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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Short History of Florence (& 59 Top Florence Cultural Attractions)


Intro to Florence

History of Florence

Florence Attractions

Introduction to Florence

Florence, often referred to as the "Cradle of the Renaissance," boasts a captivating history dating back to ancient Roman times. The Italian city is celebrated for its artistic treasures, architectural marvels, and profound cultural influence. In this blog post, we will explore the history of Florence and highlight its top cultural attractions that are must-visit destinations for any traveller.

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History of Florence

Sophisticated Florence

The city of Florence is justly celebrated as one of the most beautiful and historic in the world, cradle of the Italian Renaissance and home to some of the greatest masterpieces of European art and architecture. The city’s cultural reach is wide: what was once Florentine vernacular is now regarded as standard Italian, and their local coin, the florin, was for a time regarded as a trusted currency all around the world. So how did a small city achieve such global prominence?

Origins and Early Development

Founded by Julius Caesar in 59 BC as Florentia (literally ‘the place of flowers’), the city only truly began to distinguish itself in the 11th century, due to its production of a single product: cloth. Around the Mediterranean there was a growing demand for it, and Florence’s location on the River Arno proved to be its greatest asset. The waters narrowed at the city walls, and so were perfect for the washing and fulling (or preparation) of wool before it was woven. A lack of good local supply, however, meant that the city’s merchants would journey far and wide in search of raw materials before returning to Florence to produce the cloth – a lengthy process.

Economic Evolution and Banking

It was the time that elapsed between the purchase of the raw materials and the eventual sale of the cloth that led Florentines to develop their own banking system, in order to create formal credit arrangements. The city’s gold florin, first minted in 1252, began to be used across the continent and Florentine merchant families soon became famously rich. Before long, these wealthy dynasties began to dominate the politics of the city, forming guilds to represent their commercial interests and clashing with existing elites. When Dante Alighieri, one of Florence’s most famous inhabitants, began his Divine Comedy in 1308, he wrote it against the backdrop of bitter conflict between the Guelphs, who had their roots in the merchant classes, and the Ghibellines, drawn from the old aristocracy: it was the Guelphs who eventually triumphed.

Crisis and Resurgence

The next great upsurge in Florence’s fortunes arrived, paradoxically, just after its darkest hour. In 1348, the city was ravaged by the Black Death, losing as much as half of its population. However, in the wake of the great plague, wealth across Europe became more concentrated and there was an increase in the demand for luxury goods such as silk, a Florentine speciality. The reach of the Florentine silk trade was huge: at one time successful companies could have as many as 25 overseas branches, as far afield as Lisbon and Jerusalem.

Renaissance and Cultural Flourishing

It was this influx of wealth that facilitated the Renaissance, the great flourishing of art, culture and thought that began in the early 15th century. And what did these toweringly wealthy Florentines decide to do with all their money? They became patrons to artists and intellectuals, in a bid to secure their own status in the eyes of posterity. During this period Italian scholars and artists had rediscovered ancient texts and artworks from Roman times, leading to the Renaissance (literally ‘rebirth’) of Classical ideas and aesthetics. They absorbed this Classical past and made it new again – formulating, for example, laws of perspective in art and architecture that changed the way in which paintings and buildings were viewed and experienced. The great breakthroughs of the period were celebrated and emulated around the world and can still be found today in the city’s most celebrated sites, from the dome of Florence’s vast cathedral to the sculptures and artworks of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci displayed in the Accademia and the Uffizi.

Medici Rule

Throughout the Renaissance, politics in Florence was dominated by a single family: the Medici. Though the city had long been riven by factional conflict and rivalry between wealthy and ambitious families, the Medici managed to hold on to power relentlessly, transforming themselves into a dynasty that would rule Florence on and off for over 200 years. Their influence is writ large across the city to this day. They were the most significant of all Florentine patrons. To single out just one instance: Grand Duke Cosimo II appointed Galileo to his court, after the astronomer wisely chose to name the recently discovered moons of Jupiter ‘the Medicean stars’.

