If you imagine Italy as a world of grand historical architecture, terracotta buildings, delicious gelato, sleek waterways and pristine fashion then Florence will meet and most likely exceed your expectations.
We almost skipped this wonderful city on our Italian itinerary and Tuscany’s capital ended up being one of our greatest experiences of the country. The culture, cuisine and surroundings completely blew us away.
Florence is perfectly situated close to other major cities in Italy such as Pisa, Rome, Venice and Milan and the city is easily accessible by rail.
The city, known to locals as Firenze, is home to many important masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture. The city was once a center of medieval European trade and documented as one of the wealthiest cities of its time.
Typical to the style of the Mediterranean, the most popular way to get around the narrow cobbled streets is via scooter. Masses can be seen parked by the historical buildings across the city.
There are six bridges in Florence that span the Arno river including the Ponte Santa Trìnita , which is a Renaissance bridge and the oldest elliptic arch bridge in the world. The appearance of three flattened ellipses gives the bridge a uniquely elegant appearance.
By walking the length of this city and popping in and out of the nooks, crannies and alleyways, there will be grand architectural gems and wonders as well as beautiful historical artwork and sculptures.
Upon exiting the main central train station, the Santa Maria Novella is one of the first magnificent historical structures to be seen. The church, sharing a name with the train station, is one of the oldest Basilicas in the city, built in 1420. Architecturally, it is considered to be one of the most important Gothic churches in the whole of Tuscany.
Visitors can enter the Basilica and enjoy an array of walls, windows and ceilings that are plastered in beautiful art and historical artifacts.
It makes sense to start with one of the most beautiful architectural masterpieces we have ever seen, the Florence Cathedral or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Standing bold right in the center of the city with a magnificent Renaissance dome, it is hard not to stop and appreciate an extraordinary piece of artistic history.
Construction of the city’s main church, which is also one of the largest in Italy, started in 1296, built in Gothic style at the works didn’t end entirely until 1436. The façade is distinctively 19th-century Gothic Revival.
The cathedral complex consists of the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile (the bell tower) located in the Piazza del Duomo which is considered a central hub for tourists. All three buildings in the complex are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic center of Florence .
The Florence Baptistery, also known as the Baptistery of Saint John, is right across from the dome.
The Porta della Mandorla is a remarkable piece of artistry to be admired above the door by the main entrance. The name, which translates to almond port, was given because of the large aureole around the figure of the Virgin Mary.
The building is lined with extraordinary statues and sculptures, all of religious bearing including the Virgin Mary and the Pope.
It is also just as extraordinary at night.
Art appreciators can enjoy the historical Piazza della Republica (Republic Square), once a city forum and a ghetto, where world-renowned artists and writers would meet at the Giubbe Rosse cafe. Not only is it a central point for current art vendors and their stalls, the square is considered to be the central point of the city marked by the Column of Abundance. The column was erected at the crossing of the cardo and decumanus of the ancient Roman city.
An inscribed triumphal arch Arch, referred to as Arcone, stands out among the surrounding buildings of Piazza della Republica.
The Piazza della Signoria is an L shaped square that is considered to be the focal point of the history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political hub of the city. The square and its buildings attract a mass gathering of tourists in the current day and is one of the most beautiful part of the city. We stayed here for a long time appreciating the city’s history and fine pieces of art.
The 14th-century Palazzo Vecchio is the Town Hall of Florence and it stands dominantly over the square most noticeably with its crenelated tower.
A replica of Michelangelo’s David statue remains a focal landmark outside of the Palazzo Vecchio along with the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi.
The Palazzo Vecchio once served as a palace during a varied and powerful history of ruling in the Florentine Republic. The building stands dominantly over the square where many tourists gather to admire the beautiful architecture and memorials.
The building has a distinctive front entrance door, with notable ornamental marble figures, dating right back to 1528. Above the door, flanked by two gilded lions, is the Monogram of Christ, above the text (in Latin): “Rex Regum et Dominus Dominantium” translates to “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”.
Visitors can enter the Palazzo Vecchio for a fee where there are hundreds of artifacts from the various occupants and the rich history of the building.
The Piazzale Degli Uffizi is a 16th-century building housing an art museum with a vast collection of Primitive and Renaissance art. You don’t have to enter the ground to admire some of the offerings, the courtyard outside is free to enter.
The cortile (the official name for the internal courtyard) is so long and narrow yet still allowing an opening to the Arno river, that architectural historians treat it as the first regularized streetscape of Europe. The areas of space in between the columns are filled with sculptures from famous 19th century artists.
The Fountain of Neptune is another wonderful structure situated beside Palazzo Vecchio. The Neptune figure depicts the face of Cosimo I de’ Medici, and is said to represent the domination of the Florentines over the sea.
Standing over an octagonal fountain, the pedestal in the middle is decorated with the mythical figures of Scylla and Charybdis.
The bronze monument to Cosimo I is also situated in the Piazza della Signoria which follows the Classical Roman tradition of Equestrian statues as monuments to a ruler’s power.
Some say the man and horse statues were cast separately, and the combined weight of the two was 23,000 lbs!
Florence is the capital of the central region of Tuscany and it is known world-wide for its flavorful cuisine. Typical to Italy, all food bases are made fresh and Tuscany prides itself on offering three general methods of flavor bases. A blend of vegetables and herbs sautéed in a true Italian staple, extra-virgin olive oil. The most common combinations are celery, carrots, garlic, onion, parsley and other herbs, such as rosemary, bay or thyme.
The cafes, bistros and restaurants of Florence also offer ‘Tuscan platters’ that we sampled as soon as we arrived. This typically consists of bruschetta with a tomato condiment and slices of cheese with a pot of honey.
For those with a sweet tooth, we had the best icy treat of our lives at a local gelato shop right in the middle of the city.
Those who seek fun on the water can kayak on the Arno river which runs through the city. The river is actually 241 kilometers long running through the region of Tuscany straight into the Tyrrhenian Sea at Marina di Pisa.
Late Spring / Early Summer sees the Florence Carnival appear at the historical Cascine Park right by the Arno river. We were lucky enough to experience the handful of rides, game stalls and fairground food on offer. The Ferris wheel offers a wonderfully unique view of the city.
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