The city in the fertile Ombrone Valley is worth a visit because of its historic center. Around the vibrant market area with shops and cafes medieval buildings of great charm can be visited, the Cathedral and the octagonal Baptistery being of special note. At the beginning of July Pistoia becomes the Mecca of the Blues fans when the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berre perform at the annual festival in the cathedral square.
Italy to France: Venice, Florence, Rome & Paris
Oldest church in Florence
The basilica was already consecrated in 393 AD, making it most likely the oldest church in Florence. Many hundreds of years the massive hall had been the central city church before being replaced by Santa Reparata and later the Duomo. Its present appearance dates back to the 15th century. Once again it was the Medici family, who financed the reconstruction. The outside of the church seems a lot simpler than its interior, which is owed to disagreements between the awarding authority and the famous architect Brunelleschi. Despite or possibly because of these tensions: The result is impressive. A masterpiece is the painting inside the dome. Evidence of the lavish wealth is also the Cappella dei Principi, which is studded with semi-precious stones.
Work of art with a striking dome
The Cathedral of Florence is the fourth largest church in Europe. The huge building emerges visibly from the cityscape. Especially prominent is the dome with a total height of 114 meters. Begun in 1296 the structure was always meant to be monumental, also in order to outdo Pisa or Venice, the competitors at the time. The works however quickly stalled and weren't fully completed until 1887. Besides the dome the freestanding bell tower with twelve bells and a height of 85 meters is especially striking. Also the interior is monumental. A masterly achievement is the ornamental painting of the dome: an area of 4000 square meters. Apart from the cathedral, visitors can see the dome, the bell tower and the Baptistery of San Giovanni.
Home of Pinocchio
The village 16 kilometers east of Lucca is well worth a visit. There have been written “stories of a jointed doll,” which made their way into world literature as the Adventures of Pinocchio. The Parco di Pinocchio reminds of that. Above the village sits Villa Garzoni, a great baroque Luccan villa with a stunning terrace garden dating back to 1652.
Mountain pass with a German military cemetery
The mountain pass crossing the Apennines reaches a height of 903 meters. At the time of the Roman Empire, the Via Flaminia led across the pass. During World War II there were military fortifications in connection with the Linea Gotica, the Gothic Line, which was still fought over in April 1945. At the summit lies a German military cemetery. With more than 30,000 fallen soldiers it is the largest in the whole of Italy.
Renaissance park with views of Florence
The magnificent renaissance park at Palazzo Pitti was the most famous garden in all of Italy during the 16th century. The landscape architects have created it in such a way that Florence is always a focal point. Today visitors can explore grottos, fountains, an amphitheater and even an Egyptian obelisk on the nearly five-hectare site. The Boboli Gardens are open daily.
A personally guided tour of Florence
Habsburg spa town with Art Nouveau architecture
This spa town, founded by the Habsburgs, is now one of the largest and most renowned spas in Italy. It is also a major center for Art Nouveau architecture. At the northeastern end of the resort, you will find the valley station of the cable railway that can take you up to Montecatini, the original town. This cable railway, called the Funicolare di Montecatini Terme, is the oldest one in Italy. From the market square of Montecatini Alto, you can enjoy the view while drinking a cappuccino.
Palaces of the Medici
The palace from 1458, which belonged to the wealthy merchant family Pitti, is still one of the largest buildings of Florence. However, it only took on its current appearance a hundred years later when an even richer family, the Medici, moved in. The Pittis had been disowned after they had allegedly taken part in a conspiracy. After the Medici had lost their power, the dukes of Tuscany and later the kings of Italy resided there. In 1565 a kilometer-long corridor between the Pitti Palace and Palazzo Vecchio was built to shield the noblemen and wealthy from the plebs when they left their residence to walk to the town hall. Today dukes and kings have disappeared, so the palace only houses a few museums and exhibitions.
Murals by da Vinci and Michelangelo
The headquarters of the secular power in Florence was completed in 1314 and served the representatives of the Republic as a residential and conference building. For security reasons it was designed like a fortified tower with battlements and small windows. Next to the building the tower rises up 94 meters. After the government seized power the Medici palace was completely rebuilt, lined with gold and decorated with wall paintings from the great da Vinci and Michelangelo. Today the palace serves as the Town Hall.
Power center of Florence
In the 14th and 15th centuries the strings of power converged here. The largest piazza of Florence was lined with important buildings, most notably the Palazzo Vecchio. Still a major attraction and meeting point is Neptune's Fountain by Bartolomeo Ammannati. All attractions of the city can be reached on foot from the Piazza della Signoria. On the square itself there are several significant copies of statues, most notably the replica of David by Michelangelo.
Panoramic views of Florence
The most beautiful panoramic views of Florence can be admired from the Piazzale Michelangelo. The square was built in 1865 when Florence was the capital of Italy. An eight-kilometer magnificent avenue leads gently uphill to the square. There are some bronze replicas of works of Michelangelo, amongst others that of David. There is also a pavilion with a restaurant. Especially at night, when Florence lights up below, the Piazzale Michelangelo is a popular meeting place.
Masterpiece of Renaissance architecture
Built in 1345 the bridge over the Arno River is one of the oldest segmental arch bridges in the world. Along the sides there are buildings in which butchers and tanners formerly pursued their craft. Today jewelers line the bridge. The best view of this masterpiece of Renaissance architecture is rendered from the low bridge, the Ponte Santa Trinita. From there one can walk along the river to the Ponte Vecchio.
Tension and harmony in the interior
The basilica on the highest point of the city is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Italy. Although built around 1000 the Church is neither spectacular nor particularly large from the outside. But the interior is most convincing. The altar is in fact not on a level with the nave, but is elevated and one cannot look onto the the top of it. The unusual symbols on the portico are to this day a mystery to art historians. The ceiling has a very different style and really does not match the rest of the church. However, all elements work harmoniously with each other. There is a beautiful view over Florence when leaving the Basilica.
From the cathedral to the Centro Storico to the Giardino di Boboli
This is our suggested route if you want to get to know Florence on your own. From the train station, it will take you to the cathedral, the historic center of town and then across the Arno over the Ponte Vecchio. The Boboli Gardens on the other side of the river offer the most beautiful view of the city. (3 hrs, 6 km, elevation change: 90 m)
This building, which dates back to 1580, was originally intended to house the offices of the city government (“uffici” is Italian for “offices”). Cosimo I. de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, had to tear down an entire city block just to make room for the new building. The final result was an elongated, symmetrical square flanked by two identical facades and connected to the banks of the Arno River via the Piazza della Signoria. Today, the structure houses the most important art collection in Italy. The Galleria degli Uffizi exhibits sculptures and paintings with pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. It also has the famous portrait of Martin Luther painted by the German artist Lucas Cranach.
Birthplace of Leonardo and his 16 half siblings
Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452 in Vinci – hence his last name. His father, a notary, was 25 years old when Leonardo was born. Leonardo's mother was the 22-year-old Arabian slave Caterina. She later married the owner of a potter's workshop and had five additional children. Leonardo's father married four more times and had nine sons and two daughters from his last two wives. Today, this tranquil town has a population of 15,000 and lies on an idyllic back road near Florence. The house where Leonardo was born is in the part of town called Anchiano. There is a museum in the medieval castle overlooking Vinci, which houses drawings and models of the artist's inventions.