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A History Lover’s Guide to Florence

Masaccio. Michelangelo. The Medicis. Home to a catalogue of illustrious artists and innovators, Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and still remains one of Europe’s grandest cities today. Journey with us to Florence’s enchanting past, where we unveil the history of its magical masterpieces and spectacular sights.

Ponte Vecchio Bridge

The perfect place to pause and drink in the views as the sun sets, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge has long inspired poets, dreamers and thinkers. It’s Florence’s oldest bridge and until 1218 was the only one straddling the River Arno. The current bridge was built in 1345, but the name of its builder remains a mystery. As you stroll across, you’ll notice wall-to-wall fine jewellery boutiques – this is no random occurrence. In 1593, Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decreed that only goldsmiths and jewellers could have shops on the bridge to ‘improve the wellbeing of all.’

Uffizi Gallery

A treasure trove of art and artefacts, the Uffizi Gallery occupies a magnificent Giorgio Vasari-designed building built in 1581 for Cosimo I de’ Medici. The Medici family were a wealthy Italian dynasty, who rose to political power during the 15th century and governed the Tuscany region for 200 hundred years. ‘Uffizi’ means ‘offices’ and that’s what they originally were, built as a base for Florence’s administrative and judiciary departments. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and you’re spoilt for choice with countless Renaissance masterpieces housed inside, from Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus to The Ognissanti Madonna by Giotto. When in Florence, make a beeline for the Uffizi Gallery for a greatest hits tour of Tuscany’s finest arts over the ages.

Piazza della Signoria

The heart of the city since the 14th century, Piazza della Signoria is a stately square dominated by the illustrious Palazzo Vecchio. The scene of many historic happenings, and an essential stop on any guide to Florence, it has witnessed countless events over the years from the Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497 to the return of the Medicis in 1530. As you wander around, you’ll spot plenty of statues. Smack bang in the middle is Bartolomeo Ammannati’s famous marble Neptune Fountain, based on a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. You’ll probably do a double take as you pass an exact replica of Michelangelo’s David. The best way to discover Piazza della Signoria is with a gelato in hand in the warm afternoon sun.

The Duomo

With its majestic red dome puncturing the Florence skyline, the Duomo is the city’s hero landmark. Erected between 1418 and 1434, its designer, Filippo Brunelleschi, rather curiously got the gig by winning a competition held by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. Before Brunelleschi took on this immense project, the building had been unsuccessfully under construction for over 100 years! Its unmistakable façade, made from pink, white and green marble, was completed much later in the 1800s. Inside, you’ll fall in love with Giorgio Vasari’s exquisite frescoes of the Last Judgement.

Michelangelo’s David

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free,” said Michelangelo, the creator of the world’s most iconic sculpture, David. Made from 14 feet of dazzling white marble, the effigy of the Biblical hero was completed in 1504 after three years of painstaking work. Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo for the Cathedral of Florence, it was meant to join a host of other statues to be positioned up high in the cathedral’s tribunes. However, upon completion it was unanimously agreed that it was too perfect for such a location, and a committee of artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli agreed that the best place for it was Piazza della Signoria. Today, Michelangelo’s David is housed at the Galleria dell’Accademia, while a replica occupies his original spot in Piazza della Signoria.

Inspired by our history lover’s guide to Florence? Join us on a mesmerising trip around its must-see monuments on our Best of Italy, Real Italy, Great Italian Cities and Contrasts of Italy trips.

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