Florence, Italy – Explore This Amazing Gem

Florence, Italy, (Firenze to locals) is known for its Renaissance art history. The Duomo draws millions of visitors each year, but there is much more to see here.  Dig a little deeper to discover the real Florence – an amazing gem.

Image of Florence skyline with Duomo.

As significant as Tuscany and Florence’s contribution to Renaissance art history, how many of you know about Firenze’s contribution to history, enlightenment, and science?

Wander Florence’s city center streets, and you will find tributes to Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli everywhere.

Are you curious about how one Tuscany city features all these historic famous names with such significant contributions to our everyday lives? 

Read on my friends, read on!

Florence Deserves Repeat Visits

I was really lucky to have been in the right place, at the right time, and have joined the right tours.  A perfect example was being in Florence during Holy Week 2013. 

Why is that important?  As I found out, there were buildings open with access to less public areas of common buildings like the Duomo for worshipers to celebrate Holy Week.

Here Is Where Florence’s Hidden Gem Status Comes In

Strolling the inner city is a curious mix of modern and historic.  Motor scooters park beside 400-year-old buildings.  Stone building facades open to magnificent courtyards. 

Replicas of famous statues like Michangelo’s David sit in the open air, while the real thing is but steps away in the Academia. 

Trivia here – Michangelo was called from Florence by the Pope to paint the Sistine Chapel. 

Like – who gets to do that? More true to history, what simple boy grows to adulthood and paints a masterpiece like the Sistine Chapel – likely under duress.  Michelangelo of course.

Tuscany’s Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance period for good reason.

A view of the Duomo in Florence.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore – Otherwise Known as the Duomo

One can’t miss the magnificent buildings Florence houses – the Duomo, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, “Golden Bridge” Ponte Vecchio, Academia, and the Uffizi. 

There is a reason the Duomo is a major tourist attraction for Florence. But be aware that the Duomo’s altar area is only open to the public during Holy Week.

The people portrayed in the dome paintings are almost 20 feet tall. Climbing the Duomo dome is a popular tourist activity, and from the ground sightseers can view climbers, providing perspective to the size of these artistic miracles.

Let’s Bring Modern Culture Into the Picture

Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa but did you know Da Vinci was an avid student of the human form?  To the extent that he created replicas of various body parts in an effort to study how the body works.

Da Vinci believed knowledge of how the body works to be a crucial skill for any Renaissance artist worth his salt.  Visitors to Firenze’s La Specola and Museo di Zoologia are very familiar with this aspect of Da Vinci’s life.  Have you been to a doctor lately? Who knew Renaissance art history’s contribution to modern medicine. Now you do.

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Inside of a cathedral.

You Can’t Discuss the Renaissance Without Including the Medici Family

The ancient Medici family were bankers to the world.  They were bankers to popes and countries alike. The Medici’s were one of Tuscany and Florence’s leading families. Because of the Medici influence, this one small town influenced how all of Europe advanced during the Renaissance.

Medici Patriarchs

The Medici family routinely sponsored artists, creating this visionary city and living monuments to Renaissance and art history. Here are 2 of the more famous Medici figures. Many credit Cosimo with being the family’s patriarch. Regardless, he was the Medici that initially grew the family’s banking business.

Lorenzo, known as Il Magnifico was a huge art patron and sponsored artists such as Galileo and Da Vinci. The Medici are pretty important to Florence’s Renaissance art history.

The Mother of Fine Dining

Catherine de’ Medici, French King Phillip’s widow, is credited to have created a new dance form in the early 1580’s – ballet.  Ever hear of that?  There is also a common legend that she introduced a long list of foods, techniques, and utensils from Italy to France for the first time. 

Catherine is said to have brought the dinner fork, parsley, artichoke, lettuce, broccoli, garden peas, pasta, parmesan cheese, as well as New World specialties like turkey and tomatoes to France.

She has also received credit for introducing sauces and a variety of dishes such as duck à l’orange and deviled eggs.  To me, that makes this Medici lady the “Mother of Fine Dining”.

