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VISIT FLORENCE

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PONTEVECCHIO

Pontevecchio

Built in ancient times by the Etruscans, the bridge has weathered many storms - and storming by invading legions. Because of its location over the widest part of the Arno River, the bridge has been rebuilt and restored many times throughout its long history. Originally the bridge was built to allow access over the Arno. Slowly, with so much traffic going over it, a few enterprising parties decided to set up shop on the bridge itself. It was also around this time that the powerful Medici family moved into Florence. Soon the blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners were replaced with goldsmiths and artists, and the number of shops increased tremendously. Between 1565 and 1800, an upper level was added, as was a back row of shops. All this increased trade not only helped Florence grow, but the new shops also gave the bridge structure and strength. The Ponte Vecchio is the only of Florence's bridges to have survived WWII, and in 1966, when a massive flood wiped out the shops on the bridge, the bridge itself was strong enough to withstand the roaring waters.

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SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE CATHEDRAL

Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral

Santa Maria del Fiore is a gothic cathedral built on the site of the ancient Santa Reparata following the plans of Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. Brunelleschi completed the construction with its elegant dome in 1436, the interior frescos are by Vasari and Zuccardi. The facade dates back to the second hallf of 1900. The square Bell Tower, designed by Giotto and placed to the right, was constructed in 1334 and decorated by blocks and sculptures with mullioned and three-mullioned windows and covered by wonderful polychrome marble. The romanic Baptistry stands in front, covered by white and green marble, the inside of the dome being completely covered by mosaics. The incredible doors are the work of Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti.

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GIOTTO'S BELLTOWER

Giotto's Belltower

To the right of the Florence Cathedral stands the celebrated Bell Tower by Giotto di Bondone, started in 1334 by the great painter and architect. After his death in 1337, the work was continued by Andrea Pisano, and later again by Francesco Talenti who completed it in 1359. According to a drawing conserved in Siena and attributed to his hand, Giotto imagined the tower rising into the sky, topped with a tall, splendidly Gothic spire. Talenti, on the other hand, preferred to finish the tower with a flat top above a large window with three lights. The vertical sweep of the whole tower is brought to life by the chromatic effect of the changing colors. The Habsburg Emperor, Charles V, during a visit to Florence in 1536, remarked –and rightly so- that this Bell Tower has such rare beauty that it should remain under wraps and be put on display on great occasions only.

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PALAZZO VECCHIO

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo della Signoria, or Palazzo Vecchio, as it appears today, is the result of at least three successive building stages between the 13th-16th centuries: the actual construction of Arnolfo's palace, overlooking the square and placed next to the Loggia dei Lanzi; the first alterations in Republican times, and the later restructuration carried out by Vasari, after the coming to power of Cosimo I de' Medici, who moved into the palace with all his family. Palazzo Vecchio's exclusive role as the political representative of the city gradually lost importance from 1565 for three centuries, being partly replaced by the Uffizi and the new Palace at Pitti, though it came to the fore again at the end of this last century: after the Lorraine family had been expelled from the city in 1848, it became the seat of United Italy's provisional government from 1865-71, when Florence was the capital of the kingdom of Italy, and housed the Chamber of Deputies (the Senate sat next door in the Uffizi, linked up by an overhead passageway above Via della Ninna). It was to return to its original function as the seat of the City Council in 1872. Although the palace today contains the offices of the City Council, much of it can still be visited.

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UFFIZI GALLERY

Uffizi by night

This is one of the most famous museums of paintings and sculpture in the world. Its collection of Primitive and Renaissance paintings comprises several universally acclaimed masterpieces of all time, including works by Giotto, Simone Martini, Piero della Francesca, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and Caravaggio. German, Dutch and Flemish masters are also well represented with important works by Dürer, Rembrandt and Rubens. The Uffizi Gallery occupies the top floor of the large building erected by Giorgio Vasari between 1560 and 1580 to house the administrative offices of the Tuscan State. The Gallery was created by Grand-duke Francesco I and subsequently enriched by various members of the Medici family, who were great collectors of paintings, sculpture and works of art. The collection was rearranged and enlarged by the Lorraine Grand-dukes, who succeeded the Medici, and finally by the Italian State. The Uffizi buildings also house other important collections: the Contini Bonacossi Collection and the Collection of Prints and Drawings (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi). The Vasari Corridor, the raised passageway connecting the Uffizi with the Pitti Palace, was built by Vasari in 1565. It is hung with an important collection of 17th-century paintings and the famous collection of artists’ Self-portraits.

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SIGNORIA SQUARE

Signoria Square

The Piazza della Signoria is an open-air museum in the center of Florence. On the corner of the Palazzo della Signoria (or Palazzo Vecchio) there is the famous fountain with the figure of Neptune in white Carrara marble by sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati. The fauns and the marine divinities are works fused in bronze by Giambologna. In the back of the picture there is the Loggia dei Lanzi. Under the elegant arches of the loggia - which were erected between 1376-1382 for the public ceremonies of the Signoria - there are many sculptures on display. There are six Roman statues representing heroines. Hercules and the Centaur is by Giambologna. To the sides of the loggia there are two masterpieces: Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini and the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna.

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BASILICA OF SANTA CROCE

Santa Croce Cathedral

The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church of Florence and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated on the Piazza Santa Croce, to the east of the Duomo. Legend says that Santa Croce was founded by St. Francis himself. The current church was probably begun in 1294, possibly by Arnolfo di Cambio. The church is vast. Its most notable features are its sixteen chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils, and its funerary monuments. In 1560, the choir screen was removed and the interior rebuilt by Giorgio Vasari, who damaged the church's decoration in the process. In the Primo Chiostro, the main cloister, is the Cappella dei Pazzi, built as the chapter house by Filippo Brunelleschi between 1442 and 1446 and finally completed in the 1470s. The Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce is housed mainly in the refectory, also off the cloister.

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PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO

Michelangelo Square

Piazzale Michelangelo was built in 1869 to plans by Giuseppe Poggi; it offers a splendid panorama of the city. In the middle of this plaza stand bronze copies of Michelangelo’s "David" and the four statues on the tombs in the Medici Chapels. Just above Piazzale Michelangelo is the basilica of San Miniato al Monte. Its green and white marble façade is considered one of the finest examples of the Florentine Romanesque style. Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, it contains fine artworks such as the chapel of the Crucifixion by Michelozzo and the chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal both decorated by Luca della Robbia and the splendid frescoes by Spinello Aretino, depicting "Scenes from the Life of St. Benedict".

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