• 14 May 2014

Jo Castro recently travelled with us on our Europe Jewel tour, and took some stunning photos in Italy. Read on for her report on the incredible city of Florence!

There is a diffused light that coats the Tuscan hills and hugs the castle-like villas around Florence which seems to suggest a city imbued with mystery and fable.

And when you are dropped off by the river and begin walking towards the ancient buildings, you know that you’re in for a cultural treat.

Art, history, culture

We arrived in the city with 6 hours to spend exploring, on a spring day in April, a day which happened to be a bank holiday.

To begin with, and during our one hour guided tour with a local city guide, the streets were crowded and bustling with tourists and locals eager to learn all about the city’s secrets and history, but later, finding our way to the quieter streets it was possible to relax and meander more peaceably.

Florence is without doubt a city of art, and was the cradle of the Renaissance. With patrons like the powerful Medici family sponsoring geniuses like Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, art flourished in Florence and Tuscany in general.

In Florence you can expect to see the evolution of architecture in Italy, from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period – architecture that includes; religious buildings, nobles’ palaces and ordinary homes.

The City Tour
We began our tour on Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city, and the only one on the River Arno that was not bombed in the Second World War. It’s unique due to its medieval origin and its shops which from 1593 were allocated to goldsmiths.

“The bridge used to be a market place specifically for butchers who would throw their dregs over the bridge into the river, which in effect cleaned the city of its effluent. The butchers were replaced by jewelers on the decree of Duke Ferdinand I who was offended by the smell of all the rotting meat,” our local city guide told us.

Tip: Florence is known for its leather goods. Bags, jackets and belts, there’s a huge selection. Don’t forget to bargain! You’ll find leather in the markets and many small craftsmen’s shops.

We then walked down to the Uffizi Gallery which is one of the most visited musuems in Italy because it houses the finest pieces of Italian art in an incredible 45 rooms! Make sure you leave adequate time if you want to visit – or perhaps reserve in advance 055.294883.

In this gallery you’ll find many famous paintings, such as “Spring” and “Birth of Venus by Botticelli, The “Annunciation” by Leonardo and “Holy Family” by Michelangelo. The gallery’s pillared entrance is flanked by statues of famous figures including Dante, Machiavelli, Gallileo, Donnatella and other great men of Florence.

Myths and Legends
Then we learnt about Perseus and Hercules, and visited the town hall with its incredible frescoes, and outside we stood dwarfed under the replica of “David” by Michelangelo (the original is in the Academy Gallery). At this point I realised that to do Florence justice, you would need to spend quite a few days here.

Impressive Cathedral
Surrounded by ancient buildings, we walked on to the very grand Cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore (St Mary of the Flower). Here your eyes are drawn up and up and up, ever skywards to reach the spire which stretches up to the heavens and we were left in no doubt that this is the highest building of the city.

Tip: A view over the whole of Florence can be enjoyed after climbing 463 steps to the top of from the dome.

Fast Facts

  • Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance.
  • Interestingly it was once a retirement city for Julius Ceasar’s soldiers.
  • The cathedral was built over a period of six centuries, work started in 1296 and did not finish until 1887. However according to our local city guide the front facade is only 130 years old.
  • Giotto’s Bell Tower next to the cathedral dates back to 1334. It’s 84 metres tall and you can climb 400 steps for a great view over the city.
  • The Baptistery, opposite the cathedral, existed as early as the 9th Century. The three gilded bronze doors that date back to 1336-1452 are considered a great work of art. The most famous is on the east side and was created by Lorenzo Ghiberti. It took him 28 years to complete and Michelangelo named it “Door to Paradise” apparently stating he couldn’t have done better himself!

6 Must Do’s in Florence in 6 hours

  • Have an Italian lunch in a small side street restaurant and get a local flavour of Florence.
  • Don’t forget to have a glass of the local Cianti!
  • Visit the Cathedral and climb the steps to the Bell Tower or Dome if the queus aren’t too long.
  • Buy leather items.
  • Visit a museum or perhaps visit Michelangelo’s house.
  • Walk over the old bridge and climb up to Fort Belvedere for magnificent views of the city. If you’re lucky, as we were, you might be able to sit on the steps and catch your breath after the climb while listening to a singer/guitarist, as you gaze down over the beautiful expanse of the city.
  • Enjoy a Gelato ice cream!
Another great artist in the making perhaps? You'll find street artists in many places around Florence.
Another great artist in the making perhaps? You’ll find street artists in many places around Florence.

Florence and Tuscany have drawn lovers, poets, writers and artists over the ages – do you have a favourite artist associated with Florence?

Jo Castro is a freelance travel writer. She’s resident in Western Australia and she’s lived in 11 different countries on 4 continents with her geologist husband and two children. You can find her on her blogs Lifestyle Fifty (inspiration and lifestyle) and The ZigaZag Mag (travel and Western Australia) or on Twitter @johannaAcastro. Connect with her on Facebook at Lifestyle Fifty or The ZigaZag Mag or on Instagram at Lifestyle Fifty.

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