Culture

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It seems that Florence could never lose her reputation as a city of culture. Florence was positioned at the very centre of the Renaissance – home to some of the greatest artists and thinkers who ever lived – and the beauty of the art, architecture and ideas that came from this city live on.

The biggest cultural event in Florence is the international Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which welcomes top names from the music and ballet worlds. Visitors should keep an eye open for one-off recitations played in churches and piazzas around the city. Posters are pinned up outside the venue and tickets are available at the door.

Music

Florence can claim a couple of musical firsts. Not only was the first piano invented in the city, by Bartolomeo Crostoferi, but also the first ever opera, Daphne, was performed here in 1598, at the home of Jacopo Corsi. Unfortunately the score does not survive and Florence has not maintained its early influence on the operatic form. Today’s opera season opens in September and is held chiefly at the Teatro Comunale, Corso Italia 16 (tel: (055) 211 158 or (0577) 223 806 or (800) 112 211; website: www.maggiofiorentino.com), on the banks of the Arno. L’Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (website: www.maggiofiorentino.com/emagho.htm) is the city’s main orchestra, which plays at the Teatro Communale.

Chamber music can be heard most weekends at the Teatro della Pergola, Via della Pergola (tel: (055) 22641 or (055) 226 4316; website: www.pergola.firenze.it), an ornate 17th-century theatre that also stages classical concerts and opera.

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Theatre

The Teatro della Pergola (see above) and the Teatro Verdi, Via Ghibellina 99 (tel: (055) 212 320; website: www.teatroverdifirenze.it and www.dada.it/ort), are the two chief venues for drama in Florence. Most performances are conducted in Italian, so a good understanding of the language is vital. Performances are typically productions of classic Italian dramas or foreign plays in translation, interspersed with the occasional contemporary production. Tickets are available at respective theatre box offices.

Other city theatres include Teatro Puccini, Piazza Puccini (tel: (055) 362 067; website: www.teatropuccini.it), home to Off Theatre, for a variety of performances from opera to new plays. There are new Italian dramas at Teatro di Rifredi, Via V. Emanuele 303 (tel: (055) 422 0361; website: www.toscanateatro.it), and experimental theatre at Teatro Studio di Scandicci, Via Donizetti 58 (tel: (055) 757 348; website: www.scandiccicultura.org).

Dance

The annual Florence Dance Festival (tel: (055) 289 276; website: www.florencedance.org) was first conceived in 1990, although its future remains under threat, due to lack of funding. The festival aims to bring some of the best names in contemporary and classical dance to Florence, with an annual contest for emerging choreographers. Performances usually run for a month in July and are held in outdoor venues, such as Piazzale Michelangelo and the Teatro Romano in Fiesole. Ballet performances also take place during the Maggio Fiorentino festival, at various venues, throughout the year. Information and tickets are available from the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Corso Italia 16 (tel: (055) 211 158 or 213 535; fax: (055) 277 9410; e-mail: tickets@maggiofiorentino.com; website: www.maggiofiorentino.com).

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Film

Florence has been the setting for a number of films, most memorably Merchant Ivory’s adaptation of E M Forster’s Room With A View (1988) and more recently Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini (1999) and Up At The Villa (2000), starring Kristin Scott Thomas. Such is the demand for picturesque Tuscan locations that the region has recently set up its own film commission to capitalise on promotional opportunities.

The cinema is heavily patronised in the city and for those who speak Italian, there is a real treat in store at the Odeon Cinehall (tel: (055) 214 068; website: www.cinehall.it), a stunning Art Nouveau theatre in Piazza Strozzi. Original language films are shown on Monday and Tuesday, with tickets costing around €7. English speakers can take a trip to the Astao, Piazza San Simone, near Santa Croce, or Goldoni, Via Serragli 109 (tel: (055) 222 437), where original-language films are shown on Thursday. Cinema tickets cost around €6, often dropping to €4 on Wednesday. More original language films are shown on Thursday at Cinema Fulgor, Via Maso Finiguerra (tel: (055) 238 1881).

Cultural events: The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (tel: 800 112 211; website: www.maggiofiorentino.com), which takes place from May to early July each year, forms the crux of Florence’s cultural calendar. The festival has been going for over 60 years and is presided over by its homegrown orchestra and dance company. L’Orchestra del Maggio Musical Fiorentino has achieved international recognition under the watchful eye of conductor Zubin Mehta – famous for his performances with the Three Tenors. Most of the performances are held at the Teatro Comunale (see above), also the central booking point for the festival. Some events are held outdoors in cloisters, piazzas and Boboli Gardens. Tickets for standing room only are available for purchase one hour before the performance begins for €11, while pre-booked tickets start at around €15.50.

Literary Notes
Writers, poets and bored aristocrats have poured into this city, eager to discover its mythical reputation. Romantics like Byron and Shelley were enraptured by the abundance of beauty, sighing almost as much over the picturesque peasants as they did over the architecture. As citizens of Florence, Dante (1265-1321) and Machiavelli (1469-1527) were less dewy-eyed. Dante called it a ‘city of self-made men and fast-got gain’ and consigned most of his contemporaries to hell in his masterwork, the Divine Comedy (1306-1321). Machiavelli, who like Dante was exiled from the city, is best known for his study of devious politics in The Prince (1513), learnt first-hand in the service of the Medici. Boccaccio (1313-75), who wrote the Decameron (1353), added little to the city, except a reputation for bawdy humour. But it was the court painter, Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), who really opened the door to life in Renaissance Florence, with his artistic biography, Lives of the Artists (1550).

Henry James’ laconic insight came much later, drawing back the romantic conceit and presenting an altogether darker vision of Italy, in such novels as The Portrait of A Lady (1881). A collection of essays written while travelling in Italy between 1872 and 1909 can be found in his book Italian Hours (1909). E M Forster’s tale of knotted passions in A Room With A View (1908) has also carried Florence onto the silver screen.

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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.