The City of Arts, and the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence needs quite a few days of your time. It is an "All Seasons" destination, and Spring and Autumn are highly recommended, as in Summer the city gets very crowded and hot.
How to get there:
Florence-History and Attractions
After being relegated to a marginal position for most of the period of Longobard domination, Florence started to flourish towards the year 1000. In the 12th Century, the demographic and economic recovery led to the development of new classes, merchants and businessmen, mainly in the urban areas. In Italy as a whole, as these classes became more influential, a new form of political and economic organization came to life: the Commune. The Commune of Florence was proclaimed in 1115, and marked the beginning of the most glorious period in the history of Florence.
However, this period was marked by continuous struggles between political factions. Florence is the city where the names of the Guelphs and the Ghibellins were used for the first time. These names have their origin in the Holy Roman Empire, where the Dukes of Saxony and Bavaria (the Welfs) were engaged in a bitter struggle for the throne against the Hohenstaufens of Swabia. The divided Medieval Italy got heavily involved in this conflict, which eventually became a conflict between the Empire and the Papacy. The Guelphs were supporting the Pope, while the Ghibellins were the Emperor's supporters.From the second half of the 13th Century, Florence became the dominant city in Tuscany. In the first half of the 15th Century, the Medici family came to power. Under Cosimo de' Medici, and especially under his grandson Lorenzo de' Medici, Florence became a centre of exceptional economic, cultural and artistic importance. Above all, the city of Dante Alighieri is where the Renaissance, the biggest Arts revival movement in history, was born.
The Cathedral and The Basilicas
The Cathedral of Florence (The Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore) , with its Campanile (The Bell Tower) is one of the largest religious buildings in the world. Famous artists contributed to its construction, started in 1296 under the supervision of Arnoldo di Cambio. In 1331, Giotto was appointed to continue the work, and after his death, Andrea Pisano was in charge. In 1350, Francesco Talenti was appointed to conduct the works, then Lapo Ghini, and Talenti again in 1370, who directed the works towards completion. The construction of the cupola became a huge challenge, and a competition was held in 1418 in order to designate the architect. Filippo Brunelleschi won, and the result was the magnificent dome you see today, completed in 1436.Opposite the Cathedral, also in Piazza del Duomo, is The Baptistery, dedicated to Saint John The Baptist, the patron of Florence, celebrated every year on June 24th. Beside the building itself, the Baptistery is famous for the East door, decorated by Lorenzo Ghiberti between 1425-1452, and named by Michelangelo "The Gate of Paradise". The door is entirely covered by ten gilded relief panels, portraying scenes from the Old Testament.
The Basilica of San Lorenzo is the earliest documented church of Florence. It was consecrated as early as A.D. 393, and was rebuilt in Romanesque style in the 11th Century. San Lorenzo is hosting the famous Medici Chapels, the Medici family modifying the basilica starting 1418. The work was commissioned to Filippo Brunelleschi in 1421, interrupted by the architect's death, and completed in 1461 by Antonio Manetti. The interior fašade was designed by Michelangelo, while the exterior fašade was never completed. At the end of the South aisle is the fine tabernacle executed in marble by Desiderio da Settignano, around 1460. The Medici Chapels, one of the most impressive works of Michelangelo, are accessed from the Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini, opposite Saint Lorenzo's main entrance.
Do not miss the San Lorenzo Market (Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo), right by the Basilica , offering many local specialties, just be prepared, as it can get very crowded at times.
The Basilica of Santa Croce is one of the most important in Florence. Its construction began in 1294, with Arnolfo di Cambio as the architect.
Starting with the 14th Century the church was enriched with numerous works of art.
In the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels there are the frescoes of Giotto, depicting Stories of Saint Francis, and Stories of the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist respectively.
In the central nave is the pulpit by Benedetto da Maiano, created between 1472-1476. Next to the entrance to the first cloister is the tabernacle by
Donatello and Michelozzo, with a
splendid Annunciation by Donatello, executed in gilded high relief.
What makes Santa Croce famous are also the funeral monuments in the south aisle. As you enter, the first is the Tomb of Michelangelo, designed by
The monumental Palace in Piazza della Signoria, with its 97 meters high tower, was built between 1299-1314, by the same Arnolfo di Cambio. It is still the Town Hall of Florence. The name, "The Old Palace", dates from the second half of the 15th Century, when the Medici moved to Palazzo Pitti, considered the "New Palace". The courtyard at the entrance was designed by Michelozzo, and the fountain lovely statue, "Boy with a Dolphin", was created by Verocchio in 1476. The courtyard statue is a copy, the original being inside the Palace, in Eleonora di Toledo (wife of Cosimo I de' Medici) Apartments. Here you can also see a dramatic bronze group by Donatello, "Judith and Holofernes". The interior of the Palace is sumptuously decorated. The Hall of the Five Hundred with scenes celebrating the military victories of Florence against Pisa and Siena, and the Apartments of Leo X, offer a magnificent display of Vasari's frescoes. Ponte Vecchio (The Old Bridge), crossing river Arno, is one of the most famous in the world. Dating back to Roman times, it originally had a wooden structure. Even after 1080, when the bridge was rebuilt in stone, it was still vulnerable, and was repeatedly damaged by flooding, until 1345, when it was redesigned by Neri di Fioravante (or possibly by Agnolo Gaddi), who gave the bridge the solid structure which still stands today. The picturesque bridge is today lined by jewellery shops, after originally housing leather workshops, butcher's, fishmonger's and delicatessen shops.
By all means, Florence is not meant to be a short visit. There are also the Florentine Palaces and Museums.
The Florentine Palaces
The Medici-Riccardi Palace, built by Michelozzo between 1444-1460, is a typical Renaissance Florentine Palazzo. Crossing the Old Bridge, after a short walk, you reach The Pitti Palace, the largest palace in Florence, hosting the Palatine Gallery, a 17th Century picture gallery reflecting the epoch taste and fashion. And, if you have time, there is also the The Strozzi Palace, first commissioned to Benedetto da Maiano in 1489.
Uffizi Gallery is the oldest art gallery in the world, visited by more than one million people every year. If you plan to visit Uffizi, you need to book well in advance online.
And there is also The Bargello National Museum, the most important Italian Museum of Sculpture, where you can admire "David" by Donatello.
Just remember, as with Uffizi, if you wish to visit these museums, you need to book well in advance over the Internet, otherwise it can be impossible, or very costly.
This were some suggestions of what to visit, but this is not all about Florence. I consider these a must see, and you need to plan for at least one week in Florence. If you cannot stay for so long, for sure there will be another time to do the rest. Florence will call you back, "Once Florence, always Florence".
For more info, maps, and other suggested tours, visit the the Tourist Offices: