Florence is one of the Italian cities that has more to offer tourists. So much so that the entire historic center is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
It is advisable to stay in a hotel in Florencia and spend a few days exploring this Renaissance center. When I went, our base was Rome and since there is now a high-speed train it is possible to arrive in an hour and a half. Therefore we decided to spend the day, which certainly was not enough time.
Birth of the Italian Renaissance
The city of Florence originates in the time of the Romans. It was established by Julio Cesar in the year 59 a.C. as a settlement for his soldiers. Its name Florentia comes from blooming since the city was between two rivers in the fertile valley of Arno. The city quickly became an important center of commerce. Charlemagne conquered Florence in 774 and it became part of the Duchy of Tuscany with Lucca as its capital.
Margrave Hugo, the leader of the Holy Roman Empire decided to move to Florence in the year 1000 AD. and the Golden Age of Florentine art began. In the 15th century, Florence was one of the largest, richest and most prosperous cities in Europe. In the late Middle Ages the florin of gold financed industry throughout Europe, as well as the British during their hundred-year war against France. Others who benefited was the papacy who built a transitory capital in Avignon. Then they returned to Rome, receiving funding for the reconstruction and the Renaissance of the city.
It is not surprising that there was a family as powerful as the Medici. Two members of the family were Popes: Leo X and Clement VII. Several women of the family married French nobility and ruled France. They were bankers and patrons of the arts. From the end of the 1400s to 1737 they had control over Florence. They commissioned Niccolò Machiavelli, better known for writing ‘The Prince’, to write the Florentine Stories so that the history of the city could be captured. Tuscany became a region of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
What to see in Florence?
The Duomo of Florence
The Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, better known as il Duomo, is the most recognizable building in Florence. The original cathedral, Santa Reparata, was built in the fourth century. What you see today was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296 and then renovated by Emilio De Fabris at the end of the nineteenth century. It is 502 feet long, 295 feet wide and tall. It was the largest church in the world until the Basilica of San Pedro was completed in the Vatican in 1615.
Entering the duomo is free but you can expect to spend at least 20 minutes in a line, with luck, even though it may take an hour or more. Appropriate clothing is required since it is a place of worship.
If you want to go to the crypt, baptistery and bell tower you must buy a combined ticket online in advance. The opening hours depend on the day and the season, so it is better to consult.
There are 463 narrow steps to reach the top of the Duomo of Florence or you can climb 414 steps to get to the bell tower. Both offer beautiful panoramic views of the city. The ticket also gives you access to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo that has more than 1,000 works of art including Renaissance famous artists such as Michelangelo, Donatello, della Robbia and Ghiberti.
Church of Santa Croce
The church of Santa Croce dates back to when St. Francis of Assisi visited Florence in 1212. He chose this marshy place outside the walls of the city. Construction began in 1294 or 1295 but the current marble facade was added in 1863 by the donation of Sir Francis Sloane.
This site is famous for being the burial place of notable figures such as Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei, who was condemned by the Inquisition and it was not until 1737 (95 years later) that he was allowed a Christian burial. You can also visit the Galileo Museum to learn about the life and works of the astronomer and scientist.
The Market of San Lorenzo or Mercato Centrale is the most delicious place in Florence. It opened its doors in the spring of 2014 to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the building that was built in 1874. They sell vegetables and fruits like a normal market as well as local products such as cheeses, chocolates, breads, meats and fish. If you do not live in the city or are staying in an Airbnb, I doubt you have any interest in buying unprepared food.
Most go to eat and drink, since the wine store has more than 4,000 bottles of 1,200 brands. Each station has its own cash register and there is a communal area for people to eat at tables.
The hardest part is choosing what to eat. As I am a lover of truffles, I chose a pasta covered in them and my companions chose pizza. The market continues in the surrounding area and they sell clothing, accessories and souvenirs.
Gallery of the Accademia
It is advisable to buy tickets with the specific time in advance, since the lines to enter the Accademia Gallery are eternal. This museum was formerly a hospital and a monastery. Then it was an academy of fine arts and at the end of the eighteenth century it was used to house the works of Michelangelo.
The sculpture of ‘David’ is the most impressive. A block of marble of 5.50 meters high was transported to Florence to be sculpted. Several artists tried but none could sculpt it, until finally Michelangelo returned. The work was done between 1501-1504 and is a symbol of freedom and independence after the first defeat of the Medici in 1494.
You can walk to get to Piazzale Michelangelo from Florence. You will cross the Arno River and see sites recognizable as Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge built on the river. The current version was made in 1345 after a flood.
This square is located on a hill therefore offers beautiful panoramic views of Florence. We opted to go at sunset to see beautiful golden tones over the city. This piazza was built by the architect Giuseppe Poggi in 1869. It was dedicated to the sculptor Michelangelo and has a replica of ‘David’ made in bronze.
Florence has many places to visit. If you are an art lover you can easily spend about three hours in the Uffizi Gallery where Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ is located. Also take a walk around Plaza de la Signoria where you will find the Palazzo Vecchio, which is the old town hall of the city.
In the square there are statues including a copy of ‘David’ and a fountain of Neptune. Spend a few days in this artistic Italian city that was the cradle of the Renaissance.