Capturing the renaissance in Florence

By | Category: Travel destinations
Ponte Vecchio

Forever associated with the Florence, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region is built in a valley which is surrounded by rolling hills and mountains. Within the five kilometres, which encompasses the historical centre there is a lot to see – architecture, sculpture, paintings housed in historic buildings that are now museums, street markets, cafes, restaurants, and of course shops. The city, described as an open-air museum, is devoted to the Italian Renaissance. Whether you wander down a little narrow side street or stay on the main thoroughfares, there is always something new to discover and marvel at. A bonus too is that cars are restricted in the city’s centre.

When visiting Florence it is worth researching what is of particular interest as there are so many museums, both in the old city and the surrounding areas. Particularly for the well-known sites, as the city is such a popular tourist destination at any time of the year, buying entry tickets in advance could save hours of queuing.

The Duomo in Florence

The Duomo in Florence

The Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore the third largest church in the world has been built over a period of six centuries. With its terracotta cupola that you can climb the 463 steps to access, it is very much a symbol of the region. From the top, there are great views of the city. Other must-sees include the sixteenth century Uffizi Gallery, containing the city’s art collection of predominately Italian paintings and sculpture from the 13th to 18th centuries. Originally a palace and the offices of the Medici Family who once ruled Florence, the top floor of the building is filled paintings and sculptures. There are 4,800 pieces in the collection so not everything is on display. Works by Michelangelo, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Raphael sit alongside many other famous names. Although the core of the collection dates back to the Medici times there are also masters from Northern Europe including Van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt. Worth noting that it is closed on Monday.

the copy of Michaelangelo's David

the copy of Michaelangelo’s David

Near the Uffizi, the famous Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge on the River Arno has boutique-size shops along it all of which sell gold jewellery. A tour of the Uffizi Gallery includes a walk along the bridge to the Pitti, another of the Medici Palaces. Within its walls, the Gallery of Modern Art contains paintings and sculptures from the end of the 18th century until the First World War. Housed here too is a costume museum with over 6,000 garments from approximately the same period. Within the Palace grounds, the Boboli Gardens are one of the earliest examples of Italian design, later copied in other European cities.

Michelangelo’s sculpture of David is in the safe keeping of the Galleria Dell’Accademia otherwise known as the Michelangelo Museum. A copy, on the site of where it originally stood until 1873, can now be seen in the Palazzo della Signoria. The Galleria also houses several other works by Michelangelo as well as a series of Russian icons from the private collection of the Grand Dukes of Lorraine. In the same building, the Museum of Musical Instruments has an 18th century Stradivari violin, and the oldest up-right piano in existence.

While the majority of the museums relate to the Italian Renaissance, a new museum Museo Novecento has recently opened, containing 300 Italian works from the twentieth century.

Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica

Shopping in Italy is a must even if it is to just to window shop in the elegant stores on the Via Roma.  Fortunately for those of us whose purses don’t quite stretch to that level, there are also several markets worth investigating, particularly for leather items.  The San Lorenzo and central covered market was built in the late nineteenth century during the period when Florence was the capital of Italy.  Its cast iron structure, surrounded by a loggia with 10 classical arcades and columns has large windows on the upper floor where there are restaurants, wine bars and delicatessens. An outdoor market can also be found in the Via dell’Ariento and Piazza del Mercato Centrale.  Look out for the statue of a boar which, if you touch its nose, is said to bring good luck. A Christmas market is held every year, this year from 3rd to 21st December in the Piazza Santa Croce.

If your visit is spread over several days and you want to see a little of the Tuscan countryside, and at the same time enjoy some retail therapy a good excuse is to visit the designer outlet, the Mall.

the nearby designer shopping outlet

the nearby designer shopping outlet

A luxury coach service will take you there as it is about half an hour’s drive from the centre of Florence 5€ one-way.  This really is the top end of the market with brands such as Alexander McQueen, Dior, Burberry and Gucci all with outlets.

As far as food is concerned meat eaters will be in their element. Each region of Italy has its specialities and  T-bone Florentine steak, grilled or charcoaled, is on virtually all the restaurant menus. Be wary on the price, as this will depend on the size of the steak, which is quoted by the kilo.

A bonus in Italy, when having an alcoholic drink is the numerous nibbles offered at aperitif time. Gilli, with a large outside area, in the Piazza della Repubblica, one of the city’s traditional and long established cafés is a great place for people watching. The Piazza, where a lot of the smart shops are situated, attracts musicians who entertain the crowds so there is always a lot going on.

a Florentine steak - not to be missed!

a Florentine steak – not to be missed!

As the museums and churches, in general, charge for a visit, it is worth buying the Firenze (Florence) card. This gives free entry to a lot of the city’s museums, and can be used on public transport. It can be bought on line for 72€ and runs over three consecutive days, but is only activated when first used.

Florence is one of those places that you will inspire you to return. With so much to see, however long your visit the chances are, you will not see all there is to see.

For more about Florence, click here.


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