Florence Visitor information
For hundreds of years, Florence has been celebrated as one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. Brunelleschi’s astonishing cathedral dome dominates the cityscape, and from nearby the view is even more breathtaking, with the multicoloured Duomo rising beside the marble-clad Baptistry. From here, you can stroll towards the River Arno and beyond the broad the river is spanned by the medieval, shop-lined Ponte Vecchio, with the lovely church of San Miniato al Monte standing proud on the hill behind.
No other European city can match Florence’s art offerings. The Galleria degli Uffizi is housed in what was originally built as the Medici Whitehall – the governing dynasty’s administrative centre, and is Italy’s richest and most celebrated art gallery. Must-see exhibits include Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi, Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus, Piero della Francesca’s twin portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, and Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni.
La Specola is Florence University’s natural history museum, houses a charmingly old-fashioned collection of botanical and zoological specimens. The final rooms are what most visitors come for: a series of increasingly gruesome wax anatomical models, sculpted in eye-popping detail between 1775 and 1791 as teaching aids for trainee doctors.
The greater Florence area has a number of towns and attractions to entice you on a day-trip from the city or even act as a base for exploring the region. City buses run northeast to the hill-village of Fiesole, while inter-town services run south into the hills of Chianti, Italy’s premier wine region.
The initial Roman colony on this site was established in 59BC, and expanded rapidly due to trade along the River Arno. In the sixth century AD the city fell to the barbarian hordes of Totila, then the Lombards and then Charlemagne’s Franks.
In 1078 Countess Mathilda of Canossa supervised the building of new city defences, and in 1115, the year of her death, granted the settlement the status of an independent city.
Around 1200, the first Arti (Guilds) were formed to promote the interests of traders and bankers in the face of conflict between the pro-imperial Ghibelline faction and the pro-papal Guelphs. The exclusion of the nobility from government in 1293 was the most dramatic change in a programme of political reform that invested power in the Signoria, a council drawn from the major guilds. The mighty Palazzo della Signoria – now the Palazzo Vecchio – was raised as a visible exhibition of power over a huge city: at this time, Florence had a population around 100,000, a flourishing mercantile area and a highly developed banking system (the florin was common currency across Europe). Strife within the Guelph camp marked the start of the fourteenth century, and then in the 1340s the two main banks collapsed and the Black Death struck, destroying up to half the city’s inhabitants.