|A visit to Florence
(Firenze) is a must for any most lovers. UNESCO estimates that 60
per cent of the world’s most important artworks are located
in Italy, with over half of them located in Florence.
Situated in the northwest of Italy, surrounded by the wine-growing
hills of Chianti, the city attracts rapture and
frustration in equal proportions. Few can dismiss the image of Brunelleschi’s
cathedral dome bursting through the morning mist, a terracotta
balloon hovering above the medieval rooftops. But once the visitor
drops down to the street level, the profusion of traffic, tourists
and touts can remove all sense of tranquillity. It seems every building
holds a masterpiece which demands attention and often gobbling up
funds. The streets are dark and narrow, enclosed on either side
by granite palaces and even the open spaces are crowded with tour
Often called the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence
owes much of her wealth to the Middle Ages. Banking
became huge business on the back of the city’s profitable
wool trade and, in 1235, Florence minted the florin,
the first gold coin to become standard currency across Europe. In
their turn, these bankers commissioned some of the finest art and
architecture in the city. The names Strozzi, Rucellai
and Pitti can be found all over Florence but it
was the Medici family, who led the city for over
300 years, off and on that nurtured the greatest flowering of Renaissance
art. The paintings of Botticelli, the sculptures
of Michelangelo and the rusticated palaces of Michelozzo
all flourished under their rule.
Then, as now, most of the action in Florence took place between
Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, the
city’s civic centre. Here, in the historic centre of Dante,
forefather of the Italian language, first glimpsed his muse, Beatrice.
Here, the Florentine Republic rose and fell. And here, Savonarola’s
Bonfire of the Vanities blazed.
Florence, for all her timeless charm, is no stranger to destruction.
In 1944, all her bridges, save the Ponte Vecchio,
were bombed by the Nazis, in an attempt to stall the advance of
the allies. In 1966, the banks of the River Arno
burst, flooding the city with her muddied waters and devastating
homes and artwork. Most recently, in 1993, a bomb exploded near
the Uffizi Gallery, ripping through the museum’s
interior and claiming several lives. That said, the only violence
most tourists are likely to witness is during the medieval football
match on 24 th June, Florence’s patron saint day, when petty
wrangles often spill onto the pitch.
It is best for visitors to avoid the peak summer months of July
and August, when the weather can be unbearably hot and sticky with
the prospect of trailing around museums becomes unappealing. Early
autumn, when the countryside glows with mellow fruitfulness, is
one of the best time to visit, avoiding the heat and the queues
and capitalising on the soft light, empty streets and the abundance
of wild mushrooms and just-pressed olive oil.