Florence is the capital city of the Italian Region of Tuscany as well as the provience of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area.
Florence is famous for its history. A centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, Florence has been considered the birthplace of the Renaissance. A turbulent political history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici family, and numerous religious and republican revolutions. The historic centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year, and it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Due to Florence’s artistic and architectural heritage, it has been ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the city is noted for its history, culture, art, architecture, and monuments. The city also contains numerous museums and art galleries, such as the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace, amongst others, and still exerts an influence in the fields of art, culture and politics. Florence is also an important city in Italian fashion, being ranked within the top fifty fashion capitals of the world; furthermore, it is also a major national economic centre.
Florence lies in a basin among the Senese Clavey Hills, particularly the hills of Careggi, Fiesole, Settignano, Arcetri, Poggio Imperiale and Bellosguardo (Florence). The Arno River and three other minor rivers flow through it. The best-known site of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, known as the Duomo, which was built by Filippo Brunelleschi. The nearby Campanile and the buildings are also highlights. The dome, 600 years after its completion, is still the largest dome built in brick and mortar in the world. In 1982, the historic centre of Florence was declared a World Heritage Site. The centre of the city is contained in medieval walls that were built in the 14th century to defend the city. At the heart of the city, in Piazza della Signoria is the Fountain of Neptune, which is a masterpiece of marble sculpture at the terminus of a still-functioning Roman aqueduct. The River Arno, which cuts through the old part of the city, is as much a character in Florentine history as many of the people who lived there. Historically, the locals have had a love-hate relationship with the Arno – which alternated between nourishing the city with commerce, and destroying it by flood. One of the bridges in particular stands out – the Ponte Vecchio, whose most striking feature is the multitude of shops built upon its edges, held up by stilts. The bridge also carries an elevated corridor that links the Uffizi to the Medici residence, Palazzo Pitti. Although the original bridge was constructed by the Etruscans, the current bridge was rebuilt in the 14th century. It is the only bridge in the city to have survived World War II intact. It is the first example in the western world of a bridge built using segmental arches.
The church of San Lorenzo contains the Medici Chapel—the most powerful family in Florence from the 15th to the 18th century. Nearby is the Uffizi Gallery, one of the finest art museums in the world – founded on a large bequest from the last member of the Medici family. I can attest to that, having recently been at the Uffizzi. The Uffizi is located at the corner of Piazza Della Signoria, a site important for being the centre of Florence’s civil life and government for centuries and is still home of the municipal government. The Piazza is also the location of a number of statues by other sculptors such as Donatello, Giambologna, and Cellini, although some have been replaced with copies to preserve the originals.
The Palazzo Strozzi, an example of civil architecture with its rusticated stone, inspired by the Palazzo Medici, but with more harmonious proportions. Today the palace is used for international expositions like the annual antique show (founded as the Biennale del’Antiquariato in 1959), fashion shows and other cultural and artistic events.
Florence contains numerous museums and art galleries where some of the world’s most important works of art are held. The city is one of the best preserved Renaissance centres of art and architecture in the world and has a high concentration of art, architecture and culture. In the ranking list of the 15 most visited Italian art museums, 2/3 are represented by Florentine museums. The Uffizzi is one of these; one of the most famous and important art galleries in the world, it has a very large collection of international and Florentine art. The gallery is articulated in many halls, cataloged by schools and chronological order. Engendered by the Medici family’s artistic collections through the centuries, it houses works of art by various painters and artists. The Vasari Corridor is another gallery, built connecting the Palazzo Vecchio with the Pitti Palace passing by the Uffizzi and over the Ponte Vecchio. The Galleria dell’ Accademia houses a Michelangelo collection, including the David. It has a collection of Russian icons and works by various artists and painters. Furthermore, other museums and galleries include the Bargello, which concentrates on sculpture works by artists including Donatello, Giambologna and Michelangelo; the Palazzo Pitti, containing part of the Medici family’s former private collection. In addition to the Medici collection, the palace’s galleries contain many Renaissance works, including several by Raphael and Titian, large collections of costumes, ceremonial carriages, silver, porcelain and a gallery of Modern Art dating from the 18th century. Adjoining the palace are the Boboli Gardens, elaborately landscaped and with numerous sculptures.
There are several different churches and religious buildings in Florence. The Cathedral is the Santa Maria del Fiore. It is the fourth largest church in Europe. Other churches in Florence include the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, located in Santa Maria Novella square which contains works by Masaccio and others, The Basilica of Santa Croce, the principal Franciscan church in the city, which is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 metres south east of the Duomo, and is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, Rossini, and Marconi, it is also known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories; Santo Spirito, in the Oltrarno quarter, facing the square with the same name, which was founded by the lay order of the Umiliati, and is among the first examples of Baroque architecture built in the city; the Santa Maria del Caramine, in the Oltrarno district of Florence, which is the location of the Brancacci Chapel, housing outstanding Renaissance frescoes as well as several others, including Santa Trinita, San Marco. The city additionally contains the Orthodox Russian church of Nativity, and the Great Synagogue of Florence, built in the 19th century.
