Say you find yourself in Florence for about 36 hours. Art, architecture, gardens, libraries and specialty shopping abound in what National Geographic calls a “city-size shrine to the Renaissance.” A city with Roman origins that flourished during the Middle Ages, Florence, “the Athens of the Middle Ages” has been ruled by Medici, served as the capital of the Kingdom of Italy and continues to serve as the capital of Tuscany and the providence of Florence. It is a majestic city lying in the basin of the Arno and three other rivers between seven hills – Rome has nothing on this place.
Athens of the Middle Ages, probably, but thanks to the Medici’s rule and money, it could also be called the San Francisco of the Middle Ages. Artists and brilliant minds gravitated to Florence. The Medicis, who wrested the city from bitter rivals and for centuries had and lost control of the city, were patrons to Michelangelo, Botticelli, Galileo, Da Vinci and many composers. The city was also home to Machiavelli, and where he wrote The Prince. So it wasn’t all peace love and uneventful times in Florence, but that probably helped spur the creativity juices of many of the artists in residence.
The cool thing about the sites in Florence is that while you can visit the checklists of standards for Renaissance Europe, each comes with its own little twist or hidden feature. Il Duomo, or The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (begun 1296, completed 1436) located in the center of Florence, features incredible artworks inside and amazing facades on the outside. But unlike sacred spaces where you can walk in and enjoy the view from the ground, here you can climb up 463 steps in a tight, small twisting corridor to reach the top, roughly 116 meters up. If you’re really lucky a tall Northern European is climbing in front of you, making you feel completely out of shape.
A couple of piazzas over from the Duomo is The Uffizi, which is world-famous and doesn’t really come with a twist, since there are over 1 million people visiting that annually. But a short walk from The Uffizi and The Gucci Museum towards the Arno is The Galileo Museum. The museum, housed in a building dating back to the 11th century, is devoted to the history of science. It also houses archives, libraries, laboratories and some of Galileo’s fingers, along with restorations of his machines and some of the oldest maps in the world. Yes, his fingers.
Just in time for lunch, which you might want to get at ‘Ino. The sandwich and Panini shop eschews the heavy pasta diet of Tuscany, and serves edibles sourced by the owner from throughout Italy. It’s fresh and delicious and crowded with many people eating “italian style” – standing at a bar with a glass of wine amid a group of strangers, eating incredible food. The setting, after a morning of Renaissance architecture and art is as much as a relief as the crisp white wine – it’s open, sunny and light. ‘Ino has received lots of coverage both locally and internationally, being heralded by The Times and that pretty pink paper as the place to get lunch in Florence.
Continuing with a walk westerly along the Arno after lunch and you arrive at the Pointe Vecchio. The bridge spans the Arno at its narrowest spot, where a Roman bridge was stood. At one time, the many houses on the bridge were home to butchers and other shops, now they are home to some really aggressive jewelers and souvenir shops. Crossing the bridge, you can walk up parts of Florence to get a view back towards Il Duomo. On this side of the river, there are more historical libraries and lots to keep you busy until dinner time.
There is only one option for dinner (ok, hyberbole, there’s lots and lots of options, but this is an awesome meal. . .) – The Golden View restaurant. Like ‘Ino, the design is light and open, with the restaurant spanning the ground floor of several connected buildings one street in from the river. The food is out standing, offering both seafood and traditional Tuscan fares. And the view isn’t that bad either. I was lucky enough to be there at sunset, and witness the lights come up on the Ponte, in a way that reminded me of Katherine Bradford’s Desire For Transport.