The front exterior of a cathedral in Florence.

Machiavelli – The Prince.

Have you ever heard of an action being described as “Machiavellian?  Well, thanks to Florence’s citizen Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince, the theory of ruling that prescribed “What good for the State is good for the many” has lived on for centuries. 

Think about the school of thought when you hear that phrase.

Macchiavelli wasn’t a Medici, but he was a prominent politician, ruling Florence during a time when the Medici family struggled. This dude was a true Renaissance Man. He was an advisor to Popes, and his writings continue to influence politicians today.

You can’t discuss Florence’s contribution to history, enlightenment, and science without including Machiavelli.

It Always Comes Back to Food

My favorite place in Florence is the indoor market.  3 stories of fresh grocery goods, produce, and meat products.  The pride in each shopkeeper’s wares is obvious when speaking with them. 

Just ask the vendors – they will tell you why their olive oil is better than olive oil anywhere else.  Or their pasta… or dehydrated mushrooms.  You get the picture. Florence is a haven for Foodies.

Can I Talk About Wine?

Being located in Tuscany, wine lovers appreciate a good Chianti Classico from… you guessed it. The Tuscany region is known for the Sangiovese grape, and I enjoyed sampling Tuscany’s specialty. Oh, how that grape ferments into a delicious wine fit to compliment the most graceful piece of red meat or pasta known to man.  If Florence is a haven for Foodies, then Tuscany is certainly a haven for vintners.

Can You Enjoy Florence’s Gems Without Visiting?

The answer to that is a resounding yes!!!

Florence has not crept into pop culture.  Imagine a mythical Atlas picking up the city’s heritage and dropping it onto Hollywood. 

Yep – it’s like that. Television shows like The Borgias (at least 2 separate series) feature the antics of this famous Italian family, their schemes, and interactions with the Medici family, Machiavelli, and Savonarola.

Add the television series Da Vinci Demons, loosely based on Da Vinci’s relationships with the Medici and Pazzi families and Reign – the “dramatized” version of Mary Queen of Scots and none other than Catherine de’ Medici (remember her?). 

Hollywood’s version of popular fiction is loosely based on historical facts. Sometimes the version is more loosely on historical facts than others, but the basic historical story is usually interwoven in the plot. 

Add to the mix a television series featuring Galileo, and the Medici family has a mini-series based on family exploits.

Did Florence Influence Science?

Let’s talk about Galileo, otherwise known as “The Father of Science”.  This dude studied speed and velocity, gravity and free fall, the principle of relativity, inertia, projectile motion. 

He invented the thermoscope and various military compasses.  Galileo’s contributions to observational astronomy included the use of the telescope to confirm the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter, the observation of Saturn’s rings, and the analysis of sunspots.  In other words, modern-day astrology.  

Galileo basically studied and devised experiments as parlor games for the Medici’s. This dude was the real deal and a Renaissance Man in an entirely different aspect of the term.

Plain English for the Non-Nerds…

If you drive, fly, or ride a bicycle.  Stargaze. Enjoy sports.  Use a cooking thermometer.  Do almost anything today… you have Galileo to thank. 

Now we are getting close to Florence’s Hidden Gem status!  Want to touch the equipment used in these discoveries – by this man?  The Museo Galileo is located near the Duomo. On your visit, you can do the same experiments as Galileo, on the same equipment he used.  

The gem that is Florence becomes much more imaginable. Tangible. Absolutely real.

If that isn’t enough Galileo in modern culture, he is mentioned several times in the “opera” section of the Queen song, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  Nope, I’m not going to post a video singing the song for you.  I can hear it in my head. Can you?

The exterior of a cathedral in Florence.

Florence Has So Much More To Offer Than Art History

Can you believe there’s more? I enjoy fashion and was surprised to find that Florence is ranked as one of the top fifteen fashion capitals of the world.  Not that I could afford it, but I did find the streets with all the high-dollar stores. Yep, I window-shopped.