Aside from such monuments, Florence contains numerous major squares (piazze) and streets. The Piazza della Repubblica is a square in the city centre, location of the cultural cafes and bourgeois palaces. Among the square’s cafes: the GUIBBE Rosse cafe has long been a meeting place for artists and writers. The Piazza Santa Croce is another; dominated by the Basillica of Santa Croce, it is a rectangular square in the centre of the city. Furthermore, there is the Piazza Santa Trinita, a square near the Arno that mark the end of the Via de’Tornabuoni street. Other squares include the Piazza San Marco, the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, the Piazza Beccaria and the Piazza della Liberati. The centre additionally contains several streets. Such include the Via Camillo Cavour, one of the main roads of the northern area of the historic centre; the Via Ghibellina, one of central Florence’s longest streets; the Via dei Calzaiuoli, one of most central streets of the historic centre of the which links Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Signoria, winding parallel to via Roma and Piazza della Repubblica; the Via deTornabuoni, a luxurious street in the city centre that goes from Antinori square to ponte Santa Trinita, across Piazza Santa Trinita, characterised by the presence of fashion boutiques; the Viali di Circonvaliazione, 6-lane boulevards surrounding the northern part of the historic centre; as well as others, such as Via Roma, Via degli Speziali, Via de’ Cerretani, and the Viale dei Colli. Florence also contains various parks and gardens. Such include the Boboli Gardens, the Parco deue Cascine, the Giardino Bardink and the Gardino dei Semplici amongst others.
The cathedral, topped by Brunelleschi’s dome, dominates the Florentine skyline. The Florentines decided to start building it – late in the 13th century, without a design for the dome. The project proposed by Brunelleschi in the 14th century was the largest ever built at the time, and the first major dome built in Europe since the two great domes of Roman times – the Pantheon in Rome, and Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The dome of Santa Maria del Fiore remains the largest brick construction of its kind in the world. In front of it is the medieval Baptistery. The two buildings incorporate in their decoration the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. In recent years, most of the important works of art from the two buildings – and from the nearby Giotto’s Campanile, have been removed and replaced by copies. The originals are now housed in the Museum dell’Opera del Duomo, just to the east of the Cathedral.
Artists associated with Florence range from Arnolfo di Cambio and Cimabue to Giotto, Nanni di Banco, and Paolo Uccello; through Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Donatello and Massaccio and the della Robbia family; through Fra Angelico and Botticelli and Piero della Francesca, and on to Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Others include Benvenuto Cellini, Andrea del Sarto, Benozzo Gozzoli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Filippo Lippi, Bernardo Buontalenti, Orcagna, Pollaiuolo, Filippino Lippi, Verrocchio, Bronzino, Desiderio da Settignano, Michelozzo, the Rossellis, the Sangallos, and Pontormo. Artists from other regions who worked in Florence include Raphael, Andrea Pisano, Giambologna, Il Sodoma and Peter Paul Rubens.
The Uffizi and the Pitti Palace are two of the most famous picture galleries in the world. Two superb collections of sculpture are in the Bargello and the Museum of the Works of the Duomo. They are filled with the creations of Donatello, Verrochio, Desiderio da Settignano, Michelangelo and others. The Galleria dell’Accademia has Michelangelo’s David – perhaps the most well-known work of art anywhere, plus the unfinished statues of the slaves Michelangelo created for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Other sights include the medieval city hall, the Palazzo della Signoria (also known as the Palazzo Vecchio), the Archeological Museum, the Museum of the History of Science, the Palazzo Davanzatti, the Stibbert Museum, St. Marks, the Medici Chapels, the Museum of the Works of Santa Croce, the Museum of the Cloister of Santa Maria Novella, the Zoological Museum, the Bardini, and the Museo Horne. There is also a collection of works by the modern sculptor, Marino Marini, in a museum named after him. The Strozzi Palace is the site of special exhibits.
Florentine food grows out of a tradition of peasant eating rather than rarefied high cooking. The majority of dishes are based on meat. The whole animal was traditionally eaten; tripe, and is still are sold at the food carts stationed throughout the city. Antipasti include crostini toscani, sliced bread rounds topped with a chicken liver-based pate and sliced meats). The typically saltless Tuscan bread, obtained with natural levain frequently features in Florentine courses, especially in its soups, ribolita and pappa al pomodoro, or in the salad of bread and fresh vegetables called panzanella that is served in summer. The bistecca alla florentina is a large steak –T-bone of Chianna beef cooked over hot charcoal and served very rare with its more recently derived version, the tagliata, sliced rare beef served on a bed of arugula, often with slices of Parmesan cheese on top. Most of these courses are generally served with local olive oil, also a prime product enjoying a worldwide reputation. Food and wine have long been an important staple of the economy. Florence is the most important city in Tuscany, one of the great wine-growing regions in the world. The Chiant region is just south of the city, and its Sangiovese grapes figure prominently not only in its Chianti Classico wines but also in many of the more recently developed Supertuscan blends. Within twenty miles west is the Carmignano area, also home to flavorful sangiovese-based reds. The celebrated Chianti Rufina district, geographically and historically separated from the main Chianti region, is also few miles east of Florence. More recently, the Bolgheri region (93 mi southwest of Florence) has become celebrated for its “Super Tuscan” reds such as Sassicia and Ornellaia.
I recently spent nearly 10 days in Forence, totally exploring the city and becoming very much acquainted with its past and present, as well as the culture and people that make Florence unique. Plus spending time in many of the wonderful art galleries and marveling in the treasures that are there done many centuries ago and still are breathtaking today. Such as Bottechellis the Birth of Venus.