza della Signoria in Florence
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  Piazza della Signoria in Florence

Galleria dell’Accademia is another famous landmark of Florence where you can find the exquisitely beautiful Michelangelo’s David. In Museo nazionale del Bargello you may see not just medieval interiors, but also the sculptures of Donatello, Michelangelo and Cellini. Science enthusiasts will appreciate the Museo Galileo; antique devotees will enjoy the Museo Stibbert; while lovers of nature are sure to relish the Museo di Storia Naturale.

Another place every visitor of Florence simply must see is the Basilica of Santa Croce, sometimes called the Italy’s Pantheon. Here you can visit the graves of Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini, Alberti, Machiavelli and many other cultural, scientific, religious and political luminaries. The Lithuanian nobleman Mykolas Kleopas Oginskis was also buried in the Basilica’s Chapel of Castellani.

The Piazza Santa Croce, located right in front of the church, is an excellent place to sit down and eat some fantastic Florentine ice-cream. By the way, the locals are never shy to celebrate the fact that since the 16th century, this square was the setting of “historic” football – the precursor of today’s football, which was a mix of rugby and flat-out fighting over the ball. This game is still played every June, with the finals set during the Feast of St. John.

No stroll through the most famous places of Florence should end before visiting the Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers a majestic view of the city. If you’re not too tired, the square can easily be reached in 30 minutes by foot from the city centre, but if you are tired, you can always take a bus from the station. The square opens up on a breathtaking panorama of the city and its surrounding hills. From here you can even see the hilltop city of Fiesole, which was established before Florence.

Tourist looking at Florence from the viewpoint. The historic centre of Florence declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  Tourist looking at Florence from the viewpoint. The historic centre of Florence declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982

Not far from the square you will also find the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, which is worth visiting for its unique atmosphere (best enjoyed on hot summer days, of course). The city’s oldest cemetery, where you can take a walk and enjoy the chapels that belong to the richest and most noble Florentine families, is located nearby. Before heading back to the city, you may also want to buy some candles or marmalade made by the local monks.

Be careful, though, as Florence may trigger the famous Stendhal Syndrome – a psychological and behavioural disorder caused by seeing too many artworks or exciting images of nature. This syndrome is characterized by spiking a fever, a rapid heartbeat, euphoria, weakness, or even hallucinations. The disorder was named in honour of the 19th-century French writer Stendhal, who described his strong sensations in the book called “Naples to Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio”.

Where to stay

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