Florence Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Italy > Florence > History

Florence is famous amongst tourists for her glorious artwork and her cultural heritage; she is celebrated for the Humanist movement and aestheticism by scholars and lovers of Classicism alike (classicism is a movement which Florentine artists have always regarded highly and plays a large part in their work). All these things combine to make the city what it is today. Although she is a small city, and, in some aspects rather provincial, she is at the same time a meeting place for visitors and ex-pats of all ages and nationalities.

The historic city centre is most representative of Florence today. This area is inhabited less and less by Florentines, while the number of students living here is gradually increasing. Some of these are Italian, but most are American. The city centre is developed according to an urban plan which is based upon the 'cardo' and 'decumano' road system implemented by the Romans.

Here you will see the enormous, imposing structure of the Duomo, with its Brunelleschian cupola which is a distinguishing feature in any panoramic view of this city full of historic monuments. The city has also preserved its Medieval network of streets, along which are situated the regular, geometric Renaissance palaces such as Palazzo Strozzi and Palazzo Medici-Riccardi which once belonged to Florence's powerful, oligarchical families.

Florence is divided into five districts, out of which the historic city centre is of the greatest interest to tourists. It is itself divided into four sections, corresponding to the Medieval layout of the city. These are: San Giovanni, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and Santo Spirito Oltrarno.

The Historic city centre
San Giovanni

This is named after the Patron of Florence, St John the Baptist, in whose honour the Baptistery was built. This area covers most of the historic city centre and is now - in line with the new commercial boom - full of exclusive boutiques which are concentrated in a few of the most well-known streets, such as Via Calzaiuoli which links the 'Duomo' to the Piazza della Signoria. The university and the Tribunale di Firenze (which is housed in the Complesso di San Filippo Neri) are also in this district.

Santa Maria Novella
This district is named after the Santa Maria Novella church ' a Dominican basilica and important cultural centre during the Middle Ages. The train station of the same name ' designed in the 1930s by the young architect Michelucci ' is also situated nearby. Not far from the station is the Basso Fortress, which is now used as an important centre for conferences, conventions and exhibitions (such as, amongst others, the one by the fashion company 'Pitti Moda'). Along the western slope of the river Arno, stretches the delle Cascine Park, one of the city's green oases. In this area lies a street which is famous for being home to some of Italy's most prestigious designer labels, Via Tornabuoni, where amongst others, you will find Gucci, Versace and the Florentine Ferragamo.

Santa Croce
The Santa Croce church gives its name to the eastern part of the historic city centre. The church itself is a Medieval Franciscan basilica. It is bounded by the National Central Library which was built in the tenth century.

Santo Spirito Oltrarno
This district runs from San Frediano to San Niccolò Oltrarno, but its heart is probably the Piazza Santo Spirito, - which has retained much of its historic charm. It is full of artist's workshops which appeared immediately after the war. This piazza is also characterised by parties on summer evenings, which bring together young Florentines and foreigners, many of whom live in this area. The Pitti Palace with its old Medicean garden and the Boboli Garden which extends all the way to the Belvedere Fort at the top of a hill, are both in Oltrarno. Atop the other hill in this district, is the famous piazza with the panoramic view - Piazzale Michelangelo. From here, it is possible to see one of the few remaining stretches of Medieval wall around the Belvedere Fort which was spared from demolition in the nineteenth century, as is the stretch which is still visible near the Roman Gate.

Beyond the final ring of city walls, stands 'the city outside the walls'. If few Florentines live in the historic city centre, there are many more who live in this district and in the rest of the 'city outside the walls', which was replaced by a network of ring roads during the nineteenth century:

Campo di Marte
The Campo di Marte district lies on the north-eastern side, and is home to many historical buildings dating back to the turn of the century, as well as to many modern blocks of flats in cement and stone which were built from the fifties onwards. There are also numerous sports venues: several swimming pools and the Franchi Stadium. In Campo di Marte, you will also find both the 'delle Cure' area from where you can get to Fiesole, and the Bellariva area which once made up the Piagentina countryside ' which always induced feelings of nostalgia in Tuscan painters.

This district lies south of the Arno where it meets the southern hills just before the Chiantigiana road which leads to the Chianti wine region. On the south-western side, the district takes in the urban agglomeration of Galluzo, which is famous for its Carthusian monastery.

Isolotto e Legnaia
This district unites 'l'Isoloto' and 'Legnaia' as well as other parts of the city which were developed during the sixties and seventies and are still expanding westwards. The 'Isoletto' district in particular was once the scene of various clashes and social unrest during the sixties. Even now, the problem (typical of over-crowded suburbs everywhere) has not completely gone away, despite a seemingly widespread air of contentment.

Rifredi is in the north-western part of the city, where, from the fifteenth century onwards, the Medici family had built their country villas, such as Villa di Careggi, Villa di Castello and the La Petraia Villa in the Castello region. In this district you will also find the industrialised residential areas of Novoli, Firenze Nova, Brozzi, Le Piagge and l'Olmatello ' these last ones having such poor infrastructures that they have almost been relegated to the status of commuter towns. Brozzi has a high number of Chinese immigrants and is therefore representative of the new multi-ethnic towns, as are several parts of the city centre such as Piazza Santa Maria Novella where you will often see many Somalian and Eritrean immigrants.
The ever-increasing number of immigrants coming from all over the world and their sometimes enforced co-habitation with local residents, represents one of the key elements of the major changes which are taking place ' changes that are not without social tensions. This is a portent of the multi-cultural society of the future, possible even in a city like Florence which is so over-shadowed by its historical identity and wary of change.