Florentine renaissance wonderland

Rome may be Italy’s most famous city, but the natural beauty of Florence can exceed that of the nation’s capital.

Rome may be Italy’s most famous city, but the natural beauty of Florence can exceed that of the nation’s capital.

Smack bang in the knee of Italy’s boot lies the world-renowned yet perfectly preserved historical city of Florence. Established by Julius Caesar two millennia prior to my visit Florence remains one of the world’s oldest cities, and with such history comes copious traditional assets. In 1339 Florence became the premier European city with entirely paved streets – an interesting fact not lost on those who decide to bring luggage on wheels; after a valiant trek from the local train station to my nearby hotel, on cobbles laid by Renaissance workers, my case was two wheels lighter. Florence is the single most significant link to the Renaissance period, a time when mankind transcended the boundaries of the middle ages and became infatuated with luxury and free to follow bold artistic and engineering endeavors.

Walking down the confined streets of Florence one is taken aback by the awe-inspiring surroundings seeping in history. The central landmark of Florence is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, known locally as the Duomo, or affectionately renamed Big Bad Dome by a small troop of philistinic Paddies we encountered. Completed in 1436 by Brunelleschi, the Duomo is the star of this beautiful city. Colourful weathered slabs of marble adorn its entire facade and the connecting Giotto bell tower affords breathtaking views over the rustic rooftops and of the structural odyssey that is the Brunelleschi’s dome. Inside a starkly contrasting and dramatic cathedral houses the tomb of its creator.

A stones throw away from the Plaza del Duomo stands the Palazzo Vechhio, a Medici Family fortress located in the corner of Palazzo Della Signoria. The Medici footprint that remains in Florence cannot be underestimated. Having build up a vast wealth in banking and cozied up to Popes Leo and Clement the Medici’s became sole patrons to the likes of da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo. Iconic relics to the Medici hegemony include Michelangelo’s David, located in the Accademia Gallery, the Fountain of Neptune, found in an open-air gallery encompassing the Palazzo della Signoria and essentially the entire contents of the Uffizi Gallery, the oldest and probably most important gallery in the world.

Aside from the art history lover’s nirvana aspect of Florence there isn’t a myriad of alternative attractions. Food is as good as anywhere in Italy, the gelato being a particular forte. One tip to factor into your budget however is the local prices. Florence is not a cheap city, especially for non-locally produced goods. Unless you’re willing to cough up €5 for a Coke stick to the superb local coffee. Also if your stay exceeds 2 or 3 days a trip to neighboring Pisa is essential. As regards festivals ‘Pitti Immagine’ is the prime annual fashion show and in a city where Gucci and Prada are centered it always attracts the crowds. The ‘Festival Dei Popoli’ is Florence’s annual film festival which invariably goes down a treat in such lavish surroundings. Rome is undeniably the eternal attraction for those seeking a glimpse into the ancient world, yet Florence has an unbridled advantage over the capital. Whilst still boasting numerous astonishing attractions dating back to the same era as ancient Rome, Florence has successfully preserved the true ambiance of its artistic past. Without a doubt the beauty and historical significance of Rome’s attractions may be unparalleled. However, the juxtaposition of western society and ancient artifacts is almost entirely absent in Florence where everything remains aptly natural and its pleasant cohabitation with its stunning surroundings. Forget munching cucumber sandwiches in pompous museums of modern art and turn your attention to the unbridled, unadulterated fierce tenacity of Florentine culture. This is the essence and birthplace of all art and engineering that followed the Roman Empire and Renaissance period and only in Florence can it be appreciated in such a raw state.