Florence Travel Guide

The river Arno cuts its way through Florence, surrounded by the hills of the Tuscan Apennines. Occupied since prehistoric times, iItalic peoples always lived in this area.

The Cathedral of Florence

The Cathedral of FlorenceThe Cathedral of Florence, Il Duomo, is dedicated to S. Maria del Fiore, is the result of the works of many artists dedicated to this project for centuries. The cathedral complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile while the dome of Brunelleschi dominates the panorama of the city.


Piazza della Signoria

One of the most beautiful squares in Florence, the Piazza della Signoria was built in the 3th and 14th centuries on the place of the old palaces of the Uberti, Foraboschi and other Ghibelline families. The L shaped square is dominated by the building of Palazzo Vecchio.

The Old Center of Florence

The heart of Florence's old centre is the Palazzo Vecchio, this graceful building with its battlements and slender tower, built by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1229 and inspired by the castle of the Guidi counts at Poppi. On the tower is Florence's first public dock, made in the near1y street which because of-.this is called Via dell'Oriuolo or “Street of the Clock”. On the left stands the bell-tower of the Badia Church, which tolled the hours in the medieval city. Next to it is the formidable building of the Bargello: the headquarters of the chief of police, it was later used as a prison until the death penalty was abolished in Tuscany under the wise laws of Leopold I of Lorena.

Piazza della Signoria which is of incomparable beauty and solemnity, dominated by the impressive Palazzo Vecchio or Palazzo della Signoria, the Loggia of the Signoria, the old buildings that surround it, the great fountain and the numerous monuments. The whole group creates an unforgettable vision of greatness and power.

A Brief History of Florence

In 59 b.C. the city was founded by the Romans on the square ground plan of the castrum. The decumanus maximus, the east-west-oriented road of the roman city plan, was laid out along what today we know as the Via del Corso, Via degli Speziali and Via Strozzi, while the ancient cardo, the north-south axe of the city corresponds to the line between Piazza San Giovanni, Via Roma and Via Calimala.

With the arrival of the barbarians, Florence was first besieged by the Ostrogoths, who plundered the surrounding countryside, although Florence managed to resist and Stilicho's troops inflicted a crushing defeat on the enemy.

Next were the Byzantines, who occupied Florence in 539, and the Goths who took over the city in 541. Under the Lombard domination (570) it managed to safeguard its autonomy, while under the Franks the number of inhabitants diminished and the city lost most of its territory.

In 1183 the city became a free town, even though it had already actually availed its freedom for many years. The first clashes between the two factions, Guelph and Ghibelline, date to those years. The former were followers of the Pope, the latter of the Emperor. The ensuing struggles were to lacerate the civic fabric of the city up to 1268. Despite the unstable social and political situation, this period witnessed an upsurge in the arts and in literature. This was the time of Dante, of Giotto and Arnolfo di Cambio.

In the 15th century the city's rise went on strongly. Florence was a trading city but also the new cradle far Italian and eventually European culture. Many powerful families, the Pitti, Frescobaldi, Strozzi, Albiti, vied for supremacy in the city. One above all soon came to the fare, a powerful family of bankers - the Medici - and beginning with Cosimo I, later known as the Elder, they were to govern up to the first half of the 18th century, transforming Florence into a beacon during the period of Humanism and the Renaissance.

Great personalities such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo characterized the period and Florentine prestige reached its peak. In 1737 the Medici’s gave way to the house of Lorraine and the government continued in a moderate liberalism even if at that point the great period of Florentine culture was already fading. In 1860, during the Risorgimento, Tuscany was annexed to the Realm of Italy with a plebiscite, for a brief period becoming the capital city of the new nation.