Here’s my 2 cents worth.  Any place you can go on this earth that has art, amazing architecture, music, dance, fine food and wine, history, science, and fashion – go! The Tuscany region has all of this in spades, and Florence is the center of it all.

I have to weave another aspect into this story. The world has increased global attention to green space and renewable energy over the last few decades, I think most of us can acknowledge that. One of the things I enjoyed most about our first visit to Florence was a visit to the Pitti Palace and the adjoining Boboli Gardens. Yep, the Pitti Palace was a Medici home.

Boboli Gardens’ Place in Modern Art

The Boboli Gardens date back to the early 1500s and provided inspiration for many of Europe’s famous gardens. The Gardens was opened to the public in 1776.

The garden’s numerous statues are living examples of art history. How often is art history within touching distance? That is just one of the things that makes a visit through the Boboli Gardens so special.

The Boboli Gardens Rose Garden was incredibly beautiful. Have you visited a public garden or park recently? You can probably thank the Medici and Firenze for that too.

Any destination that combines beauty, history, and modern culture this well qualifies as a gem. 

I love the Tuscan hills behind the Duomo, too. They just lend an air of mystery into the skyline of this famous city.

Much of Florence’s contribution to art history has been attributed to paintings. One of the things I enjoyed the most about Boboli Gardens was the living reminder of the sculptor’s contributions to the Renaissance.

What Is My Florence Travel Advice for You?

I’ve known several families with children sent to Florence to study art history. If art is your passion, Florence is a great place to meet that need.  But don’t overlook the unique experience that is Florence.

Traveling in the inner city is difficult – the roads are narrow and much of the historic area does not allow motor traffic.  I was able to experience both a hotel in a renovated old building with quirky crooked hallways and hidden rooms and a modern hotel with a sanitized feel.  When you get views like this from the renovated old building, it is hard to complain.

I think you can guess which I preferred.

Regardless, hotels in the inner city were expensive and I was glad the cost had been bundled into the tour expense.  Quite likely, rooms outside the historic area are more reasonable, but then there are the joys of getting back into the historic city.  Tradeoffs I suppose.

Statue in florence.

Not All Hidden Gems Are Shiny

Deciding to visit the historic city of Florence is not a decision to take lightly. It is not a destination for everyone. For example, I had respiratory problems in the historic area, likely because of the centuries of pollution.  The cost of lodging is expensive. 

How Long Should You Stay in Florence?

If you think you can even begin to fully experience this city in less than a week, you are likely mistaken.  I spent a full day at the Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio, and could easily have doubled the time. 

My visit to Boboli Gardens was a full day, and the Pitti Palace would easily have been a day too. 

I enjoyed the Ponte Vecchio both during the daytime and in the evening. During the day, this non-de script bridge over the Arno River is home to dozens of shops, but during the evening it is completely different. The shops shut down, and the bridge appears to assume a glow of its own.

Calculating your time here hasn’t begun to include the experiences of climbing the magnificent Duomo dome.  Or visiting the Medici Baptistry.  Nor has it considered the time required to visit the Academia.  Or any of the other incredible landmarks great Firenze is famous for.

Should Florence Be on Your Bucket List?

Do you like science, art, history, food, Hollywood, shopping, or the feel of magic in the air around you? Maybe the word Renaissance sends chills up your spine. If you answered yes to any of those, Florence is for you. Maybe the pictures of the lush greenery surrounding Florence spoke to you, and if so, make sure to include more of the Tuscany region on your visit.

If hearing about the hidden gem that is Florence makes you yearn to experience it first-hand, I gotta tell you, the opportunity to maneuver Galileo’s experiments.  To touch historic Baptistry doors.  Surround yourself in the heavenly scent of Boboli Garden’s Rose Garden.  Savor a Tuscan vinted Ruffino Chianti Classico at a local bistro.  Or experience heavenly gelato.  The experience – the memories… are incredible and absolutely invaluable.

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