Legacy and Contemporary Significance

So how to summarise this dazzling city? One might be tempted to turn to Florence’s most celebrated poet, Dante Alighieri, though in truth he was more preoccupied with the next world than with this one, and for the last two decades of his life was famously exiled from his birthplace. In fact, it’s another of Florence’s great poets who best captures the city as we encounter it today. In the wake of the Black Death, as Florence was beginning to discover its modern potential, Boccaccio wrote the Decameron, his great hymn to humanity depicted in all its messiness and complexity. In it he celebrated the human potential to experience pleasure and wonder in this world, writing that ‘heaven would indeed be heaven if lovers were there permitted as much enjoyment as they had experienced on earth’. The city of Florence serves as a reminder of Boccaccio’s message: heavenly beauty and enjoyment can indeed be found, right here on earth.

Florence's Top 59 Cultural Attractions

Florence is home to a wealth of cultural attractions that offer a glimpse into the city's fascinating history and vibrant arts scene. From museums and galleries to churches and bridges, there is no shortage of things to see and do in this enchanting city. We have compiled a list of the top 59 cultural attractions in Florence. Whether you're a history buff, an art lover, or simply looking for a unique cultural experience, there's something for everyone.

1. San Miniato al Monte

San Miniato al Monte

2. Santo Spirito

Santo Spirito

3. Boboli Gardens

Boboli Gardens

4. Marino Marini Museum

Marino Marini Museum

5. Opera del Duomo Museum

Opera del Duomo Museum

6. Museum of San Marco

Museum of San Marco

7. Museo Novecento

Museo Novecento

8. Orsanmichele


9. Piazza della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria

10. Ponte Santa Trìnita

Ponte Santa Trìnita

11. Ognissanti


12. Bargello


13. San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo

14. Medici Chapels

Medici Chapels

15. Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria Novella

16. Casa Buonarroti

Casa Buonarroti

17. Palazzo Medici Riccardi

Palazzo Medici Riccardi

18. Monument to Dante

Monument to Dante

19. Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

20. Great Synagogue

Great Synagogue

21. Santa Maria del Carmine

Santa Maria del Carmine

22. Fortezza da Basso

Fortezza da Basso

23. Buontalenti Grotto

Buontalenti Grotto

24. Santa Trìnita

Santa Trìnita

25. La Specola

La Specola

26. Mercato del Porcellino

Mercato del Porcellino

27. National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum

28. Palazzo Davanzati

Palazzo Davanzati

29. Palazzo Gondi

Palazzo Gondi

30. Palazzo Martelli

Palazzo Martelli

31. Galleria dell’Accademia

Galleria dell’Accademia

32. Baptistery of Saint John

Baptistery of Saint John

33. Uffizi Gallery

Uffizi Gallery

34. Ospedale degli Innocenti

Ospedale degli Innocenti

35. Pitti Palace

Pitti Palace

36. Loggia dei Lanzi

Loggia dei Lanzi

37. Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

38. Santissima Annunziata

Santissima Annunziata

39. Santa Croce

Santa Croce

40. Florence Cathedral (Duomo di Firenze)

Florence Cathedral (Duomo di Firenze)

41. Palazzo Rucellai

Palazzo Rucellai

42. Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica

43. Ponte alle Grazie

Ponte alle Grazie

44. Porta San Niccolò

Porta San Niccolò

45. Sant'Apollonia


46. Museo Galileo

Museo Galileo

47. Sant'Ambrogio


48. Palazzo Strozzi

Palazzo Strozzi

49. Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio

Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio

50. Villa Bardini

Villa Bardini

51. Giardino Bardini

Giardino Bardini

52. Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina

Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina

53. Forte di Belvedere

Forte di Belvedere

54. Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

55. Museo Stefano Bardini

Museo Stefano Bardini

56. Opificio delle Pietre Dure

Opificio delle Pietre Dure

57. Museo Casa di Dante

Museo Casa di Dante

58. Museo Horne

Museo Horne

59. Mercato Centrale

Mercato Centrale

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