Birthplace of the Renaissance
The first time I was in Times Square, I couldn't see everything fast enough! Standing there looking at the lights and signage put me on total sensory overload! I was like a child!
Fast forward to Florence, Italy. Sans the lights and signage, it was the same child-like wonderment. What was I going to see first? How would I see it all? Could I see it all? The short answer is "No." You can not see everything in Florence in a day, two days, or even five days! That's why I have returned several times, and still, I have not seen it all!
Florence's historic area is a UNESCO World Heritage site in itself. And there is so much to do, see, and learn! The pin-point on the above map is the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. I'll discuss its importance in just a bit.
A Bit About Florence
Florence is located in central Italy and is the capital of Tuscany. Thought to be the birthplace of the Renaissance, it has evolved into a hub for academics and is also a major artistic, cultural, commercial, political, economic, and financial center. The Florentine dialect is the basis of the standard for the Italian language. Ranked 15th as the fashion capital in the world, it clearly plays an important role in Italian fashion, with many Haute Couture fashion houses located within the city.
In 2010, Forbes ranked the amazing city of Florence as the #1 most beautiful city in the world. Walking around the historic area, it's not hard to see why it was given this designation. Though the city itself has numerous museums, I'd also recommend just time to walk the streets. It is, in my opinion, like walking through an outdoor museum.
Florence is one of those cities whose past is checkered by political turbulence. As in many cases, political turbulence is born of corruption. Add in family rivalries and you have the equation which equals Florentine history.
The Medici family did and still has, a strong influence on the ebbs and flows of Florence. Their rise began around 1325 CE. A family of great importance and wealth, with their hands in many economic aspects of Florence, Cosimo de' Medici was the first family member to rise to any significant power.
It is said, that from behind the scenes, he controlled everything in the city. The Medici family not only gave us two Popes but also wed into and gave birth to European royalty. The family was also known to be huge patrons of the arts and commissioned works by the greats: Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli.
By 1492, the Medici family fell from grace due to a miscalculation by Piero II and the invasion of the French army. Piero II's sin was failing to calculate the strength of the French armies which led to the death of many Florentines. And, it is for this reason, that he ended up being exiled. In 1531, the family rose to power again but only until 1737.
From 1737 until the 20th century, rulership and country allegiance changed several times. The city was occupied and under the control of Austria and then France during this period of time. During the Second World War, Germany occupied Florence for about one year.
My Time in This Amazing City
Here are some of the highlights of my time spent in the amazing city of Florence.
In visiting Florence, my starting point has been the port of Livorno, which is about 95 kilometers away. The quickest way to get from the port to the city center is by private driver. The ride is about an hour and a half.
Getting from point A to point B, you also have the option of a bus or train—both can take about two and a half hours. If you are arriving by cruise, there is a very good possibility your cruise line will provide transportation at little to no cost.
Every time that I have had the pleasure of spending time in Florence, the weather has been absolutely spectacular! This is wonderful but, at the same time, not so good. Recalling what I said at the onset of this article, walking around Florence is like spending the day in an outdoor museum. It is truly amazing.
The flip side to that is since the weather has always been so inviting to the outdoors, I have never been to any of the famous museums in Florence; the Uffizi Gallery (housing Botticelli's Birth of Venus) and the Galleria dell'Accademia (known for its huge collection of work by Michelangelo). These are the two most famous and visited museums (in Italy, and some of the most well-known in the world!).
Another reason I have not been to the museums is that they are enormously popular with tourists, and even with pre-paid skip-the-line tickets, the wait to get in is often hours. Once inside, to properly view just the museum "highlights," you are looking at spending about four hours in each museum.
I feel like going to Florence during the cooler winter months would be ideal for spending time indoors wandering through Renaissance history and admiring the works of the renowned artists of the last centuries. Even still, I would recommend purchasing tickets in advance and making sure you are not obligated to be somewhere later in the day; your outing can end up being longer than expected!
Check out this great video that brings Florence, the capital of Tuscany, and a beautiful city to life. Imagine how beautiful seeing this all in person would be if it is this grand on YouTube!
The Fabulous Outdoor World We Call Florence
Here are some of the sights you should take the time to see that are located outdoors.
Piazza della Signoria
The best way to experience Florence is on foot. Walking from one end of the historic center to the other takes only about 30 minutes. Though the roads are narrow, and many are set up for pedestrian-only traffic, which makes it very walkable.
