Friday, September 20, 2013

An Incantato Favorite: Florence

Located in Tuscany, the city of Florence is one of the greatest artistic capitals in the world. It is a monument to the Renaissance and the artistic and cultural reawakening of the 15th century. 
The city began as a Roman colony in 59 BC and grew to a trading hub and independent city. In time, power passed to leading noble families of the city, the most influential of which were the Medici, a hugely wealthy banking dynasty. Both Florence and Tuscany remained under the family's rule for three centuries until 1737, and the mark they left can be seen throughout the city even today. It was during this time that Florence was at the cultural and intellectual heart of Europe. 

There are so many sights to see in one of Italy's most visited cities, that it is impossible to present them all here. Therefore, just a few highlights are mentioned, and the rest is left to own exploration. 
The historic part of Florence is a compact area, and the river Arno bisects the city. The oldest surviving bridge in the city that crosses the Arno is the Ponte Vecchio, built in 1345. It is almost exclusively jewelers and goldsmiths that offer items for sale in the shops that line the bridge, a tradition that started back in the 16th century. The Ponte Vecchio is also the only bridge in the city that escaped any destruction during World War II. 

Perhaps the most famous of Florence's landmarks and historical buildings is the richly decorated Duomo, the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore with its orange-tiled dome. The city's geographical and historical focus, the Duomo rises above the heart of Florence and to this day remains the city's tallest building. It has become Florence's most famous symbol and the cathedral is Europe's fourth largest church. The dome was finished by Brunelleschi in 1463 and was the largest of its time to be built without scaffolding. 

The Academy of Fine Arts, the Galleria dell'Accademia, was established in 1563. It was the first school in Europe specifically to teach the techniques of drawing, painting, and sculpture. The art collection displayed here today was formed in 1784. Its most famous work is Michelangelo's David, a colossal nude of the biblical hero who killed the giant Goliath. Created in 1504, it established Michelangelo as the foremost sculptor of his time at the age of 29. Another one of Michelangelo's masterpieces found here is the Quattro Prigioni, the Four Prisoners, a sculpture created between 1521 and 1523 and intended to adorn the tomb of Pope Julius II. 

Built from 1560 to 1580 to house offices, the Uffizi are now one of Italy's leading art galleries. Originally, the upper story was used as a gallery to display the Medici art treasures. Today, it houses the world's greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art and a priceless collection of paintings, including the Birth of Venues, painted by Botticelli in 1485. 
Across the river Arno, the vast Pitti Palace is second only to the Uffizi in its art collection. It was constructed in 1457 and in 1550, it became the main residence of the Medici family and subsequently all rulers of the city of Florence lived here. The Palace's richly decorated rooms exhibit countless treasures from the Medici collections and contain galleries with works by great Renaissance artists including Raphael and Titian. 

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