If you are visiting Tuscany you cannot miss Florence. The Renaissance city is a treasure trove of art with an astonishing contemporary vibe. Beyond the extraordinary artistic heritage, a testimony to its centuries of civilization, the best way to enjoy Florence is to stroll along the riverside avenues at sunset, or to get lost among the city’s myriad alleyways of the bohemian Oltrarno or the narrow little streets of San Niccolò, where it feels like you have ended up in another time along its centuries-old walls.
Discovering Florence means taking the very same steps as legendary figures like Dante, as you turn a corner and find yourself in front of his house and in constant contact with a bonafide concentration of medieval and renaissance art. Florence, home to Cimabue and Giotto, the forefathers of Italian painting; Arnolfo and Andrea Pisano, the first exponents of the Renaissance; Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio, who birthed the Renaissance; Ghiberti and the Della Robbia, Filippo Lippi and Beato Angelico, Botticelli and Paolo Uccello, and universal geniuses like Leonardo and Michelangelo.
The loggias, the piazzas, churches and even the streets are dotted with their works, but to see these artists at their finest visit the city’s exceptional museums. The unparalleled collections of the Uffizi; the Palatine Gallery adorned with paintings of the golden ages; the Bargello, strewn with Renaissance sculptures; the Museum of San Marco, blessed with Fra’ Angelico’s works; the Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David; the must-see Medici Chapels; Casa Buonarroti; the smaller but equally magnificent museums Bardini, Horne, Stibbert, Romano and Corsini, plus the Gallery of Modern Art; and the extraordinary Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The list is endless.
Florence is the perfect walking city due to its compactness: as you stroll from the Baptistery to the Palazzo Vecchio, from the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, you will be steeped in a world of art but also of fashion. Florence city center (UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982) is scattered with an eclectic mix of boutique. All of the world’s best-known labels have set up business here as the city is a lovemark and landmark for international fashion. When you start to tire of the crowded streets, leave the center behind and head for the hills! A testing climb leads up to Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato al Monte – it’s worth the effort to experience some of the most soul-soothing and inspiring views in the world with your own eyes.
Florence was a roman colony, founded by Caesar in 59 B.C. A number of Etruscan communities had certainly settled on the site of the present city ofFlorence as early as the Villanovan period, especially in the Costa San Giorgio district. A Villanovan necropolis was discovered, at the beginning of thelast century, near Piazza della Repubblica.
Even the fertile plain of the River Arno was inhabited since ancient pre-Etruscan times. In the Orientalizing period, this is where the rich aristocracieshad their country villas and their great mound tombs (tombs of Fiorentino Quinto and Montagnola).
The Etruscan cultural and industrial centre of the agro Florentine was, however, Fiesole: Etruscan and later Roman centre on the middle valley of the Arno,it is located on two saddle forming hills, and has been inhabited since the Neolithic; it was also favourable for the control of transit routes in the Arnovalley, its rich woodlands and farmland nearby and for the presence of the quarries of Serena stone.
The site of a Villanovan civilization, it was inhabited by the Orientalizing aristocracies; in the archaism period a sculptural school arose that usedSerena stone. It produced stones and pillars decorated with scenes in bas-relief. This items spread through the valleys of the Arno and its tributaries, asall these areas have been densely populated since ancient times (settlements of Poggio Colla and Frascole).
Fiesole was a great city, particularly in the Hellenistic time, adorned with monumental temples and protected with a massive wall circle, still visibletoday. The city had commercial contacts with the city of Volterra and was the home of many ceramic workshops.
Fiesole was involved in the Roman civil wars and was colonized and Romanised in the first century B.C.
THE MUSEUM AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE OF FIESOLE
The most ancient traces of settlements on the hill of Fiesole date back to the Bronze Age, the first urban structure with a circle of defensive wallsspanning over 2500 meters was developed in the Etruscan period around the IV-III century. In this period, the city was allied with Rome against Hannibal,but centuries later (90 B.C.), it was taken and destroyed by Porzio Catone for having fielded against Rome during the social war.
Having then sided with Mario, it was forced to accept the veterans of Silla that expropriated the lands of the local farmers; later on it became the centreof the revolt of Catalina, which led to a new defeat. From the first century the city was totally Romanised from the architectural point of view: atheatre, a spa complex and a new temple built on the old Etruscan one, gave the town a new appearance.
Let’s enter the archaeological site than, in search of the remains of the ancient Etruscan city.
Once crossed the ticket office you can observe the reconstruction of the entry of an Etruscan tomb, continuing toward the Roman theatre (begun in theAugustan age and completed in the Claudian age) and the spa complex (also from the Augustan age) where it is possible to identify an outer part, consistingof two pools, and an internal one, where the calidarium, tepidarium (with its floor built on pillars to allow the steam to rise through it) and thefrigidarium are still visible.
Leaving the spa complex behind, you can follow (west) the Etruscan walls, high up to 4.80m with large ashlars. In a section of the wall the remains of adoor or a tower can be recognized; continuing on, towards the temple, the reconstructions of two altars, of which one is Etruscan, can be seen.
The Roman temple (on a podium and with a monumental access stairway) is set on the oldest Etruscan temple of which its single cell map, with two wings isstill visible. The temple is probably dedicated to a healing divinity (numerous votive offerings representing healed body parts were found). Fragments ofthe clay decoration of the pediment are present in the museum.
Stopping at the archaeological museum would also be worth your time, it has been housed since 1914 in the building shaped as an ionic temple within thearchaeological site. Among the numerous archaeological findings, ranging from the ancient bronze age to the Roman age, are: stems (one in particular withscenes of feasting), bronzes, the remains of the architectural elements of the pediment of the temple, bronze votive offerings representing anatomicalparts.
With the same ticket, the Antiquarium Costantini can also be visited, where a considerable assortment of ceramics is collected, including numerousbuccheri.
Out of the Museum, returning to piazza Mino, you can walk along the Duomo (XI century) and climb towards S. Francesco through the homonym road, skirtingthe Palazzo Vescovile. Once at the top you can admire a wonderful panorama of Florence.
NATIONAL ARCHEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF FLORENCE
The Archaeological Museum is housed in the seventeenth-century Palazzo della Crocetta, the original façade with two loggias is visible from the sideof the garden. The Palace was built for the sister of Cosimo II de’ Medici, Maria Maddalena, probably born misshapen and with health problems. To ensurethe woman’s peace of mind and to keep her away from prying eyes, a series of raised corridors were built, linking the palace to the other buildings (4 inall): one towards the Spedale degli Innocenti, two on via Laura and one entering the church of the Santissima Annunziata where, from behind a grate, thewoman attended the liturgical functions). Today, the new entrance of the museum is in piazza Santissima Annunziata, so in order to enter the building youwill walk through one of these corridors.
The museum collects numerous Etruscan findings of great value from all of Tuscany, and also hosts a section dedicated to the Attic ceramics frequentlyfound in Etruscan tombs as well as a conspicuous Egyptian section, second only to the Egyptian Museum of Turin.
Once the visit of the Archaeological Museum is over, you can take a stroll through the historic centre of the city.
From piazza Santissima Annunziata, designed by Brunelleschi together with the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents), through Via dei Servi,you will arrive at the side of the apsis of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower).
You’ve come to the religious centre of Florence, facing some of the most important buildings in the whole city: the Dome, the Baptistery and Giotto’sCampanile.