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Fodor's Exploring Guides are the most up-to-date, full-color guidebooks available.
Covering destinations around the world, these guides are loaded with photos, essays on culture and history, descriptions of sights, and practical information.Full-color photos make this a great guide to buy if you're still planning your itinerary (let the photos help you choose!) and it's a perfect companion to a general guidebook, like a
Fodor's Gold Guide.
All the great sights plus the history and anecdotes that bring them to life
Extraordinary coverage of history and culture
Itineraries, walks and excursions, on and off the beaten path
Architecture and art
Practical tips and full-color maps and photos
Getting there and getting around
When to go and what to pack
Quick tips on where to sleep in every price range
Savvy restaurant picks for all budgets
Read an Excerpt
An Artistic Shrine
Florence is a city-sized shrine to the Renaissance. Its churches, museums, and galleries catalogue an epoch that shaped history and produced some of the greatest works of art of all time.
Another side of Florence's appeal goes way beyond the world of sculptures and gallery Madonnas. It has a river to give it heart, markets to give it life. Its citizens are proud and stylish, its streets part of a living city. Old-world artisans flourish, and designers dress it in a fashion to match Milan.
Its cuisine is superb, its cafés stylish and sedate. Cultural life abounds: the Maggio Musicale is one of Italy's finest arts festivals. The Giardino di Boboli is Italy's most visited garden.
Florence is also a city with its share of romance the Ponte Vecchio, for example, glimpsed across the Arno on a summer's evening; a late-night drink sipped in Piazza della Signoria; the flower-hung streets of the Oltrarno explored on a warm afternoon; or the majestic cityscapes to be enjoyed from
San Miniato or Giotto's lofty Campanile. It is also a city to fire the historical imagination. Picture,
for example, Dante, Machiavelli, Boccaccio, and Galileo wandering its streets.
The proverbial Florentine pride is an affront to many Italians, who wonder what it is, exactly,
that makes Florentines regard themselves so highly. The Renaissance, it seems, is one answer, a golden age that merely reflects qualities that are still possessed by the average Florentine. Certainly there are other reasons poets, painters and sculptors, scientists and political theorists; Dante and
Boccaccio; Botticelli and Michelangelo; Galileo and Machiavelli; Europe's first public library; the western world's first chair of Greek; the creation of a literary language; the rediscovery of perspective; the foundation of capitalism; the invention of opera, eye-glasses, the piano the list is long.
And yet their pride is no retrospective reaching after past glories. Rather, the past provides people with a powerful sense of their own identity, a sense of self-confidence borne of the knowledge that Florence has prospered for more than 2,000 years. And the reason it has prospered, of course,
as any Florentine will tell you, is the Florentines themselves.
Fashion and Style
Good Taste and High Quality
You have to look a long way in Italy to find a scruffy Italian. You have to look even farther in
Florence, where old and young alike parade the city streets dressed as if preening on some vast outdoor catwalk. Nowhere, with the exception of Milan, is the art of the bella figura, of creating a good impression, more keenly practiced. Cool and intellectual, the Florentines look to subtle and sober-minded clothes, mixing tweedy English classicism with dashes of Renaissance opulence.
Music and Festivals
Music and the Arts
Tuscans, and Florentines in particular, pride themselves on their culture. Colorful medieval memories may be evoked in their most famous pageants, but it is past glories of a cultural kind that they seek to celebrate in their more highbrow arts festivals. Performances of music, dance, and drama are held throughout the region, often in magnificent medieval settings or, as in the case of Fiesole,
in outdoor theaters of Roman vintage. Concert series fill Florentine churches, and they are also presented in green secluded corners (as in Barga's famous opera festival). Some festivals, such as
San Gimignano's, are provincial affairs confined to the town square. Others, such as Florence's Maggio
Musicale, are among Italy's most popular and prestigious arts events.
Food and Wine
It need not be much an obscure saint, the humble potato anything will do as long as it provides an excuse for a party. Small feste or sagre erupt across Tuscany throughout the year. Most take place in the summer, when long balmy evenings provide the perfect background for a night of festivities. Autumn, however, will do just as well, for then the grapes are brought in, and what better reason for celebration than a good harvest? Most village festivals begin with a special Mass,
followed by much dancing, overindulgence (of food rather than drink) and a rousing fireworks finale.
Brass bands provide a musical accompaniment (often of excruciating quality but quite remarkable enthusiasm). You should stumble across many such festivals by accident. If not, they are widely advertised on street posters and in local newspapers.
Craft on Every Corner
Few modern cities would find a place in their hard-pressed hearts for a breed straight out of the
Middle Ages. In Florence, however, artisans (artigiani) are very much a part of life. On Via della
Porcellana, for example, near Ognissanti, every doorway is a tumult of chair legs and dismembered tables, every interior a vignette of wood shavings and leather-aproned carpenters. A similar scene greets you around Santa Croce, where the smell of wood glue fills your nostrils and the clank of wrought iron rends the air. The picture is repeated (though in a different guise) on the Ponte Vecchio,
where you can look over the shoulders of latter-day portrait painters as they flatter their eager clients.
No one pretends that Florentines revel in the dolce vita to the extent of their Roman counterparts.
With a café on every corner, however, and a summer sun overhead, opportunities for the dolce far niente the sweet doing of nothing are as rich in Florence as almost anywhere in Italy.
The simple pleasures of a quiet cappuccino, or a calming aperitivo, are as much a part of enjoying
Italy as trudging around museums and galleries (and this is as true for a native as it is for a foreigner). No self-respecting Italian city, therefore, can do without its bars and cafes. And while
Florence's streets and piazzas may seem less welcoming than some, they still provide a colorful and more than adequate stage for lazy self-indulgence. They also provide the wherewithal for that other passive pastime people-watching.