Florence is the capital city of the region of Tuscany, an important university town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is universally acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and home to some of its greatest art and architecture, to be found for example, in the Cathedral, the church of Santa Croce, the Uffizi and Pitti Palace Museums, and the Piazza della Signoria and Ponte Vecchio.
Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, the extraordinary development in literature, art and scientific knowledge that took place in the 15th and 16th centuries. With its world-famous artists, thinkers, writers and scientists (among whom are Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Machiavelli and Galileo and many more) Florence benefited enormously both materially and spiritually from the Renaissance, and became the leading protagonist in this great new flowering of human culture.
The heart of Florence is the Piazza della Signoria, with its majestic Palazzo Vecchio, The Loggia dei Lanci with its masterpieces of sculpture, and the nearby Uffizi Gallery, one of the greatest art museums of the world. Not far away is Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Florence, with its magnificent dome, built by Filippo Brunelleschi. Next to the Cathedral stands Giotto's Bell-tower, and the Baptistery of St John with its famous bronze doors, and the gold-plated ‘Door of Heaven'
The River Arno runs through the city; one of the bridges that cross it is the Ponte Vecchio, unique of its kind, with houses and jeweller's shops built upon it. The bridge was the only one to survive the Second World War.
Besides the Uffizi, Florence boasts other museums that would take pride of place in any city of the world: the Accademia, the Bargello and the Pitti Palace, which contains eight separate museums, including the Galleria Palatina. Florence can also be said to be home to two of the best examples of human beauty: the Venus of Botticelli and the David of Michelangelo.
SOME PLACES TO VISIT IN FLORENCE
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Cathedral is the fifth-largest church in Europe, after St Peter's in Rome, St Paul's in London, Seville Cathedral and the Duomo of Milan. It is in fact 153 metres long, while the dome, the largest ever built in brickwork, has a diameter of 90 metres.
The Baptistery of San Giovanni The building is decorated magnificently both on its outside and in its interior, by various Florentine masters; the mosaics on the inside of the dome are justly famous, as is the Porta del Paradiso, called by Michelangelo the ‘Gates of Heaven', sculpted by Lorenzo Ghiberti.
Santa Maria Novella The Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, on the square of the same name, contains priceless artworks such as the frescoes by Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Filippino Lippi and Domenico Ghirlandaio. The upper part of the façade and the main entrance portal are masterpieces of artistic harmony, by Leon Battista Alberti.
Santa Croce The Franciscan basilica of Santa Croce is one of the greatest examples of Gothic architecture in Italy, and contains artistic masterpieces such as the Pazzi Chapel by Brunelleschi, where many of Italy's most famous sons have their funerary monuments, including Donatello, Michelangelo, Leon Battista Alberti, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Galileo, Machiavelli, Luigi Cherubini, Gioacchino Rossini, Guglielmo Marconi, Ugo Foscolo, Enrico Fermi, and many others.
San Lorenzo The Basilica of San Lorenzo was the church of the famous de Medici family throughout their history, and they embellished it with the masterworks of the most renowned of Florence's architects, painters and sculptors, including Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and Donatello. The Capella dei Principi (the Chapel of the Princes) contains the tombs of almost all the members of the family.
Santo Spirito The church of Santo Spirito stands across the Arno, and is the last work of Filippo Brunelleschi, completed after his death in 1446; it harmoniously combines open spaces with powerful architecture, all bathed in natural light. Among its artworks is a Crucifix by Michelangelo.
Palazzo Vecchio stands in Piazza della Signoria and is the Town Hall of Florence, after being the seat of the Italian Parliament in 1865 when the city was briefly the capital of Italy. The Palazzo served as the seat of Republican government until the reign of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, who made it his family palace. The museum houses among other treasures works by Donatello, Bronzino, Michelangelo and Giorgio Vasari.
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi is in Via Cavour, once known as Via Larga, and is the seat of the Provincial Council; it was the Medici's main headquarters until the 1550's. It is regarded as a masterpiece of Renaissance civil architecture, and its main attraction is the beautiful Cappella dei Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli, full of portraits of the Medici and other famous people of the time.
