Thanks to great artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Dante and Brunelleschi, who here developed their talents to the fullest, Florence became a major cultural centre of Europe during the Middle Ages and retained its position as such in the Renaissance era. The city still bears witness to the achievements of the above-mentioned masters in the form of beautiful palaces, churches, monuments, squares and museums boasting rich collections. Some of these are unique on the world’s scale. Small wonder, therefore, that Florence ranks among the most frequented historic cities in Europe.
Indeed, it would be difficult no to succumb to the charm of Italy’s 'City of Stone', as Florence is often called. Its landscape is a feast to the eyes, with gold buildings and terracotta roofed houses. Unlike Rome and Milan, this is a city with a calm atmosphere. It can be easily explored on foot, for all sights are in or around the compact historic centre. Surprisingly, much of central Florence has hardly changed for the last five hundred years, and walking through the narrow alleyways gives one a feeling of stepping back in time. Tourists like to take a stroll on Florence’s most famous bridge, Ponte Vecchio, which happens to be the only bridge in the city to survive intact the ravages of World War II. Once in the city, make sure you reserve some time to visit famous Florence markets.
Many tourists staying in Florence devote a day or more to exploring the countryside, which is characterised by rolling cypress hills, olive groves and lush wineyards. Here one can find distinctly Tuscan little villages and medieval castles. The area surrounding Florence is known around the world as the birthplace ofChianti, the most popular Tuscan wine.
Florence’s eventful history has been, in large part, determined by its location in the centre of Italy, approximately halfway between the Alpine passes and the port of Naples. The city came into being in the year 59 BC, when Julius Caesar built a colony along the narrowest stretch of the Arno River. After they had defeated the Etruscans, around the 3rd Century A.D., the Romans developed Florence into an active trading centre.
Towards the end of the 14th Century, the Medici family became the rulers of the city. Their dynasty did not abandon the political arena until 300 years later. Cosimo de’ Medici, an eminent banker, would endow religious institutions with works of art. At the dawn of the Renaissance era, which was to be the most prosperous and magnificent period in the Florence’s history, the city was ruled by Cosimo’s grandson Lorenzo il Magnifico. Florence owes a debt of gratitude to the last of Medici, Anna Maria, who before her death in 1743, bequeathed the entire Medici property to the city provided that they would remain within its boundaries for all time.