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Duomo - Florence

Florence
(Tuscany)

Palazzo Vecchio - Florence


This fertile region lies between the northern Appennines and the Mediterranean Sea. The landscape of Tuscany is, typically, one of vine covered hills, cypress woods, fields of sunflowers and remote hilltop villages. Chianti, the best-known Italian wine, is made here. There are a number of volcanic spas, most notably Montecatini, Bagni di Lucca, Casciana Terme and Chianciano.


Florence


T
he principal Tuscan city, is the world’s most celebrated storehouse of Renaissance art and architecture. Set on the banks of the Arno below the wooded foothills of the Appennines, this beautiful city has long been the focus of Italian arts and letters. Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Alberti, Masaccio, Donatello, Botticelli, Vasari and Fra Angelico are among the many associated with establishing the pre-eminence of the city. Brunelleschi’s revolutionary design for the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is generally accepted as the first expression of Renaissance ideas in architecture. This dome still dominates the city’s roofs cape, just as the great Piazza del Duomo at its feet dominates life at street level. The square is ringed with cafés and is a popular meeting point. Between there and the river are many of the best-loved palaces – including Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo Corsini, Palazzo Rucellai, Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery – whilst close by to the north are the churches of Santa Maria Novella and San Lorenzo (by Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and others), and the Palazzo Medici-Riccordi. The Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens are just across the river (via the Ponte Vecchio).

The Uffizi Gallery houses a celebrated art collection – indeed it claims to hold the finest collections of paintings anywhere in the world. Examples of work start from the transition period when Europe was emerging from the Middle Ages, largely represented by religious paintings and icons (notably by Lorenzo Monaco, Giottino and Gentile da Fabriano), through the highpoint of the Renaissance to the early 18th century. Some of the most famous paintings of each period are in the Uffizi, such as Botticelli’s Birth Of Venus, Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, Michelangelo’s Holy Family, Titian’s Urbino Venus and Caravaggio’s Young Bacchus. One of the most striking paintings is the Medusa by Caravaggio.

Michelangelo’s famous statue of David may be viewed at the Accademia di Belle Arti near the University.


Siena


The most prosperous era pre-dated the Renaissance and consequently much of the fabric of the city is in the older Gothic and Romanesque styles. There is a fine Gothic and Romanesque Cathedral built in stunning black and white marble with a magnificent interior (visitors dressed inappropriately, i.e. in short skirts, shorts or skimpy shirts, will be denied entry). The Piazzo del Campo, overlooked by the giant campanile of the Palazzo Pubblico, is possibly the most complete Gothic piazza in Italy. The city is an important religious centre, being the birthplace of St Catherine, and there is a church here devoted to her worship. The 700-year-old university holds a summer school in Italian. Siena is probably most famous for its Palios, bare-backed horse-races which take place every year on July 2 and August 16 around the huge Campo in the centre of Siena. It has been a special event since the 14th century and attracts crowds from all over the world.


Pisa


North of Siena, is famous for its Leaning Tower, a free-standing campanile or bell tower associated with the 11th-century Gothic Cathedral nearby. Near the Quadrilateral is the Campo Santo Cemetery. Built in the 13th century to enclose earth brought from Jerusalem, it is a unique colonnaded quadrangle in the Tuscan Gothic style.


Other towns of note in Tuscany include Lucca, famous for its one hundred churches and robust city walls; San Gimignano, known as the ‘city of beautiful towers’ and one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Italy; Volterra, another beautifully preserved medieval town perched on a hilltop; Livorno (Leghorn), the principal commercial port; and Carrara, where high-grade white marble has been quarried since Etruscan times.


The coast of Tuscany offers many sandy beaches. Popular beach resorts include Viareggio, Forte dei Marmi, Lido di Camaiore, Marina di Pietrasanta, Marina di Massa, Tirrenia, Castiglione della Pescaia, San Vincenzo, Castiglioncello, Quercianella, Porto Santo Stefano, Porto Ercole, Ansedonia and Talamone.


The Tuscan Archipelago is a group of scattered islands lying between Tuscany and Corsica. The best known are Elba and Giglio. There are regular hydrofoil and ferry links with mainland ports. Elba is 17.5km (28 miles) long and 7.5km (12 miles) wide, and can be reached by steamer or hydrofoil from Piombino. Famous as the place where Napoleon was briefly exiled before his final defeat at Waterloo, it has lovely beaches and campsites shaded by pines. Napoleon’s two homes can be visited: one, the Palazzina Napoleonica dei Mulini, which he created out of two windmills, situated near the Forte della Stella, Portoferraio and the other, 6km (4 miles) away, the Villa Napoleonica di San Martino, which he set up as his country seat. Near to this villa is the Pinacoteca Foresiana, a neo-classical art gallery built in 1851.



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