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How apt can the names be that Romans gave to their settlements. Certainly in the case of Florence. When they founded Florence in 59 BC, they could not have known that this settlement would truly honor its name: a bright, flourishing town on the banks of the Arno, in the heart of Tuscany.
Florence is the art capital of Italy with a wealth of cultural heritage: monumental churches and palaces, and precious paintings and sculptures. That enormous wealth is mainly due to the banking family de'Medici. They came to power at the beginning of the fifteenth century and would reign over Florence for over three centuries. During that time, Florence became a powerful city-state.
The Medici family became rich by the wool-trade and later on as the founder of modern banking (Giovanni I'Medici was assigned management over the Pope's assets in 1410). Although members of the family did a lot to beautify the city, they did not think too highly of the 'common people'. For this reason, a corridor runs above the famous Ponte Vecchio over the Arno, which was especially built for the I'Medici family. It enabled the relatives of the family to cross from one riverbank to the other without having to be amongst the common people.The iconic symbol of the city is the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) with its famous dome. At the time, that was a feat of mastery in architecture, because until then no one had succeeded in placing a dome over such a large room. You can climb up to the tower at the top in between the double walls. It is not easy, by the way! Slightly more accessible is the square bell tower next to the Duomo, the 85 meter high Campanile.
When the Medici family came to power, the Renaissance was up and coming too. Florence was the very center of that art movement. The five-meter high statue 'David' is one of the biggest attractions of the city. The proportions don't seem right, but the statue wasn't originally meant to see up close. It was going to be placed on the outside of the Opera del Duomo. From a distance the proportions would look right to the eye.
Piazza della Signoria is the heart of the city. The rectangular square has a defined medieval character and is surrounded by historical buildings. In front of the Palazzo Vecchio stands yet another David statue, but this is a copy. The other sculptures in front of the palace are copies too. The interior of the palace however is authentic and includes a - for map lovers - a room with maps of different countries. It's funny to see how geographical knowledge at the time was somewhat flawed.
The Galleria degli Uffizi is the most important museum of the city when it comes to renaissance art. There is so much to see, that you're best off choosing in advance. There are often long queues for this immensely popular museum.
So is it just art and culture in Florence? No, you can have excellent food here as well. After all Florence is the capital of Tuscany, the kitchen of Italy. You can enjoy shopping here too. For the chic fashion boutiques go near Via Tornabuoni; you can find more alternative shops around the Piazza Santa Croce.
Florence is located in the center of Tuscany, one of the most beautiful and popular regions of Italy. Rolling vineyards and straight cypress trees along roads in the Chianti region south of Florence and the mountains of the Alpi Apuane and the Orecchiella to the north of the city.
The Etruscan coast is worth your while too. With your rental car, you can follow several routes along beaches and cliffs, and through Mediterranean forests, pine forests and vineyards. Located near Viareggio are find gravel and sandy beaches where you can have a nice swim.
We already referred to Tuscany as the kitchen of Italy and this is reflected in the summer festivals. There is always a village somewhere celebrating 'sagre', a culinary festival with a theme: olive oil, melon, wild boar, grapes etc. This theme isn't the most important part; it's about dance, music and of course the wine!
There is a wide range of accommodation in and around Florence. Many people like to rent a house or old farm house (agriturismo) in the Tuscan countryside. But in the town itself you have loads of choice too. We do recommend booking your accommodation well in advance, because Florence is an extremely popular destination for a city break.
In the center of the town only residents are allowed to drive their car. If you do accidentally end up in this so called Zona Traffico limitato, you can get a hefty fine. Prevent it and park your car on one of the car parks just outside the center. You can par your car up to two hours for free on the big Piazzale Michelangelo.
The Florence airport is located four kilometers northwest of the city. With a rental car the airport is easily accessible: from the city center follow the Viale Guidoni towards the A1 motorway. Florence Airport is located at exit Firenze Nord.