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Exploring Florence

A visit to Florence (Firenze) is a must for any art lover. UNESCO estimates that 60% of the world’s most important artworks are in Italy, with over half of them located in Florence.

Few can dismiss the image of Brunelleschi’s cathedral dome bursting through the morning mist – a terracotta balloon hovering above the medieval rooftops. But once the visitor drops down to street level, the profusion of traffic, tourists and touts can remove all sense of tranquillity.

It seems every building holds a masterpiece, demanding attention and often gobbling up funds. The streets are narrow and dark, enclosed on either side by granite palaces and even the open spaces are crowded with babbling tour groups.

Quick Gelato? Florence has the best!

Getting to Florence

Situated in the northwest of Italy, surrounded by the wine-growing hills of Chianti, the city attracts rapture and frustration in equal proportions.

When's best to visit Florence?

It is best for visitors to avoid the peak summer months of July and August, when the weather can be unbearably sticky and the prospect of trailing around museums becomes unappealing. Early autumn, when the countryside glows with mellow fruitfulness, is the best time to visit, avoiding the heat and the queues and capitalising on the soft light, empty streets and the abundance of wild mushrooms and just-pressed olive oil.

Often called the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence owes much of her wealth to the Middle Ages. Banking became big business on the back of the city’s profitable wool trade and, in 1235, Florence minted the florin, the first gold coin to become standard currency across Europe. In their turn, these bankers commissioned some of the finest art and architecture in the city. The names Strozzi, Rucellai and Pitti can be found all over Florence but it was the Medici family – who led the city for over 300 years, off and on – that nurtured the greatest flowering of Renaissance art. The paintings of Botticelli, the sculptures of Michelangelo and the rusticated palaces of Michelozzo all flourished under their rule.

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Then, as now, most of the action in Florence took place between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, the city’s civic heart. Here, in the historic centre, Dante – forefather of the Italian language – first glimpsed his muse, Beatrice. Here, the Florentine Republic rose and fell. And here, Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities blazed. Florence, for all her timeless charm, is no stranger to destruction.

In 1944, all her bridges, save the Ponte Vecchio, were bombed by the Nazis, in an attempt to stall the advance of the allies. In 1966, the banks of the River Arno burst, flooding the city with her muddied waters and devastating homes and artwork. Most recently, in 1993, a bomb exploded near the Uffizi Gallery, ripping through the museum’s interior and claiming several lives. That said, the only violence most tourists are likely to witness is during the medieval football match on 24 June – Florence’s patron saint day – when petty wrangles often spill onto the pitch.

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