Florence, the pearl of the Italian Renaissance. There is an air of fervour and passion among its streets full of restaurants and workshops. Art, history and culture are in Florence, the lime that unites its inhabitants with the city.
With so much beauty, it is easy to get lost in Florence… So here below, through the city’s primary time era, we recommend the best places to blend with this unique destination. Thanks to a historical-artistic lens, we savour Florence, a city that is described by many as both exuberant and elegant. Only through a journey into its past can we deeply know its values, its "madness," its soul.

What to see in Florence?

The Origins

  • Archaeological site of Fiesole
  • The Roman theatre

Between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

  • Uffizzi Gallery Duomo of Florence
  • Santa Croce
  • The De Medici Chapel & San Lorenzo
  • Leonardo da Vinci Museum
  • Pitti Palace & Boboli Gardens

The beginning of contemporary Florence

  • Galileo Museum

The origins

The earliest traces of Florence roots back to the Etruscans. This population lived in approximately what is now Tuscany, western Umbria, northern Lazio, western Campania and part of north Italy, near the Po valley. Around the 9th–8th century BCE, the Etruscans formed the small settlement of Fiesole (Faesulae in Latin). However, the unstoppable power of Rome saw the expansion of the roman culture in the area with the conquests of the roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 80 BCE. The present city of Florence was established by Julius Caesar in 59 BCE as a settlement for his veteran soldiers. It was originally named “Fluentia” because it was built between two rivers and was later changed to Florentia ("flowering").

Situated along the Via Cassia, the main route between Rome and the north, and within the fertile valley of the Arno, the settlement quickly became an important commercial centre. Seat of an episcopal diocese as early as the 4th century CE, the city was called "Municipium splendidissimum" and, from the time of Emperor Hadrian, was connected to Rome by the Via Cassia. Under Diocletian, it was raised to Corrector Italiae, capital of the Etruria and Umbria regions.

1. Archaeological site of Fiesole

On a top hill next to Florence, it is possible to reach within only 15 minutes by car the archaeological area of Fiesole. The site, delimited North by the Etruscan walls, is rich in well-preserved finds, containing an Etruscan-Roman temple, the Roman Theatre and the Baths. A Longobard cemetery (necropolis) was also discovered in the sacred area near the Etruscan-Roman temple, dating 6th Century CE. The site gives a good glimpse of the ancient background and the close connection between Etruscan and Roman culture. An unmissable opportunity to discover the past and the origins of “Florentia”.

2. The Roman theatre

The Roman Theater of Florence was located beneath the present-day Palazzo Vecchio (or Palazzo Della Signoria) and Palazzo Gondi. For the foundation of the theatre was used a natural slope of about 5 meters at the south-eastern part of the roman colony of Florentia, which marked the beginning of the theatre’s constructions during the 1st century BCE. The “orchestra” and the first rows of seats were built in stone, while the rest of the “cavea” consisted of wooden bleachers for about 5/6000 spectators with an overall diameter of about 100 meters and with a height between 24 and 26 meters. The remains are visible inside Palazzo Vecchio Museum, including the Roman theatre's ruins in its archaeological crypt.

Between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Lorenzo De Medici "The Magnificent", Magi Chapel (Architas, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Lorenzo De Medici "The Magnificent", Magi Chapel (Architas, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, Florence passed through periods of Byzantine, Ostrogothic, Lombard, and Frankish rule, during which the population dropped to a few thousand. The city developed from the 10th CE century, and from 1115 CE, it became an autonomous municipality. Later Florence was the epicentre of a profound war, motivated by political and religious reasons: the fight between Guelphs (supporters of the Roman Papacy) and Ghibellines (in favour of the Holy Roman Emperor). After ups and downs, the Guelphs won (with the so-called "Battle of Colle," June 17, 1269 CE) but were soon divided internally into "Whites and Blacks" (Dante Alighieri himself, the famous Italian writer, sided with the White faction). Internal political strife did not prevent the city from developing into one of the most powerful and prosperous in Europe, reaching its apex with the notorious Renaissance family of the “De Medici”. The "Signoria" of the De Medici gave incredible lustre to the city, especially under the rule of Lorenzo De Medici, known as "The Magnificent". Between the 14th-16th centuries CE, Florence was the cradle of the Renaissance, distinguishing it by its extraordinary literary, artistic and scientific development. The city, with its world-renowned artists, thinkers, scholars, and scientists, among many others, boasts names of the calibre of Michelangelo, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli, Niccolò Machiavelli, Filippo Brunelleschi, Galileo, and Leonardo da Vinci. In all respects, materially and spiritually, they contributed to making Florence a most important place for the rebirth of world culture.

