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Florence attractions
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Walking through the City of Lilies at any time of year is a magnificent experience, but in autumn it is simply magical. The bright blue Tuscan skies and bright sunshine belie the brisk temperatures, and the changing leaves throughout the area add reds and golds to a palette already bursting with color. Like many other cities in Italy, a tour through Florence provides a juxtaposition of the antique with the modern, but with no jarring discordance. This is a city that has embraced its past, and lives with its history every day in true harmony. Though the citizens of Florence are surrounded by a rich and well-preserved past, they seem committed to enjoying the present and the future. Travelers are made to feel like honored guests, and the small-town feel of Florence brings real relaxation to the most jaded tourists.


About Florence
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It is easy to enjoy a few days in Florence, surrounded by art and religion and many of the most important works of the Renaissance. Florence (Firenze in Italian) was founded as a Roman city in 59 BC, and in later years was chosen by Marcus Aurelius as the seat of the governor for Tuscany and Umbria. For a short time in the 19 th century, Firenze was the official capital of the entire nation. Time has not always been kind to Florence, but the city persevered against the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines, and the Goths. In the 12 th and 13 th centuries, internal politics became more divisive and more destructive than the attacks from outsiders, as powerful families struggled for dominance. Would those faithful to the church triumph, or those faithful to the Emperor? Real progress, however, came under the rule of the Medici clan from the mid-18 th century on. This was the period of the Renaissance, a rebirth of art and culture and architecture that thankfully left a beautiful legacy behind in Florence. While World War II saw widespread destruction throughout the region, we have luck, providence, and rebuilding/restoration efforts to thank for the preservation of the treasures of this wonderful Tuscan town.


Whether you've arrived in Florence by air or by rail, you're not far away from the first of many must-see stops on your Florence tour. Located very near the train station is the beautifully preserved Church of Santa Maria Novella. Sit in one of several cafes surrounding the square here and relax for a time. The exterior of the church is executed in marble, with a nearly mosaic appearance. If you have already visited Rome, the outside of the church is quite different in style than anything seen in the capital city. The church is surrounded by a quiet garden, and is decorated inside with intricately carved sarcophagi and with paintings and frescoes of Tuscan master artists. Pay close attention to the fresco Trinita' , created in 1427 but lost until the late 1800's.


Of course, Santa Maria Novella is not the only noteworthy house of worship in Florence. The church of San Lorenzo is the oldest church in the city, consecrated in 393 AD by St. Ambrose. The current building dates from the early 1400's, and presents another surprise to the unwary tourist. Standing in front of the building, the bare front façade seems completely out of place. It looks as if the building belongs in the Old West of the United States instead of in the heart of the European Renaissance. In fact, an elaborate external façade was designed by Michelangelo, but was never completed, leaving the outside of the ancient church forever unfinished. Visitors will not leave disappointed, as the interior of the church delivers structure and art galore. While inside, visit the tombs of the Medici princes that once ruled the city. Works designed and executed by Michelangelo, Donatello, and Brunelleschi complete the artistic expression of the church.


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Perhaps the most ornate, and certainly the largest, church in Florence is the Cathedral of Florence. The church is usually just referred to as "Il Duomo", or "The Dome". The massive edifice took more than 140 years to complete. Be prepared to stand in line to go inside the church or to visit the dome with its astounding views of the city. While you're here, be sure to see the Baptistery of St. Giovanni located just opposite the church. The baptistery boasts a set of golden doors called the Gates of Paradise, retelling the Christian stories of the Garden of Eden, Noah's Ark, the sacrifice of Isaac, and much more on two panels of gilded bronze. The detailed workmanship of the 24 niches is incredible.


With the churches successfully visited and photographed, move on to somewhat more secular items of interest. Keep in mind as you move along that the separation of church and state here has never been too complete. Art patronage has long been the province of princes and popes alike.


Photographers flock to the Piazza Della Signoria with good reason. This square contains the Palazzo Vecchio, an imposing brick structure that was a residence as well as a fortress by original intention. The strong crenellated tower looms large over the square, almost menacingly. This central building of the square has been turned to more peaceful (and perhaps mundane?) purposes in present times, and now houses a museum. No matter how imposing the Palazzo might be, it shares the Piazza with more than enough sculpture to ease the eye. You can see originals or reproduction of works by Michelangelo (a reproduction of David stands just before the Palazzo) and Donatello (a copy of his Marzocco , Florence's heraldic symbol, sits before the Palazzo, flanked by a reproduction of his Judith and Holophernes ). Near the Palazzo, the Loggia Dei Lanzi houses still more important sculpture. Perseus , the most well recognized of Cellini's masterpieces stands here, eternally holding aloft the head of Medusa. The originals of The Rape of the Sabine Women and Hercules and the Centaur , both by Giambologna share space in this elegant building as well. The architecture here reminds you again of the contradictions here in Florence, with the brute force of the Palazzo offset by the elegant curves of the Loggia just meters away.


Continue to the nearby Ponte Vecchio and see the oldest bridge in the city. The bridge is the home to the city's artisanal goldsmiths, with their wares displayed in glittering array for your perusal. The views from Ponte Vecchio of the river and the other bridges make for outstanding photo opportunities as well.


There's far too much to see in Florence to be able to cover the city in one day. Fortunately, this is a very welcoming destination, and a longer stay is no trouble at all. And when you're ready to come back, Firenze will still be waiting, aging gracefully in the Tuscan sun.


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