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Florence became the centre of artistic patronage in Italy under the Medici family, who made their fortune in banking and ruled the city as an independent state for almost three centuries, most auspiciously during the years of Lorenzo de' Medici, tagged "Il Magnifico", who held fiercely onto Florentine independence in the face of papal resentment. Later, in the late eighteenth century, Florence fell under Austrian and then French rule, and in the nineteenth century was for a short time the capital of the kingdom of Italy. The story of Florence since then has been fairly low-key, and nowadays the monuments and paintings of the city's Renaissance heyday are the basis of its survival.
Opposite the Duomo is the Baptistery - a wonderful example of Italian Romanesque-style architecture and the oldest building in Florence, thought to date from the sixth or seventh century. But, it is the Baptistry's great gilded bronze doors for which it is truly famous. Cast in the early fifteenth century by Lorenzo Ghiberti, the east door was described by Michelangelo as "so beautiful they are worthy to be the gates of Paradise". (Ghiberti included a self-portrait in the frame of the left-hand door – his is the fourth head from the top of the right-hand band.) Inside, the Baptistery is equally stunning with a thirteenth-century mosaic floor and ceiling and the tomb of Pope John XXIII, draped by a grand marble canopy, the work of Donatello and his pupil Michelozzo.
Open – Mon.– Sat. 1.30–6.30pm, Sun 8.30am–1.30pm; L3000
Besides shops, Florence is rich in open-air markets. The Market of San Lorenzo, situated at the center of the city, is the preferred destination of tourists. The New Market, where one can purchase leather goods and souvenirs, is sheltered under the sixteenth-century Loggia del Porcellino (pig). At the Flea Market one can make good deals on small antique items. The last Sunday of every month except July, the market expands into the adjacent streets.
Florence offers many opportunities for entertainment, with many clubs and discotheques where one can dance to any type of music, or listen to groups playing live late into the night.
To listen or dance to progressive, techno or underground, recommended is the Meccano in via degli Olmi 1, the Full Up in via della Vigna Vecchia 21-r, the Central Park in via Fosso Macinante and the Andromeda in via dei Cimatori 13.
For popular music: Jackie'O in via dell'Erta Canina 24/A, Villa Kasar in Lungarno Colombo 23r and the Tenax in via Pratese 46 are said to be all excellent;
at The Mood in Corso Tintori 4, house music, soul and funky is played.
There are also many places to listen and dance to Latin-American rhythms. At the Caracol in via Ginori 10-r and the Girasol in via del Romito 1r, you can listen to Mexican music; at the Maracanà in via Faenza 4, Brazilian music.
Florence is a relatively small city and therefore easy to get around on foot. This is also by far the best way to see the city. Taxis and buses are available throughout the city, although taxi fares tend to be rather expensive. Moped and bicycle rental is another option for those brave enough to encounter the fast moving traffic.
Most major car rental companies can be found at Florence's airport. Traffic in Florence is very restricted and you will have difficulty entering the city during business hours. There are two or three large car parks just outside the historical centre where you can leave the car as most of the tourist areas of the city are off limits to tourist traffic. Ask your hotel for parking details before you leave.
Florence Amerigo Vespucci Airport is only five kilometres (three miles) north-west of the city and is a short taxi ride to the city centre. The majority of international flights arrive at Pisa Airport which is an hour away. There is an hourly direct train service into Florence (Santa Maria Novella Station) from the Airport. The ticket office is at the far end of the terminal, as are the doors that lead to the doors to the train platform. It is advisable to check the timetable for trains travelling directly to Firenze SMN.
The train is by far the best method of transport, but if you should find the trains out of service, there is always a taxi or you can take the bus into Pisa city centre for connections to Florence.
Florence is known as “the jewel in the crown of Renaissance Italy”, having been the home of such distinguished artists as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. For several hundred years it has served as a centre of artistic excellence. Within the city's limits, sprawled on either side of the river Arno, you can wander from the Cathedral to the famous Uffizi gallery. The city may be small but it is remarkably beautiful, and most favorable for pedestrians. Walking is the most pleasant way to visit most destinations and even those who are in the city for business engagements will want to spend some time strolling through the narrow Mediterranean-styled streets and piazzas.
Florence, in the region of Tuscany, is the main city after which the province is named. It rises on the banks of the Arno between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian seas almost in the middle of the Italian peninsula. The city has a population of about half a million inhabitants.
The climate is temperate but rather variable, with humid and breezy winters characterized by periods of intense cold, and hot and muggy summers.
Florence's economy is based on tourism, industry (textiles and clothes, metalwork, optics, chemistry, pharmaceuticals, glass and ceramics) and on Florentine handicrafts (embroidery, jewelry, products made from straw).
The Ponte Vecchio leads you across the Arno River past jewelry and souvenir shops, and other tempting trinkets. It is unique because it is the oldest surviving bridge in Florence. It once housed blacksmith, butchers, and tanners who saw the river below as a convenient sewer. By the end of the Renaissance they were evicted and goldsmith's and other artisans moved in. Fortunately this is the only bridge in Florence that survived W.W.II.
The Duomo, located north of the Signoria on Piazza del Duomo is one of the most famous landmarks of Florence. The immense dome was one of the greatest engineering feats of its day, taking almost 150 years to complete. The Duomo was built between the late thirteenth and mid-fifteenth centuries to an ambitious design, originally the brainchild of Arnolfo di Cambio and realized finally by Filippo Brunelleschi, who completed the majestic dome – the fourth largest church in the world! The Duomo symbolizes Florence at its greatest.