3. Uffizzi Gallery

Outside view of the Uffizi gallery (Michelle Maria, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Outside view of the Uffizi gallery (Michelle Maria, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
The Uffizzi Gallery is one of the richest museums in the world. It houses the largest existing collection of Raphael and Botticelli, as well as major nuclei of works by Giotto, Titian, Pontormo, Bronzino, Andrea del Sarto, Caravaggio, Dürer, Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci and many others. The building renders the idea of the splendour of Florence.

4. Duomo of Florence

The well-known Duomo of Florence is known to the Florentines as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and is the main Florentine church, a symbol of the city and one of the most famous in Italy. At its complement, in the 15th century CE, it was the largest church in the world, while today it is considered the third largest in Europe after St. Peter's in Rome and the Duomo in Milan. With its squared stones and rich workmanship, it is a flagship of the Florentine and Italian Renaissance. As a further trace of its important past, the church stands on the foundations of Florence's ancient cathedral, the church of Santa Reparata. This precise spot has hosted houses of worship since Roman times.

5. Santa Croce

Santa Croce is a prestigious symbol of Florence, the meeting place of the greatest artists, theologians, clergymen, academics, humanists and politicians. They determined, for better or worse, the identity of the late medieval and Renaissance city. The church is in Neo-Gothic Franciscan style, known for its Giotto frescoes, and it includes the tombs of the worldwide famous Michelangelo and Galileo.

6. The De Medici Chapel & San Lorenzo

Inside view of the chapel (Xosema, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Inside view of the chapel (Xosema, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
The Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of the foremost Catholic places of worship in Florence, located in the square of the same name in the city's historic centre. It is one of the churches that contend for the title of oldest in the city and has the dignity of a minor basilica compared to the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore). The famous San Lorenzo market is held near the church, and inside the church buildings stand the Medici chapels, built as the burial place of the Medici family.

7. Leonardo da Vinci Museum

Models of Leonardo's war machines (LeonardoInteractiveMuseum, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Models of Leonardo's war machines (LeonardoInteractiveMuseum, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Housed in the two locations of the Palazzina Uzielli and the Castello Dei Conti Guidi, it is one of the most extensive and original collections dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci and, more generally, to the history of Renaissance technology. More than 60 models of machines are on display, presented with precise references to the artist's sketches and manuscript annotations, also supported by digital animations and interactive applications.

8. Pitti Palace & Boboli Gardens

The Boboli Gardens is a world-famous site in Florence, originally intended to be the private garden of the Medici family. Here, it is possible to admire the many historic buildings, fountains and sculptures in a mesmerising atmosphere among its luxurious gardens. A visit to the gardens is an absolute must to learn more about the powerful "De Medici" dynasty.

The beginning of the contemporary Florence

In 1555 CE, with an army formed with Spanish and German allies, the Medici finally defeated the bitter enemy Siena at the Battle of Scannagallo and gained a vast territory. As a result, over the centuries, Florence ruled almost all of Tuscany until the arrival in Italy of Napoleon Bonaparte. He sanctioned French rule over much of Italy. Florence took Turin's place as the capital of Italy in 1865 CE, at the request of Napoleon III under the September Convention, until this role was transferred to Rome in 1871 CE. During World War II, the city was occupied for a year by the Germans until it was liberated in 1944 CE by troops of the New Zealand Army (2nd New Zealand Division), liberating Tuscany. After many days of vigorous fighting, the New Zealanders forced the enemy to retreat.

The Oltrarno was freed by the New Zealand Army (2nd New Zealand Division) on August 4, 1944, and the centre of the city by the fight of the partisan brigades of the Tuscan Committee for National Liberation on August 11, 1944, after suffering extensive damage, such as the demolition of bridges and houses, by mines from the fleeing Germans. Florence is among the Cities Decorated for Military Valor for the War of Liberation because it was awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valor for the sacrifices of its population and its activity in the partisan struggle during World War II.

9. Galileo Museum

Inside view of the museum (Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Inside view of the museum (Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
It preserves one of the most relevant collections of scientific instruments and vanguard in the world, material evidence of the importance attached to science and its protagonists by members of the Medici dynasty and the Lorraine grand dukes. The opening coincided with the 400th anniversary of the publication of "Sidereus Nuncius" (March 1610 CE), the work with which Galileo Galilei popularised his discoveries in astronomy obtained through the use of the telescope.

Stories from Florence

All stories »