Top experiences in Florence
Known as the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence captures the heart of locals and tourists alike with its art and architecture, a bow to its glorious past. This is the place where the Italian language originated since its notorious citizen, poet Dante Alighieri, was the first to write in what is today known as Italian. It’s said that its Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge), studded with tiny buildings that are mostly jewelry stores now, was the only thing Hitler could not bear to bomb.
Visitors may notice small placards around the city that indicate the water levels from the 1966 flood, which damaged much of the city, its architectonic treasures and swept away many gems and much gold from this bridge. One can endlessly roam the cobblestone streets of the intimate city center of this UNESCO World Heritage site, never ceasing to feel like they are in a museum. It's possible to trace its rich history just by learning about each building and piece of art: its turbulent political past influenced greatly by the powerful Medici family (who often commissioned works to artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo), its importance as a flourishing center for trade and banking, and its pivotal role in the evolution of art history. But Florence is much more than its city; beyond the medieval city walls, Florence is framed by gentle, rolling hills, marked by centuries-old cypress trees and dotted by olive trees, their shapes each a creature of its own. A drive to nearby hillside towns like Fiesole or Greve in Chianti will give you a taste of this beauty. As you drive about, don’t miss the full view from the Piazzale Michelangelo, the square that overlooks the city and is home to a copy of Michelangelo’s David.
The Arno river runs through this capital of the Tuscan region, located in mid-northern Italy. As Robert Browning put it in Old Pictures in Florence, “River and bridge and street and square / Lay mine, as much at my beck and call, / Through the live translucent bath of air, / As the sights in a magic crystal ball.” The river divides the city into the the city center that revolves around the notorious Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral (know as the Duomo, its dome was built by Brunelleschi) and includes the world renowned Uffizi Museum and its connecting Vasari corridor that links to the Palazzo Pitti (formerly a Medici residence), the Palazzo Vecchio (The Old Building that hosts the City Hall) in Piazza Signoria and the chic and luxurious Via Tornabuoni; across the river is the Oltrarno (South of the river), mostly known for its local artisans and less touristy neighborhoods but with gorgeous attractions like the perfectly simple Santo Spirito church in a piazza that offers a lively nightlife, the Boboli Gardens, the city wall’s entrance at Porta Romana and the Museum of Zoology and Natural History. A Florentine classic, Vasco Pratolini’s Le Ragazze di San Frediano, was set in one of these neighborhoods.
Florence, with more than 370,000 inhabitants (2.5 M including the entire metropolitan area), is also one of Europe’s most significant centers of fashion. Designers like Emilio Pucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Roberto Cavalli, Gucci, Ermanno Scervino among others hail from this capital of the Renaissance. Today, the city attracts much attention biannually with its Pitti Uomo menswear trade show.
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