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Florence, Italy - my favorite city in the world
Florence, Italy - "cradle of the Renaissance"
Now, I haven't been completely around the world and, therefore, I haven't seen everything there is to see, but I can tell you, from all my European, North American and Caribbean travels, Florence, Italy is my all-time favorite city. Being half Italian by birth, of course, I would have no preferences or prejudices in favor of Florence, Italy. And, if you believe that, I have swamp land in Arizona I want to sell you!
Florence, Italy, known as Firenze to the Italians, is located in the northern region of Tuscany. It is famous for its history, art, and architecture. It was known as the center of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of its time. It is the birthplace of the Italian Renissance and led all of Europe in a rebirth of art, culture and the humanities.
Naturally it was originally founded during the Roman rule of the Holy Roman Empire. It has a turbulant political history and includes periods of rule by the powerful de'Medici family. From 1865-1870 it was the capital city of a unified Italian nation under the rule of a monarchy. The historic center of Florence is noted for its Renaissance art, architecture and monuments, its numerous museums and art galleries, most notably the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace. Florence still exerts influence in the fields of art, culture and politics and it is today a major national economic center. It also is one of the clothing fashion capitals of the world.
Brief History of Florence
From the 14th to 16th centuries Florence was a major trading and banking capital and the most important city of all of Europe. Here the Italian middle class rose to power as merchants and guilds and trades became important to the Florentine economy. The language spoken in Florence in the 14th century was and still is accepted as the true Italian language. All writers and poets in Italian literature are somehow and somewhat connected with the city of Florence.
Florence was also the home of the de'Medici family, one of history's most important noble family. Lorenzo de'Medici was the political and cultural mastermind in Italy in the late 15th century. He was a great patron of the arts and commissioned works by Michaelangeo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Botticelli. Lorenzo was an accomplished musician and brought composers and singers to Florence. He was known affectionately to the Italians and not so affectionately to some as "Lorenzo the Magnificent."
Leo X and Clement VII were popes who came from the de'Medici family in the early 16th century and Catherine de'Medici married King Henry II of France. After his death in 1559 she ruled as regent in France.
The de'Medici's were the Grand Dukes of Tuscany starting with Cosimo I de' Medici in 1570 until the death of Gian Gastoni de'Medici in 1737. However, in 1494 the de'Medici family fell from power and rule in Florence.
At that time, a Dominican monk, Girolamo Savonarola took over power and rule in Florence. He put forth political reforms that lead to a more democratic rule in Florence. But, he lost power and rule when he accussed Pope Alexander VI of corruption. Florentines turned against him, tired of his extreme teachings, and he was burned at the stake in 1498.
Niccolo Machiavelli was a political thinker from Florence, Italy and renowned for his political handbook, The Prince, which is about ruling and the exercise of power. He had an unusually acute insight into government, politics and rule and his ideas for Florence's regeneration under strong leadership were seen as political expediency and even political malpractice. He was ruthless in his ideas and implimentation of them. He also was commissioned by the de' Medici family to write the Florentine Histories.
Italy became united as one nation under the Hapsburg - Lorraine dynasty in 1861. But by 1870, Rome was to become the capital city of Italy and has remained so up to today.
What to see in Florence
First, just walking along the narrow streets of the old historic section of Florence is a must. Here the shaded, cool streets meander around the city and all eventually lead to il Duomo, the cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. It's famous dome, the largest brick and mortar one built in the world even today, was built by Filippo Brunelleschi and is magnificent on the outside and inside. The frescos painted on the inside of the dome are incredible and next to Rome's Sistine Chapel, the greatest painting feat in the world. Nearby the cathedral is the Campanile, bell tower, partly designed by Giotto. You can climb to the top of the bell tower and see a beautiful panorama of the city.
Standing in front of il Duomo is the San Giovanni Baptistery. It was decorated by various artists. But the real treat are the brass doors, called the Gates of Paradise, designed and constructed by Lorenzo Ghiberti.
The center of the city has the original medieval walls that were built in the 14th century to defend this city. In the heart of the city sits the Piazza della Signoria with its Fountain of Nepture (built: 1563-1565). It is a marble sculpture and is the end of a still functioning Roman aqueduct that carries spring water from the mountains. Yes, it is ok to drink this water in Florence. The majority of the city of Florence was built during the Renaissance and around every corner there is something to see.
For shopping in quaint small boutiques and jewelry stores, don't miss the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge. The shops line each side of the bridge which crosses over the Arno River and cuts the city of Florence in half. The bridge also carries Vasari's elevated corridor linking the bridge to the Uffizi Gallery and the Gallery to the de'Medici residence, the famed Palazzo Pitti. It is believed the Ponte Veccho was originally built by the Etruscans, but it was completely rebuilt in the 14th century and still stands today. Fortunately it survived WWII completely intact, a major feat. It is also the first example in the western world of a bridge using arches.
The Church of San Lorenzo, named for the saint who is the namesake of, none other, than Lorenzo de' Medici, contains the de'Medici chapel and mausoleum of the famed family. Here you can view their own personal chapel within the church - they funded it, so they get it all to themselves - and you can see the tombs of the famed de'Medici members.
The Uffizi Gallery, mentioned earlier, is located on the corner of Piazza della Signora and was founded by the de'Medici family. It is one of the most important art galleries in the world. The de'Medici family were important art collectors during the Renaissance and commissioned works of arts from some of the most important Renaissance artists throughout Italy and Europe, therefore it today houses the works of art of international and Florentine art.
And, who could visit Florence without viewing the great sculpture of David, by Michaelangelo. Sculpted to magnify the great human male body, David is of David and Goliath from the Bible. David stands nude with only his sling shot thrown over his shoulder, indicating he has just slain Goliath with one shot of his sling shot. David stands in the Galleria dell' Accademi which also houses a collection of sculptures and art by Michaelangelo.
And last, but certainly not least, is the Palazzo Pitti, the ancestral palace home of the de'Medici's. It contains part of the de'Medici family's former private art collection. It contains many Renaissance works by famed painters Rafael and Titan. Adjoining the palace are the Boboli Gardens landscaped with beautiful flowers, plants, trees, and Renaissance statues.
Even though immersed in the culture and beauty of the city and with all the art and architecture of the Renaissance surrounding me, it is just fun to sit at a cafe and watch the Italian life pass by. With a glass of my favorite Italian wine, or sipping a cappuccino, the sights and sounds are as important to experience as all the art.
A young couple on a vespa (moped) weaving in and out of the traffic stop to kiss during the red light. The grand Italian lady, with her cute, petite dog on a leash, is walking along with her driver, who is running to keep up, while carrying all her packages. The pizzeria across the square is serving mouth-watering and delicious slices of pizza. The gelato stand where lemon ice and the creamiest ice-cream in the world is being sold to cool patrons on hot Italian summer days. Everywhere, couples of all ages are holding hands and walking along the streets and sidewalks to view the city. An Italian child with the enormous brown eyes bounces a ball at my feet. And not to be missed is the tall, silver-haired Italian gentleman who catches my eye as he is sipping his wine or cappuccino at a nearby table. Hmmmm. Who knows? All this is to be savored too in the great city of Florence, Italy.