A visit to fabulous Florence

A visit to fabulous Florence

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

With the return to school underway, summertime crowds in tourist hotspots begin to fade. The weather starts to cool, which means it’s the perfect time to plan your next adventure. Deep in the heart of Italy’s famed Tuscany region is a paradise for art lovers, history buffs and food aficionados. The city of Florence (known as “Firenze” in Italian) is teeming with rich cultural experiences. From ancient landmarks to stunning galleries and cathedrals, you’ll want to put Florence on your Italian bucket list.

A brief history

Florence was initially founded around 59 BC as a Roman garrison and military stronghold. As the region grew, the city became a robust trading and commercial center. During the early part of the 9th century, Florence began to prosper and develop its cultural identity. Cathedral domes and spires popped up between the late 13th century through the 1400s. The gilded Renaissance period established its stronghold in the Tuscan capital. Home to the artistic geniuses Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli, and literary and political philosophers such as Dante, the Medici family and Niccolò Machiavelli, the city flourished and has retained its cultural influences today.

What to see

With so much fantastic art stemming from this area, it can feel as though there is an endless choice of galleries to choose from. If you have limited time, you’ll likely want to hit the two most well-known ones, Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery. The Uffizi Gallery was initially constructed in the late 1500s and is one of the most popular in Italy. Paintings and sculptures from Raphael, Botticelli (including the famed “The Birth of Venus”) and da Vinci line the walls. If you need to take a break, walk through the Garden of the Camellias or the manicured Boboli Gardens for some fresh air.

The Accademia Gallery on the outskirts of the city center houses some of the world’s most renowned Renaissance-era sculptures. There are plenty of breathtaking paintings courtesy of Italian artists such as Pontormo, Botticelli and Orcagna adorning the halls and a newer exhibit featuring musical instruments by string craftsman Antonio Stradivari and inventor of the modern piano Bartolomeo Cristofori. However, most visitors come to see Michelangelo’s statue of “David” in all its glory. Because of their popularity, be sure to purchase your tickets for both museums before you go.

If you’re clamoring for fresh air, take a stroll along the riverfront of the Arno River. Several bridges connect the two sides of the city. While these crossings were designed in the Middle Ages, only one is still original. Near the end of World War II, the retreating German army destroyed all the bridges in Florence except one—Ponte Vecchio. Although it’s now lined with kitschy souvenir shops, it’s still a remarkable piece of history to check out.

The Cathedral

Admittedly, there are quite a few churches and cathedrals within Florence. There is one that stands out—the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. “Il Duomo” is one of the largest churches in the world and is known for its massive dome and bell tower, which pierces the Florence skyline. Filled with ornate mosaics and intricate frescoes, admission to the cathedral is free. If you’re feeling adventurous, for a small fee, visitors can climb the steps to the top of the dome for a jaw-dropping panorama of the city below.

Good eats

As the capital of Tuscany, known for its rolling hills and spectacular vineyards, there is no shortage of good eats in Florence. While typical (and delicious) Italian fare is available, the foods in this region are influenced by its history and traditions. For instance, the savory dish “ribollita” is a local soup/stew concoction made with chunks of day-old bread, tomatoes and cannellini beans. Another delicious offering is “tagliere,” a veritable smorgasbord of regional meats and cheeses. Be sure to top off the day with creamy, frozen gelato. Are you feeling culinarily adventurous? Sign up for a Tuscan cooking class or a wine tour of the nearby Chianti vineyards so you can bring a taste of Florence home with you.

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