Palazzo Pitti was built in the 16th century and was also used as a government centre when Florence was the capital. It stands just outside the Boboli Gardens, and over the centuries it has been enlarged and enriched until today it is one of the most important cultural complexes in the city, containing eight important museums: the Galleria Palatina, the ceremonial Apartments, the Silver Museum, the Modern Art Gallery, the Gallery of Costumes, the Historical Coach Museum, the Museum of Porcelain and the Carriages Museum.
Palazzo Rucellai is in Via della Vigna Nuova, and is a masterpiece of 14th century Florentine architecture, designed by Leon Battista Alberti according to the principles set out in his De re aedificatoria.
Palazzo Strozzi stands in Via Tornabuoni and is an excellent example of Florentine Renaissance architecture, with its massive severe façade faced in rough-cut ashlar work.
Florence has a long history as a centre of fashion, one of the most vibrant in Italy. Apart from its craft shops, especially of leather goods (many to be found between Piazza Santa Croce and Borgo de' Greci), high fashion is also very much in evidence – there are fashion houses of Gucci, Enrico Coveri, Roberto Cavalli, Salvatore Ferragamo, Ermanno Scervino, Patrizia Pepe, Emilio Pucci, Roy Rogers, Conte of Florence, and many others. The main boutiques can be found in the up-market shopping district of Via de' Tornabuoni and Via della Vigna Nuova.
Florence has also a museum dedicated entirely to fashion, the Galleria del Costume, which traces the history of fashion throughout the ages with a collection of more than 6000 items, including historical clothing, accessories, theatre and movie costumes, plus many splendid examples of clothes by major Italian and international designers. There is also the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in the Palazzo Spini-Feroni in Via de' Tornabuoni. Florence held the first runway show of Italian high fashion in Via dei Serragli in 1953, and every year hosts a series of fashion events that are among the most prestigious of the international scene – the Pitti Immagine. The events involve vernissage, galas, presentations, fashion shows and exclusive parties in venues all over the city.
The city of Milan is the economic and financial heart of Italy, and along with Turin and Genoa, formed the ‘industrial triangle' that powered the economic boom of the mid-20th century. In cultural terms, Milan is Italy's major publishing centre and has a worldwide reputation for music, thanks to La Scala Opera House. The city is also a main trade fair centre, famous for industrial design and especially for fashion.
SOME PLACES TO VISIT IN MILAN
The "Fashion district" Milan is one of the four world capitals of fashion, along with London, Paris and New York. It hosts four fashion weeks a year with events and shows all over the city, coinciding with the four principal international runway shows. In Milan are to be found most of the major Italian fashion houses, such as Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Trussardi, Armani, Valentino, Prada, Krizia, Breil, Costume national, Missoni, Moschino, Fratelli Rossetti, Ferrè, Zegna, Luxottica, Etro, Moncler, Dsquared², Alviero Martini, Miu Miu, Marni, Panerai, Frankie Morello, Pomellato, and Buccellati, as well as the most important foreign houses, including Maison Martin Margiela, Viktor & Rolf, Abercrombie & Fitch, Church's, Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier, LesCopains, Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Dior and Calvin Klein. Most of the stores can be found in the ‘fashion district', on prestigious streets like Via Monte Napoleone, Via Della Spiga, Via Sant'Andrea, Via Borgospesso, Via Manzoni, Via Santo Spirito, Corso Venezia, Corso Matteotti, Via Bigli, Via Senato, and Via Bagutta. Other shopping locales include the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, described as ‘the oldest shopping centre in the world', Corso Buenos Aires, one of the longest shopping streets in Europe, and also Piazza Duomo, Via Torino, Corso di Porta Ticinese, Via Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza San Babila, Via Dante, Corso Vercelli and Corso Genova.
Milan Cathedral This church, the emblem of Milan, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, stands on the Piazza del Duomo in the city centre. It is the third largest Catholic church in the world, after St Peter's in Rome and the cathedral of Seville in Spain.
La Scala This is Milan's main opera house, and one of the most famous in the world. For over 238 years it has hosted most of the greatest opera singers and classical music performers and conductors.
The Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery
The Gallery is a covered pedestrian precinct running from Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala, filled with elegant shops, bars and restaurants, which since its construction in 1876 has been the haunt of the Milanese bourgeoisie, and was nicknamed ‘the salon of Milan'. It is built in a neo-renaissance style, and is a splendid example of 19th century iron-frame architecture.
