Florence – Italy, Europe
Florence (Italian: Firenz, alternate obsolete form: Fiorenza; Latin: Florentia) is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with c. 370,000 inhabitants (1,500,000 in the metropolitan area).
The city lies on the River Arno; it is known for its history and its importance in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, especially for its art and architecture and, more generally, for its cultural heritage. A centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance; it has been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. A turbulent political history included periods of rule by the powerful Medici family, religious and republican revolution. From 1865 to 1870 the city was also the capital of the recently established Kingdom of Italy.
The historic centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year, and Euromonitor International ranked the city as the world’s 72nd most visited in 2009, with 1.685 million visitors. It was declared a World Heritage Site UNESCO in 1982. Due to Florence’s artistic and architectural heritage, it has been ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the city is noted for its history, culture, Renaissance art and architecture and monuments. The city also contains numerous museums and art galleries, such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace, amongst others, and still exerts an influence in the fields of art, culture and politics. Florence is also an important city in Italian fashion, being ranked within the top fifty fashion capitals of the world; furthermore, it is also a major national economic centre, being a tourist and industrial hub. In 2008, the city had Italy’s 17th highest average income per capita.
Florence originated as a Roman city, and later, after a period as a flourishing trading and banking medieval commune, it was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance (or the “Florentine Renaissance”). According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, it was politically, economically, and culturally one of the most important cities in Europe and the world from the 14th century to the 16th century.
The language spoken in the city there during the 14th century was, and still is, accepted as a pan-Italian language. Almost all the writers and poets in the Italian literature of the golden age are somewhat connected with Florence, leading ultimately to the adoption of the Florentine dialect above all the local dialects, as a literary language of choice.
Starting from the late Middle Ages, Florentine money—in the form of the gold florin—financed the development of industry all over Europe, from Britain to Bruges, to Lyon and Hungary. Florentine bankers financed the English kings during the Hundred Years War, as well as the papacy, including the construction of their provisional capital of Avignon and, after their return to Rome, the reconstruction and Renaissance embellishment of the latter.
Florence was home to the Medici, one of history’s most important noble families. Lorenzo de’ Medici was considered a political and cultural mastermind of Italy in the late 15th century. Two members of the family, were popes as Leo X and Clement VII in the early 16th century. Catherine de Medici, married king Henry II of France and, after his death in 1559, reigned as regent in France. The Medici reigned Grand Dukes of Tuscany starting with Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1569, until the death of Gian Gastone de’ Medici in 1737.
Florence lies in a basin among the Senese Clavey Hills, particularly the hills of Careggi, Fiesole, Settignano, Arcetri, Poggio Imperiale and Bellosguardo (Florence). The Arno river and three other minor rivers flow through it.
Florence has a borderline humid subtropical (Cfa) and Mediterranean climate (Csa). It has hot, humid summers with high rainfall and cool, damp winters. Surrounded by hills in a river valley, Florence can be hot and humid from June to August. As Florence lacks a prevailing wind, summer temperatures are higher than along the coast. Rainfall in summer is convectional, while relief rainfall dominates in the winter, with some snow. The highest officially recorded temperature was 42.6 °C (108.7 °F) in 26 July 1983 and the lowest was −23.2 °C (−9.8 °F) on 12 January 1985.
Florence is known as the “cradle of the Renaissance” (la culla del Rinascimento) for its monuments, churches and buildings. The best-known site of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as The Duomo, whose dome was built by Filippo Brunelleschi. The nearby Campanile (partly designed by Giotto) and the Baptistery buildings are also highlights. The dome, 600 years after its completion, is still the largest dome built in brick and mortar in the world.
In 1982, the historic centre of Florence (Italian: centro storico di Firenze) was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. The centre of the city is contained in medieval walls that were built in the 14th century to defend the city.
At the heart of the city, in Piazza della Signoria, is Bartolomeo Ammanati’s Fountain of Neptune (1563–1565), which is a masterpiece of marble sculpture at the terminus of a still-functioning Roman aqueduct.
