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Cradle of the Renaissance: Florence

Located in the heart of stunning Tuscany region, the city is surrounded by natural and manmade beauty at every turn – offering a journey of discovery and enlightenment as well as a feast for our senses

Florence has held sway since medieval times. It was a center of flourishing trade and finance and one of the richest cities in Europe during14-16th century. It is the birthplace of the 'Renaissance', the revival of European art and literature under the influence of classical models of form and style. This lead to an exalted expression of human creativity and artistic flourish. Florence is believed to be the birthplace of the Opera. Today's fashionistas vouch for the high-end fashion labels that come from the city.

Florence undisputedly dominated the political, economic, cultural and architectural landscape of Europe. The magic spell of the city is everlasting and continues to endure even today for anybody even remotely interested in architecture, arts, culture and fashion. One must look at the epic architecture and masterpieces of Renaissance art housed in its various museums to realize how Florence influenced vast swathes of European history.

The city's most famous architectural symbol is the orange-tiled Duomo designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. A walk through the maze of tiny allays lead you to the Duomo and the cathedral named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore, the tallest building in the city and the fourth largest church in Europe, completed in 1436 in the Gothic style. The cathedral complex includes the Baptistery with its famous bronze doors and Campanile (the tower) designed by Giotto, which is 20 ft shorter than the dome, clad in white, green, and pink marble.

As you enter the famous Duomo you will be greeted with wide-eyed tourists all gazing at the beautiful ceiling and admiring the Giorgio Vasari's frescos of the Last Judgement (1572-9) festooned on the dome ceiling. After climbing 463 narrow steps from the inside you will be greeted with extraordinary views of Florence city. Typical, brown and red-roofed houses and yellow and beige buildings sprout and spread in the vistas like a meticulously handmade canvas painting. A delightful site to view indeed!

These buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the Duomo had its share of vandals and wall graffiti in the past. To curtail this behavior the authorities have installed digital screens with the express intent of curb the behavior of spoiling the place and rather encourage visitors to leave behind their graffiti, scribbles recorded in a digital form, preserved for posterity.

The Piazza del Duomo square where the buildings are located is only open for pedestrians and vehicular traffic is barred, in a bid to save the monument from further damage due to pollution.

With such priceless monuments and art collections, the city of Florence undertakes multi-year restoration work which is an un-ending task and often requiring massive funds.

A few steps away from the main square is Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio. The statues at the piazza commemorate the city's major historical events and it has the replica of the famous Michelangelo statue David.

However, the original Michelangelo's work David is preserved in the Galleria dell' Accademia museum a few blocks down the road. David established Michelangelo, at the age of 29, as the foremost sculptor of his time.

Such is the beauty and realism of the sculpted work, that one can even see the blood capillaries delicately carved out on the statue as if it was for the real. The Hall of the Prisoners, displaying Michelangelo's unfinished "Slaves" is also exhibited here. The Galleria dell'Accademia offers much more in terms of learning botany, music, art symbols and painting techniques of the times.

A visit to Florence is incomplete without paying a visit to the Uffizi gallery. The Uffizi gallery is replete with artifacts, Italian Renaissance painting and European masterpieces, all accumulated over the centuries by the Medici family, perhaps the most important Florentine family ever lived. The gallery houses one of the most priceless collections of art anywhere in the world. You would image serpentine lines of visitors stretching out to get a glimpse of the gilded past and rare collections.

If the rigors of the museum hoping overwhelm you, you can take a walk to visit Palazzo Pitti called the Pitti Palace, situated on the south side of the River Arno. It was originally built for the banker Luca Pitti who wanted to outdo the Medici family through its display of wealth and power. In a reversal of fortune, the construction bankrupted the Pitti's heirs and later Medici's purchased the palace making it their main residence in 1550. Today, the Pitti palace richly decorated rooms have on display treasures from the Medici collections. Apart from the Royal Apartments, it consists of the Silver Museum, Porcelain Museum and Costume Gallery.

The Pitti Palace is surrounded by a beautiful stylized Renaissance-era garden, called Boboli Garden covering 111 acres. As you meander around the gardens you will see stunning contrasts and forms, an amphitheater, boxed hedges clipped into symmetrical geometric patterns, groves of cypress trees and countless statues and fountains that adorn the garden. All spectacularly creating an extravagant visual theatre and intrigue at the same time. One of the most beautiful places in the garden is the Grotto of Buontalenti which reproduces natural elements of a cave in the playful style typical of Mannerism. Well, can gardens also be a work of art? Boboli gardens leave no doubt about it. The pomp and privileged lives of the Medici's are in dizzying display here.

As you step out of the gardens you will find a variety of souvenir, fashion, and jewelry shops as you walk down the medieval streets. The Florentine leather is renowned and you will be spoilt for choice to buy shoes, bags, and other leather goods.

After spending a day hopping from one tourist attraction to the other, what better way to relax and have a quintessential Italian Gelato – that rich, textured, densely flavored, and sinfully delicious ice cream.

Florence draws visitors like a magnet. The priceless works of art and artefacts and museums give one a glimpse of the talented, creative and enlightened minds of the Florentine society and its distinctive advancement and immense contribution to the world of art and culture.

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