Piazza della Signoria is considered the main square of Florence. It has played a prominent part in the history of the city, especially from a political point of view. Here you will find throngs of tourists admiring such works of art as the David (this is a replica, the original is in the Galleria dell'Accademia), Hercules and Cacus, Nettuno, and Loggia dei Lanzi. Though the statue of David in the piazza is a replica, it's not a bad alternative if you don't have time to make it into the museum the original is housed in.
Within Piazza della Signoria, you can also visit the Florence Town Hall, also known as Palazzo Vecchio. This fortress is one of the most significant public places in Italian history. In front of the Palazzo Vecchio is a plaque marking the site of the execution of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, who ruled Florence until his ex-communication by the Vatican. It is said he was a theological tyrant.
Duomo di Firenze
Walking from one piazza to the next, you stroll past cafes, vendors, and sculptures from the days of the Renaissance. When I said it takes 30 minutes from one end of the historic center to the other, that means not stopping for anything! No gazing at the works of art, no coffee, no vendor shopping, nothing but walking. That shouldn't be your experience in Florence! You can't enjoy Florence on the Evelyn Woods tourist plan, folks! Take your time to see everything!
The Duomo di Firenze is said to be the most beautiful dome in Florence. It can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, standing high above everything else. It is also known as Santa Maria del Fiore.
During the Renaissance, the engineering and construction of the dome were considered miraculous. Within the Duomo, there are plenty of things to see and do: the Baptistry, Giotto's Tower, and climbing the 464 steps inside the dome.
Enjoying My Time in Florence
Florence is one of those places where you can stroll, admire, have a chat, grab a coffee, eat some delicious food, and relax. Or, you can methodically check the fabulous works of art off your list, making the visit more work than enjoyment. Spending your time in the museums is also an option.
I prefer the more relaxed approach. That being said, I have always had the luxury of knowing that I would return to Florence. I knew I would be back to see what I had overlooked or missed. Though there's one experience I enjoy over and over: the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.
Stretching across the Arno River, it is one of the six bridges in Florence.
The Ponte Vecchio bridge was actually the first one built in Florence and dates back to medieval times. At the time the bridge was built, it was not unusual for chapels and shops to be built on top of the bridges. They were, after all, entryways to the cities.
Because they were entryways to the cities, it was also not unusual for them to have fortification towers to protect the city. Once again, the common theme that I have discussed in other articles is true here as well; this is NOT the original bridge. The bridge has been destroyed twice by flooding from the Arno River and has been rebuilt. So today, you'll see the third version of the bridge.
What is unusual about this bridge is that it still has shops and businesses on top. They are bustling!
Originally, the shops on the bridge were butchers, fishermen, and tanners. The odor from the products and their waste became terribly foul. Eventually, the shops were replaced by goldsmiths and jewelers. Today, those are the same types of shops you will find as you stroll across this pedestrian-only bridge.
In fact, on one of my visits to Florence, I purchased a handmade leather purse crafted by none other than the Medici brand, the family that is still considered the most powerful family in Italian history.
And don't forget to take a look at the love locks as you cross the bridge! It's one of my favorite parts of Florence.
I have had the opportunity to visit countless cities in over 49 countries and Florence is one of the bright spots of my travel adventures! There is just something about Florence that draws you back—time and time again. The people are lovely, the sites are unmatchable, and the food is delicious. Oh, yes, and the shopping is amazing! I cannot forget the shopping!
Walking through what is referred to as the largest open-air museum in the world, the historic center of Florence, is like stepping back in time. In Florence, you become the benefactor of the remarkable and well-preserved Renaissance works of art as if they have been casually strewn about the city simply for your admiration!
It's a history lesson that you don't even realize you are participating in until you have left. John Steinbeck said of Positano, "It will beckon you after you have left" and I feel this way about Florence!
I remember the first time I stood in front of Perseo holding the head of Medusa . . . a gruesome depiction, but beyond that, the detail and mastery of the piece are indescribable. The statue is huge and imposing and kind of scary looking. But still, it's an accurate depiction of the time in which it was created.
Everywhere you turn, every place you enter, you know that the masters of art preceded you. They walked the same steps and are immortalized by their unique talents! I humbly ask you to travel and explore our amazing world, to live Mallory's Dream!
Until next time friends, remember, "To Travel is to Live!"
© 2022 Dee Nicolou Serkin