Tuscany is one of the most popular regions in Italy to travel. And why should it not be? The soft hills, seemingly endless vineyards, and beautiful small towns, and some of the best food you can find in the world. Moreover, the region breathes art and culture. And if you only have limited time to spend in the area, you can find all of this condensed in and around the capital of the region: Florence!
Florence throughout History
Already in Medieval times, Florence was an important trading and financial centre in Europe and one of the wealthiest cities not only in Italy, but in the whole of Europe. It’s history has been turbulent. Most famous is probably the Medici family who ruled the city from behind the scenes in the 15th century. It saw religious and republican revolutions, served as the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and has always been a centre of the arts and culture. It has been called the “Athens of the Middle Ages” due to its economic and cultural importance during that time. The Medici family, for example, commissioned works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. Important literary masterpieces by for example Nicolo Machiavelli, Giovanni Boccaccio or Petrarch, the Florentine dialect soon became the foundation of the modern Italian language.
You can still tell today, that Florence used to be a commercial and cultural centre for centuries. Architects of the time outdid themselves in creating beautiful churches and palaces. Most famous are probably the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore with its spectacular dome and the Ponte Vecchi. Constructions for the cathedral began in 1296 in the Gothic style. It was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and the dome by Filippo Brunselleschi. It took almost 200 years to complete its structure, which was finished in 1936.
The Vecchi bridge spans over the river Arno and hosts several jewellery and souvenir shops and restaurants today. It is a closed-spandrel segmental bridge. Its shops used to be occupied by butchers. However, the Medicis planned to raise the prestige of the bridge and in 1953 the family prohibited butchers from selling their products in the shops of the bridge. Goldsmiths took over the abandoned shops and only two years later a decree was made, that only goldsmiths are allowed to sell from the shops of the bridge from now on, which is still adhered to today.
However, these are just two famous buildings to see in Florence. Almost behind every corner of the city centre, you will find a church, palace, or anther important monument that is worth a visit.
Because of its rich history and breathtaking monuments, the UNESCO declared Florence’s historic centre a World Heritage Site in 1982. Today, millions of tourists visit each year to see the beautiful sights and indulge in the delicious specialities of the regions.
Arts and Culture
The Medici rule did not only leave its mark on the political and economic scene in the city, but they also patronised artists like Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci. Still today, there are numerous art galleries and museums to visit, so that the city still has an influence in the fields of arts and culture. A visit to the Uffizi Gallery is a must when visiting Florence. After the end of the Medici family, most of their artwork was gifted to the city to be displayed in museums. The Uffizi is one of the first modern museums, that has been open to visitors since the 16th century. First, it was only open on request, but since 1765 it is officially opened to the public. A second famous museum is the Palazzo Pitti, which is today the largest museum complex in Florence. You can basically revisit the birthplace of the renaissance in these museums and learn about the rich and opulent history of Italy.
Besides these places to see some of the most influential pieces of art in history, Florence also hosts some of the most important Italian fashion labels, which are renowned worldwide: Gucci, Roberto Cavalli and Pucci have their headquarters in Florence but also labels like Prada and Chanel have large offices in the city. This reflects that the city has been a centre of textile production and fashion since the 14th century. Even today, all luxury brands you can imagine have a shop in Florence.
But even if these are a little too much for your wallet, it is still possible to enjoy a little luxury: the food in Florence is as good as it gets and the wines are so very tasty you won’t ever want to drink anything else. Typical local ingredients besides meat are tomatoes, rosemary, porcini mushrooms, and – something that makes every dish a little bit more lux – truffle mushrooms. And, what is a huge bonus (for me anyway) Florence has some of the best Gelato in Italy! Try it!
Tip: The city centre can be crowded, especially in summer, but as soon as you venture out of the city centre, the city gets much quieter. And you can still find amazing restaurants and delicious gelato, but for a much more affordable price. And if you have time to get as far as Fiesole, for example, you are rewarded with beautiful views from the hills surrounding Florence.