Florence - Italy

Cradle of the Renaissance, home of Dante, Machiavelli, Michelangelo and the Medicis, Florence is at once overwhelming in its wealth of art, culture and history, and yet one of the most atmospheric and pleasant cities to visit in Italy. Situated on the banks of the Arno River and set among low hills clad in olive groves and vineyards, Florence is immediately captivating. Florence attracts millions of tourists each year who come to gaze at Michelangelo's David, or stand in awe at the looming Duomo, crowned by Brunelleschi's magnificent dome; Michelangelo's David, gazing through the centuries over the Piazza della Signoria; The Uffizi, palace of the powerful Medicis, containing masterpieces by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Titian and Giotto; The home of Dante, the Renaissance's most famous poet; the Church of Santa Croce, where Firenze's most revered sons, Galileo and Michelangelo are buried. No city on earth equals the Renaissance glories of Florence - along with those stylish boutiques offering superb leather goods and fashionwear. Florence was originally the site of an Etruscan settlement. In the 12th century the expanding republic of Florence was divided by the struggle of its leading families for power. Despite its internal strife, the city prospered. The republic warred repeatedly with Milan in the 14th and 15th centuries; in 1406 it finally acquired Pisa, downstream on the Arno, thus winning a long-coveted outlet to the sea. In 1434 the Medici family dominated the city, and, except for brief periods of exile, for the next three centuries. The great flowering of Renaissance art in architecture, painting, and sculpture took place within little more than the span of the 15th century. The Medici family was succeeded by members of the imperial Austrian House of Habsburg-Lorraine until finally deposed in 1859 during the struggle for Italian independence. Florence was the capital of Italy under King Victor Emmanuel II from 1865 to 1871.