Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area.
Located on the banks of the River Arno, Florence is famous for its history and especially its importance in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, its art and architectureand, more generally, for its cultural heritage. A centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, and has been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. A turbulent political history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici family, and numerous religious and republican revolutions. From 1865 to 1870 the city was also the capital of the recently established Kingdom of Italy.
Florence was established by Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 80 BC as a settlement for his veteran soldiers and was named originally Fluentia, owing the fact that it was built between two rivers, which was later corrupted to Florentia. It was built in the style of an army camp with the main streets, the cardo and the decumanus, intersecting at the present Piazza della Repubblica. Situated at the Via Cassia, the main route between Rome and the north, and within the fertile valley of the Arno, the settlement quickly became an important commercial centre. In the ensuing two centuries, the city experienced turbulent periods of Ostrogothic rule, during which the city was often troubled by warfare between the Ostrogoths and the Byzantines, which may have caused the population to fall to as few as 1,000 people. Peace returned under Lombard rule in the 6th century. Florence was conquered by Charlemagne in 774 and became part of the Duchy of Tuscany, with Lucca as capital. The population began to grow again and commerce prospered. In 854, Florence and Fiesole were united in one county.
Florence's museums, palaces, and churches house some of the greatest artistic treasures in the world. The most popular and important sites in Florence include the Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Uffizi, the Bargello, and the Accademia. The churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce are veritable art galleries, and the library of San Lorenzo is a magnificent exhibition of Michelangelo's architectural genius. Wander some of the oldest streets in the city until you reach the Arno River, cross the Ponte Vecchio, and experience the "newest" area of Florence, the Oltrarno. Be sure to set aside time to see the vast and varied art collection housed in the Pitti Palace. When you grow weary of museums and monuments, head outdoors. Spend a day at the Boboli Gardens or climb the hill to the church of San Miniato al Monte to experience an enchanting view of Florence.
Florence is considered by many to be an open-air museum. If you are interested in architecture, for example, you don't need to visit any museums: many of the palaces and squares are masterpieces of their own. Designed by Michelozzo, Andrea di Cambio and Brunelleschi, among many others, many of the great palaces and piazzas in Florence are spectacular to behold. The main squares often display statues by Giambologna or Michelangelo.
The Piazza della Repubblica is a square in the city centre, location of the cultural cafes and bourgeois palaces. Among the square's cafes (like Caffè Gilli, Paszkowski or the Hard Rock Cafè), the Giubbe Rosse cafe has long been a meeting place for artists and writers, notably those of Futurism. The Piazza Santa Croce is another; dominated by the Basilica of Santa Croce, it is a rectangular square in the centre of the city where the Calcio Fiorentino is played every year.
The whole animal was traditionally eaten; tripe, (trippa) and (lampredotto) were once regularly on the menu and still are sold at the food carts stationed throughout the city. Antipasti include crostini toscani, sliced bread rounds topped with a chicken liver-based pâté, and sliced meats (mainly prosciutto and salame, often served with melon when in season).
- Florence Cathedral. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the cathedral church of Florence. The Duomo, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris. The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile. The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major attraction to tourists visiting the region of Tuscany. The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches, and until development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.
- Ponte Vecchio. Built very close to the Roman crossing, the Old Bridge was, until 1218, the only bridge across the Arno in Florence. The current bridge was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. During World War II it was the only bridge across the Arno that the fleeing Germans did not destroy. Instead they blocked access by demolishing the medieval buildings on each side. On November 4, 1966, the bridge miraculously withstood the tremendous weight of water and silt when the Arno once again burst its banks. When the Medici moved from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, they decided they needed a connecting route from the Uffizi to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno that would enable them to keep out of contact with the people they ruled. The result was the Corridoio Vasariano, built in 1565 by Vasari and which runs above the little goldsmiths' shops on the Ponte Vecchio.
- Michelangelo's David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501 and 1504, by the Italian artist Michelangelo. It is a 5.17-metre (17.0 ft) marble statue of a standing male nude. The statue represents the Biblical hero David, a favoured subject in the art of Florence. Originally commissioned as one of a series of statues of prophets to be positioned along the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral, the statue was instead placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence, where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504. Because of the nature of the hero that it represented, it soon came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome. The statue was moved to the Accademia Gallery in 1873, and later replaced at the original location by a replica.
- The Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi is the most important and most visited museum in Florence. The Uffizi palace was designed and begun in 1560 by the architect Giorgio Vasari in the period when Cosimo de' Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany, was bureaucratically consolidating his recent takeover of power. Built in the shape of a horseshoe extending from Piazza della Signoria to the Arno River and linked by a bridge over the street with Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi were intended to house the administrative offices (uffizi) of the Grand Duchy. From the beginning, however, the Medici set aside a few rooms on the third floor to house the finest works of their collections. The Gallery was subsequently enriched by various members of the Medici family. Two centuries later, in 1737, the palace and their collection were left to the city by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heir, and today houses one of the world's great art galleries. Masterpieces on show include; Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus, Leonardo da Vinci's The Annunciation and The Adoration of the Magi, Filippino Lippi's Madonna and Child with Two Angels, Titian's Venus of Orbino and many other works, including from the early Masters Cimabue and Giotto, Early Rennaisance pioneers Fra Angelico and Masaccio, and Caravaggio and Rembrant. Today, the Uffizi is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Florence. In high season (particularly in July), waiting times can be up to five hours. Visitors who reserve a ticket in advance have a substantially shorter wait.
- Palazzo Vecchio. Literally the "Old Palace", still fulfils its original role as Florence's town hall. Completed in 1302 by Arnolfo di Cambio, the palazzo retains its medieval appearance although much of the interior was remodeled for Duke Cosimo I when he moved into the palace in 1540, transferring the ruling family from its old residence near San Lorenzo (now known as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, on via Cavour). It became known as Palazzo Vecchio when Cosimo transferred his court to Palazzo Pitti. During the brief period that Florence was the capital of Italy (1865-71), it housed the Parliament and Foreign Ministry. The original part of Palazzo Vecchio is the work of Arnolfo di Cambio (1245-1302) and was built at the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth century as the seat of the Priors. Successive additions of the fifteenth and, above all, of the sixteenth centuries have changed the scale of the rear of the palace without modifying the massive appearance of the huge blocks, gallery and tower dominating Piazza Signoria.
bloggers note: This was the toughest top 5 I have had to do so far as there are probably 105 top things to do! I decided to go with popular choice (must sees) rather than personal opinion on this one.