Tourism is the most significant industry in central Florence. From April to October, tourists outnumber local population. Tickets to the Uffizi and Accademia museums are regularly sold out and large groups regularly fill the basilicas of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, both of which charge for entry. In 2010, readers of Travel + Leisure magazine ranked the city as their third favourite tourist destination. Studies by Euromonitor International have concluded that cultural and history-oriented tourism is generating significantly increased spending throughout Europe.
Florence is believed to have the greatest concentration of art (in proportion to its size) in the world. Thus, cultural tourism is particularly strong, with world-renowned museums such as the Uffizi selling over 1.6 million tickets a year. The city’s convention centre facilities were restructured during the 1990s and host exhibitions, conferences, meetings, social forums, concerts and other events all year.
Florence has approximately 35,000 hotel beds and 23,000 other accommodation facilities (campsites, guesthouses, youth hostels and farmhouses), giving potential for overall stays to exceed 10 million visitor/nights a year. Visitors also include thousands of day-trippers brought in by cruise ships (to Livorno) and by road and rail. In 2007, the city ranked as the world’s 59th most visited city, with over 1.729 million arrivals for the year. It has been estimated that just under one-third of tourists are Italians, the remainder comprising Americans (20%), Germans (13%), Japanese (8%), Britons (7.8%), French (5.7%) and Spaniards (5%).
Florence being historically the first home of Italian fashion (the 1951–1953 soirées held by Giovanni Battista Giorgini are generally regarded as the birth of the Italian school as opposed to French haute couture) is also home to the Italian fashion establishment Salvatore Ferragamo. Gucci, Enrico Coveri, Emilio Pucci, Patrizia Pepe, Ermanno Scervino and many others are founded and located in Florence. Prada, Roberto Cavalli, and Chanel have large offices and stores in Florence or its outskirts. Florence’s main upscale shopping street is Via de’ Tornabuoni, where major luxury fashion houses and jewelry labels, such as Armani, Ferragamo and Bulgari, have their boutiques. Florence has been ranked as the 31st main fashion capital of the world by the Global Language Monitor, making it Italy’s third most important fashion centre after Milan and Rome.
The San Lorenzo market is now largely for tourists. Great places to walk include along the Arno and across any of its bridges, through narrow, medieval back streets in the Santa Croce area and in the Oltr’Arno – on the south side of the river, in many ways like Rome’s Trastevere or Paris’s Left Bank – but far smaller. There are also superb shopping streets, such as the Via Tornabuoni, the Via del Parione, and the Via Maggio.
The principal public transport network within the city is run by the ATAF and Li-nea bus company, with tickets available at local tobacconists, bars and newspaper stalls. Individual tickets or a pass called the Carta Agile with multiple rides (10 or 21) may be used on buses. Once on the bus, tickets must be stamped (or swiped for the Carta Agile) using the machines on board, unlike the train tickets, which must be validated before boarding. The main bus station is next to Santa Maria Novella railway station. Trenitalia runs trains between the railway stations within the city, and to other destinations around Italy and Europe. The central railway station, Santa Maria Novella railway station, is located about 500 metres (1,600 ft) northwest of the Piazza del Duomo. There are two other important stations: Campo Di Marte and Rifredi. Most bundled routes are Firenze-Pisa, Firenze-Viareggio and Firenze-Arezzo (along the main line to Rome). Other local railways connect Florence with Borgo San Lorenzo and Siena.
Long distance 10 km (6.21 mi) buses are run by the SITA, Copit, CAP and Lazzi companies. The transit companies also accommodate travellers from the Amerigo Vespucci Airport, which is five kilometres (3.1 mi) west of the city centre, and which has scheduled services run by major European carriers such as Air France and Lufthansa.
The centre of the city is closed to through-traffic, although buses, taxis and residents with appropriate permits are allowed in. This area is commonly referred to as the ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato), which is divided into five subsections. Residents of one section, therefore, will only be able to drive in their district and perhaps some surrounding ones. Cars without permits are allowed to enter after 7.30 pm, or before 7.30 am in the morning. The rules shift during the tourist-filled summers, putting more restrictions on where one can get in and out.
Due to the high level of air pollution and traffic in the city, an urban tram network called the TramVia is under construction in the city. The first line runs from Scandicci to the southwest through the western side of the city, cross the River Arno at the Cascine Park and arrive to the main railway station of Santa Maria Novella. Two other lines are in the final design phase.