The incredible Italian city of Florence (Firenze) fans out from the banks of the River Arno, flooding a Tuscan valley with breathtaking marble towers, terracotta domes, sculpture and art by some of the most creative minds in history.
After just a few days sightseeing here, the names Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello and Michelangelo trip off your tongue at every turn, and climbing to the tops of medieval bell towers or gazing at frescos before dinner feels as common place as a trip to Tesco.
The Medici family, who flashed their cash in Florence throughout the 14th century, funded a great deal of the culture that 21st century tourists flock to see. The artists’ egos and appetite to be considered the most accomplished Renaissance men in town brought about the rest – those guys loved a challenge.
For example, it was a 26-year-old Michelangelo who took up the challenge to carve the biblical hero David from a massive tower of marble. The challenge, which had stumped many experienced sculptors, took him two years to complete. By 1504 the six-tonne statue was positioned outside the Palazzo Vecchio (where a replica stands today). A replica also stands in Piazza Michelangelo high on a hillside overlooking the city, and the iconic nude is printed on a thousand aprons, postcards, bags, umbrellas and pens all around Italy and the rest of the world.
Where: the original statue of David was moved inside and stands on display at the Academy of Fine Art (The Accademia) in Via Ricasoli, in the north of the city.
Florence’s skyline is dominated by a 600-year-old gravity-defining cathedral dome that resulted from another creative challenge. The cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore dwarves domes the world over to this day. An icon of Florence, it was designed by mega-brain architect Filippo Brunelleschi who won a contest to top off the cathedral in style. When it was finally completed in 1436 over four million bricks had been used.
Where: Brunelleschi’s dome can be seen from almost anywhere in the city but if you dare, climb right up inside it along narrow staircases and steep ladders. Santa Maria del Firore is in Piazza del Duomo, at the heart of the city.
Florence is also as romantic as it is arty. Couples make a beeline after sightseeing to pose on the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), lick gelato as the sun sets and then peer at jewellery sparkling after dark in the windows of the medieval shops that are built above the River Arno. Prolong the romance by crossing the Arno into the Oltrarno quarter and getting cosy in a wine bar or traditional trattoria.
On the menu in the trattoria are satisfying Tuscan dishes such as ravioli with pear and pecorino cheese or meaty favourites like boar stew and Bistecca Fiorentina (rare T-bone steak served for two or three people).
Posted : Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 at 11:00
Kelly Pipes is a writer and editor who has worked in travel and travel publishing for the last ten years, and has enjoyed every single minute of it. Alongside other projects she shares off-beat travel news and authentic travel experiences on her own blog, Sandwagon.