The Castello Sforzesco
The Sforza Castle encapsulates six centuries of Milanese history. It was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, who had just become the Duke of Milan, and in the following centuries became one of the great military fortresses of Europe. It was carefully restored to its original appearance in 1905, and is now a major tourist attraction and events centre
The Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
The Church of St Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan, is one of the oldest in the city and is considered to be the second in importance after the cathedral. Its chief treasure is the ciborium, the altar canopy decorated in Byzantine ornamentation and supported by four Roman columns, which protects the Altar of Gold, a masterpiece of Carolingian art, and the only surviving example of its kind.
The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper is a famous wall painting by Leonardo dating from 1498, in the Renaissance ex-refectory of the convent next to Santa Maria delle Grazie. The painting was painstakingly restored over a period of twenty years from 1977. This was one of the major works of art restoration ever carried out, involving scientists, art critics and restorers from all over the world, and the original appearance of the work was brought to light after the many subsequent retouchings had been removed. The restorers found a hole, for example, from a nail in the head of Christ, from which Leonardo traced the perspective of the painting; the face of St John and the feet of the apostles under the table were also revealed. This famous painting has been the subject of many studies, as well as having a central part to play in Dan Brown's ‘Da Vinci Code'.
The Brera Art Gallery
Just inside the entrance to the Gallery stands the grandiose bronze statue of Napoleon dressed as the god Mars the ‘peacemaker', welcoming visitors to the vast and magnificent artistic contents of the art gallery. Here are works by Raphael, Caravaggio, Mantegna, Bellini and Canaletto and many more, testifying to the unequalled artistic wealth of Milan and Italy in general.
Naples is the capital of Campania region, and is one of the most densely inhabited urban areas in Europe. It was founded by Greek settlers in the 8th century BC (they called it ‘Neapolis', the New City) and was one of the leading cities of Magna Grecia and then of the Roman Empire. From the 13th century until the 19th it was the capital of the Kingdom of Naples; while it was the capital of the ‘Kingdom of the Two Sicilies' under the Bourbon dynasty, it experienced a period of economic and cultural growth and reached a high point of civil and technological achievement. With its almost three thousand years of history, Naples has always been, and still is, one of the principal centres of European culture. Its Frederick II University dates from 1224 and is the oldest state university in Europe. The city also houses the Orientale, the oldest seat of Chinese and oriental studies in Europe, and also the Nunziatella, one of the oldest military academies in the world. Naples was also justly famed as a centre of classical music and opera; the Neapolitan School flourished in the 17th century and invented opera buffa, comic opera. The city was also renowned for its painters, sculptors and architects during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, followed by the Posillipo School and Art Nouveau. Minor arts such as the porcelain of Capodimonte and Neapolitan nativity scenes also achieved international acclaim. Mention should also be made of a distinct type of theatre, a long tradition of popular song, and a cuisine all of its own which includes one of the most globally famous of all dishes, pizza. Naples is one of the cities with the largest number of monuments and cultural resources in the world; its city centre was made a UNESCO heritage site in 1995. In a relatively small area there can be found castles, royal palaces, noble residences, historic churches and classical remains. The heritage of three thousand years of history make Naples a real open-air museum.
SOME PLACES TO VISIT IN NAPLES
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
This is one of the most important churches in the city, not only for its artwork – the architectural style is a mixture of 14th century Gothic and 19th century Neo-Gothic – but also because of the miracle of the blood of San Gennaro, the city's patron saint, which takes place three times a year.
Church of The Girolamini
From the decoration in gold, marble and mother-of-pearl, the church is known as the Golden House. It contains a large number of works of art by Neapolitan artists, as well as paintings and sculpture by Tuscan and Roman masters, which make it, along with its attached convent, one of the most important artistic monuments in Naples.
The new Church of Jesus
Also known as the Trinità Maggiore, this church, opposite that of Santa Chiara, is also important for its collection of Baroque painting and sculpture, by prominent artists of the Neapolitan School
The Chapel of San Severo and the Veiled Christ
The Veiled Christ is a marble sculpture by Giuseppe Sanmartino, housed in the San Savero Chapel. It was created in 1753 and is considered to be one of the world's greatest sculptural masterpieces. Raimondo di Sangro, the seventh prince of Sansevero, commissioned Sanmartino to sculpt "a life-sized marble figure of the dead body of Our Lord, draped in a transparent shroud, created from the same block of marble". The work shows the dead Christ lying on a bier and covered in a fine veil which clings to the features and form of the body. At his feet are some instruments of the Passion: the crown of thorns, a set of pliers and three nails.
