Florence is the largest city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants. Magnificent palaces and cathedrals set the stage for some of the greatest works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli.
Florence was an important European trading center during medieval times. Rich merchants, such as the powerful Medici family, became patrons of the artists and architects who produced the sculptures, paintings and buildings that we see today. In modern times, Florence is a major influence in Italian fashion where the names of famous designers like Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada and Armani feature prominently.
The skyline of Florence is dominated by the brick-red cupola of the Florence Cathedral with its bell tower and the tower of the Palazzo della Signoria, called the old palace (Palazzo Vecchio). The building of the cathedral (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) was started in 1296 and completed in 1436. The work on the cathedral was interrupted several times by changes in architectural plans and the Black Death that swept through Europe. Filippo Brunelleschi designed and directed the construction of the octagonal dome which spans 44 meters (144 feet).
The cathedral complex in the Piazza del duomo in Florence includes a square bell tower designed by Giotto, and the octagonal baptistry in the foreground (Battistero of San Giovanni) built between 1059 and 1128.
The Piazza di Santa Maria Novella is about seven blocks west of the Florence Cathedral. The narrow streets adjacent to the square are lined with many types of shops.
The Palazzo della Signoria (Palazzo Vecchio) is located in front of an L-shaped square (Piazza della Signoria) which is near Ponte Vecchio and Piazza del Duomo. The square is a convenient meeting place for many tourists and local residents. The square has been featured in numerous films, such as A Room With A View. The Uffizi Gallery, which is one of the oldest and most famous art museums of the world, is a short distance from the square.
The Old Bridge (Ponte Vecchio) in Florence was the only bridge not destroyed by the Germans during the war. As you walk through the bridge, you will find many little shops lining the bridge which sell a variety of crafts and souvenirs, including expensive carved coral jewelry set in gold.
Medieval walls built during the 14th century surround Florence. Many of the bridges that span the Arno river were reconstructed after World War 2.
The Basilica of San Miniato al Monte is a Romanesque church that overlooks the city of Florence from across the Arno river.
A cemetery on the grounds of the Basilica of San Miniato has the family tomb of Franco Zeffirelli, a renowned movie director of memorable films such as the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet with theme music composed by Nino Rota.
A bronze statue of David on the Piazzale Michelangelo is located just below the basilica of San Miniato al Monte.
Many restaurants throughout Florence provide outdoor tables with picturesque views of the Tuscan sunsets.