We are financial analysts, not writers, but we love travelling and exploring. A few weeks ago, Italy was on the cards. Our twelve day sojourn in Italy covered all major architectural and historical attractions – Capri island, Milano, Pisa, Pompeii, Roma and Venice, but at the end of it what moved us the most (and the city whose beauty is forever etched in our memories) is Firenze. It’s less for a lifetime, you’d think.
Florence, or Firenze, is the capital city of the Tuscany province in central Italy. Geographically, Florence lies in a basin between hills, and the Arno river flows right through the middle. It is a major historical and economy hub in Italy; it was the centre of medieval European commerce and one of the richest cities at the time. It is widely regarded as the origination point of the Renaissance, rightly earning the sobriquets “Cradle of the Renaissance” and “Athens of the Middle Ages”. But despite the strong presence of Renaissance architecture, traces of medieval, Neoclassical and modern architecture are evident. It was the capital of Italy in the late 18th century as well. It is UNESCO world heritage site and is a must visit for the rich cultural, art, architectural experience it provides. Florence has many museums and art galleries – the most well known being the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti. I did not know this, but our tour guide told us – it is in fact on the Forbes list as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.The fact that it was home to Michaelangelo definitely helped.
The best known architectural wonder in the city is the Duomo or the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The world-famous dome, which represents Florence itself, was built by Brunelleschi. It is the largest dome built of brick and mortar in the world. We strongly recommend the climb to the top of the cupola for breathtaking panoramic views of the entire city and the Tuscan countryside. Beware though; the climb is 463 steps which is tough for even the fittest of us. The bell tower and the views at the top though are totally worth the laborious climb.
The Fountain of Neptune
At the heart of the city is the Piazza della Signoria which has the famed Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammanati, a marble masterpiece and still functioning Roman aqueduct. Michaelangelo’s famed statue of David adorns the Piazza (square in Italy). The other famous statue in the square is that of Perseus with the head of Medusa by Cellini. The Piazza is also home to other famous statues and works by Donatello, Giambologna, Ammannati and Cellini.
The Pallazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Firenze, and today houses an art museum. It is built in the neo-Renaissance style. These two monuments – the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio dominate the skyline of Florence.
The Uffizi gallery is one of the finest art museums in the world – set up by the rich Medici family, it houses celebrated works of Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli and Rapahel among many other famous Renaissance artists. The gallery is catalogued by the various schools of art in chronological order. It is recommended to book tickets online in advance as the waiting queues can be long. The most famous paintings here are The Birth of Venus and Primavera, both by Boticelli.The Vasari corridor (which actually runs through the Ponte Vecchio bridge over river Arno) is another must visit gallery and so is the Galileo museum.
There is so much art to see in Florence that tourists and art connoisseurs often suffer from something called “Stendhal syndrome”, also known as hyperkulturemia, namely dizziness caused by being overwhelmed by Florence’s art! If this happens to you, rest your eyes and legs, have a gelato, and leave the rest of Florence for tomorrow!
Gold and gold trade was and is very important to Florence even to this day and age. Even today the Arno river bridge of Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is lined with glittering showrooms and shops on stilts with attractive display windows full of dainty gold jewellery (Italy’s very own Zaveri bazaar !). It is a gold shopper’s paradise in Europe. The bridge is the only bridge in the city to have survived the World War II intact. We strongly recommend going there around 5 in the evening or thereabout to capture the beautiful sunset scenes.
This market apparently existed since the middle ages, when the shops were located on the ground floors and their homes were located on the upper floors o the houses on the bridge. Florence was briefly occupied by Germans during World War II. There is a secret corridor – Vasari’s corridor that runs connecting the Medici palace (Palazzo Pitti) and Uffizi, which was used to transfer the palace paintings, art and treasures to protect them from the plundering German forces! Florence has a love-hate relationship with Arno – it has nourished the city with commerce, but its flooding has also caused havoc and destroyed many important pieces of art and architecture. At the end of the WWII, the retreating German forces demolished all other bridges along the Arno to make it difficult for the British troops to cross, only Ponte Vecchio was spared due to its immense historical value.
Any memoir on Florence is incomplete without a mention of the Chianti wine. Tuscany is infact one of the greatest wine growing regions in the world. Chianti is actually a region in south Tuscany and hence the name of the wine that is produced there. Also, do try to sample the absolutely gorgeous gelatos (Italian ice-cream) which are available in a variety of flavors and are a great respite from the heat.
A bit about the fashion scene – Florence is home to Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci and Roberto Cavalli. Prada and Chanel too have major presence here. The high street shopping is located at Via de Tornabuoni, which has apart from the ones already mentioned, Armani and Bulgari as well. Other fashion streets are Via del Parione and Via Roma.
We strongly suggest ending your Florence excursion at the Piazzale Michaelangelo. It is the most famous square in Florence with views of the city that simply take your breath away, and has another, much larger statue of David at its centre. The views from this Piazza are worthy of reproducing on picture postcards! It has a large parking lot, which is free, so if like us, you are in a rented car, it is quite convenient to spend hours here. There is a small pizzeria there – surprisingly cheap for the excellent views it has to offer, where we sipped Chianti, ate wholesome Margherita and watched the sun set on Florence, and also on our great trip.
Text Shreya Mukerji