The Royal Palace
Situated in Piazza del Plebiscito, in the historic centre of the city, the Palace was home first to the Spanish and Austrian Viceroys, then became the seat of the Bourbon and Savoyard monarchies until 1946. The palace was designed by Domenico Fontana, who worked for the Pope and was considered among the foremost architects of the time. The royal apartments are reached by a splendid monumental staircase, built in 1858, decorated in white and pink marble with allegorical bas-reliefs. On the main floor is the museum, with thirty richly decorated rooms, including the Court Theatre, the Room of the Ambassadors, and rooms with paintings by Flemish and Neapolitan artists. There is also the Royal Chapel, with its hanging garden, and the National Library, with ancient parchments and illuminated manuscripts, as well as papyrus scrolls from the ruins of Herculaneum. To the north is the splendid garden laid out in 1841, with a wide variety of trees and rare plants.
Castel Sant'elmo and the Certosa di San Martino
Castel Sant'Elmo is a medieval castle standing on the hill of the Vomero. It is the largest in the city and is partly built out of the rock it stands on, and is a magnificent example of 16th century military architecture. It is designed in the shape of a six-pointed star, with huge cannon apertures in the re-entries. It was controversial in its day since it had no towers, but the design proved to be very effective. Nearby is the Certosa (charterhouse) of San Martino, one of the grandest religious buildings in Naples and a splendid example of Baroque art and architecture. Since 1866 it has housed the Museum of San Martino, which traces the artistic and cultural history of the city.
The Maschio Angioino
The 'New Castle' or Maschio Angioino (the Angevin Fortress) stands on the wide Piazza Municipio, beside the gardens of the Royal Palace, a few steps away from the harbour; in fact the castle, park and port were all built at the same time, under the dynasty of Charles I of Anjou. The castle with its massive cylindrical towers was built in 1282. It acquired its second name, Castel Nuovo, after its restoration by Alfonso of Aragon after the French were defeated and Naples passed into Spanish hands. Artists from Catalonia and Florence enlarged and fortified the structure. All that is left of the original building is the Chapel of St Barbara, with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils. The marble entrance arch, which is based on Roman models, was built to celebrate the success and power of the Aragonese kings.
The castle stands on the little island of Megaride; where the Greeks from Cumae first landed in the 8th century BC and founded the first settlement. In Roman times, the wealthy senator Lucullus had a villa on the island, and in the 5th century AD a community of hermit monks took possession. Finally Robert of Anjou turned it into a proper fortress, with the square towers we see today. The castle was altered and added to over the centuries. Today visitors can see the Central Keep, the cells and refectory of the monks, a cylindrical tower and the ruins of the church of the Saviour. From the battlements a magnificent view can be had of the city with Vesuvius behind. The castle's name ‘Castle of the Egg' is based on a legend that the poet Vergil hid a magic egg inside, which would protect Naples against any calamity.
San Carlo Theatre
Naples Opera House is one of the oldest in the world. It stands in front of the entrance to the Umberto I Gallery, next to the Royal Palace, and was built in 1737 under Carlo I of the Bourbons, to replace the old theatre of San Bartolomeo. It was inaugurated on the 4th of November, the name-day of San Carlo, with an opera by Metastasio. The theatre is the largest in Italy, with six floors of 184 boxes, with the magnificent royal box in the centre, surmounted by the crown of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Among its distinguished directors were opera composers Gioacchino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti.
The Capidimionte National Museum
The museum is inside the Capidimonte Royal Palace and contains galleries of ancient art, and also a modern art gallery and royal apartments. The Museum was inaugurated in 1957, although the Palace had housed art collections since 1758. It contains two major collections of paintings; one, the Farnese collection, includes works by Raphael, Titian, Parmigiano, Bruegel, El Greco, Carracci and Guido Reni, and the other, the Neapolitan collection, has paintings brought for safekeeping from churches in the city and beyond during the occupation of the Revolutionary French in 1806. They include works by Simone Martini, Caravaggio and Solimena. The museum also has an important gallery of modern art, including Vesuvius by Andy Warhol.