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Florence is considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and has been called ‘The Athens of the Middle Ages’.
Situated on the Arno river, Florence and the surrounding area is home to over 1.5 million inhabitants. Historically, Florence was an important center of European trade, finance, and the arts. The city is considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, long under the rule of the Medici family, and has been called ‘The Athens of the Middle Ages’. Of course, Florence is famous for its fine art and architecture, with over 350 of Europe’s 1000 most important artists of all time having lived and/or worked there at some point in their lives.
Some of its most famous attractions include:
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Piazza Duomo
Piazza Duomo and the group of buildings that form its cathedral complex gather some of Italy's greatest artistic treasures into one relatively small area. As you tour the baptistery, the bell tower, the cathedral, and its museum, you'll see some of the best-known masterpieces of art and architecture by the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance -- Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Giotto, and Michelangelo. Begin by walking around the square to admire the intricate inlaid marble exteriors, then step inside each one to look more closely at the stained glass works of art that greet you wherever you look.
Bapistry of St. John
From any angle, inside or out, the 12th-century octagonal baptistery is a consummate work of art. Its marble façade, the intricate mosaics of its interior, and the art works it holds all merit a place high on your list. But the magnificent bronze panels that Ghiberti created for the doors facing the cathedral trump them all. Nowhere has bronze been worked with such exquisite expression as in these Gates of Paradise. For a closer look, and to see some of the treasures that have been made for the baptistery, visit the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, the cathedral's museum.
Piazzale Michelangiolo (the old spelling of ‘Michelangelo’)
This terrace above the city is an obligatory stop for tour buses, and is the spot from which all those postcard shots of the cathedral are taken. During the busy tourist season, the best time to enjoy it in relative peace is the late afternoon or early evening; it's especially lovely at sunset. Although you can get a 360-degree panorama of Florence from the dome of the cathedral, only from this terrace can you fully appreciate how Brunelleschi's dome dominates the city center. Nor can any other height give you this sweeping city view that encompasses the Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, and other landmarks. You can walk here, climbing from the riverbank through the gardens, or take bus 12 or 13. While you're here, continue up to the church of San Miniato al Monte or stay on the bus to the church and walk back down.
Uffizi Palace and Gallery
Uffizi Palace and Gallery is among a handful of the world's top art museums. Its collection is simply staggering in its diversity and quality, and even if art is not your main interest, you should see the highlights of the paintings here. You'll come away understanding a lot more of how Florence's 14th to 16th-century painters changed the face of western art, as you see the transition from the stilted Byzantine images to the life-like figures and landscapes of the Renaissance artists. The vast building stretching along the river was one more of the Medici palaces but was intended not as a residence, but to house governmental offices, scientific studies, and only a part of their growing art collection. One of its loveliest spaces, the octagonal Tribuna, was commissioned especially to display the most prized paintings and jewels of Francesco I de' Medici.
Piazza della Signoria and the Loggia dei Lanzi
This broad square has been the center of power in Florence since its 14th-century origins - and perhaps even before, as Etruscan and Roman remains have been found below its pavement. Today, it is the social center as well, a favorite meeting place filled with tourists and locals. At its center is the Neptune Fountain, at one side the Palazzo Vecchio, still housing the city's government. Against the wall of the Uffizi, which forms one end of the piazza, is the Loggia dei Lanzi, an outdoor sculpture gallery with several notable pieces. Most widely recognized of these is Benvenuto Cellini's best-known work, Perseus with the Head of Medusa. In front of the Palazzo Vecchio is a copy of Michelangelo's David.
The Galleria dell'Accademia di Firenze
Known in English as the "Gallery of the Academy of Florence", this art museum is best known as the home of Michelangelo's sculpture David. It also has other sculptures by Michelangelo and a large collection of paintings by Florentine artists, mostly from the period between 1300-1600, the ‘Trecento’ to the Late Renaissance. It is smaller and more specialized than the Uffizi Gallery, the main art museum in Florence. It adjoins the Accademia di Belle Arti (The Academy of Fine Arts) of Florence, but besides the name it has no other connection with it.