Firenze and Pisa
Let us bring you to Florence, the marvellous ‘cradle’ of the Renaissance and of the culture of Italy. A city pf unrivalled elegance, enchantment and exclusiveness. An unforgettable experience. Our chauffeur-driven car journeys to Florence will bring you face to face with a literally stunning city – a city that combines the delicate charm of a provincial city with the audacious glamour of such events as the Pitti Uomo men’s fashion show, not to mention the exclusive exhibitions organised by Florence’s galleries and museums. If time is a major consideration, our chauffeur-driven car rental service option will bring you the Florence experience under ideal conditions – taking you to the very heart of the region of Tuscany… where past and present blend… seamlessly! Where should you go to see Florence at its best? The main attractions are the old bridge (Ponte Vecchio) and the cathedral (Duomo). Florence must surely be one of the most beautiful of Italy’s cities! It is the ‘cradle’ of the Renaissance period. A visit to this open-air museum brings you into contact with the history of Italy as a whole. Here, the leading thinkers of Italy’s cultural landscape gathered. Individuals who transformed the globe, who created a new world and filled it with marvellous inventions. Hence, the sights here become more than merely attractions. With its stunning monuments, the city attests to the historic birth of a world entire! This is Florence! Spend a day amid the marvels of a city − of a re-awakening Tuscany −, providing joy to the eye, heart and mind. Florence’s marvels belong to a realm where art, history and architecture are reflected in everything you see, feel or touch. Take the Arno river, for example. In the waters of the Arno the writer Manzoni is said to have ‘washed’ the ‘cloth’ of Italy’s idioms, to create the language that we call Italian. The old city centre is just one of Italy’s glories, and a UNESCO heritage site since 1982. Florence’s art galleries, churches and old palaces are the envy of the world! Charming hill country provides a stupendous backdrop to the city. The glories of Florence take us back to the Italian Renaissance, as we see it in the works on display at the Galleria degli Uffizi and at the Galleria dell’Accademia (where visitors may also admire Michelangelo’s monumental ‘David’). Not to mention the cathedral, Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. So, what must you absolutely not miss out on when you come to Florence?
As you tour Florence, Ponte Vecchio is one of the sites that will surprise you most. Ponte Vecchio is one of the city’s six main bridges. It dates back to Roman times. The Romans built the uprights in stone and added wooden boarding. This is where the Via Cassia crosses the Arno river. Until 1218, this was the only bridge across the Arno. It collapsed repeatedly, in 1117 and 1333, due to the force of floodwaters, and was repeatedly rebuilt. Under the rule of the Medici house, the bridge was fully restored and a raised corridor was added linking the Uffizi palace and Palazzo Pitti. The old bridge thus also featured an upper closed bridge above the bridge’s shops and storerooms. This corridor, designed by Vasari, enabled the nobles to avoid contact with the common folk and provided protection also from the elements. Vasari was eager to finish the work as soon as possible. His solution was both functional and a marvel to behold as a work of art. Take a photograph here. It is thought that this bridge is more frequently photographed than even the bridges of Rome! Not only does the bridge serve as an icon for the city; it is also the only bridge to be entirely (or nearly entirely) occupied also by raised shops and homes, looking down over the Arno’s waters. The corridor, a well-known feature of the city, also plays a role in Dan Brown’s literary works. Built by Vasari – who was also an author responsible for the biographies of major Renaissance figures – it enabled the Duke Cosimo I (de’ Medici) to move back and forth between Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio.
The large Palazzo Pitti is a ‘must’ for visitors touring Florence. This enormous fifteenth-century structure stands near the south bank of the Arno river. It served for a long time as the residence of the city’s rulers. During the early decades of the twentieth century, the palazzo was passed on to the Italian State, which turned it into a museum, much loved by the Florentines themselves and by tourists flocking here from all over the world. Palazzo Pitti towers over the cityscape and occupies a strategic site. This elegantly refined architectural work is one of the major ‘exhibits’ of this open-air private museum.
This basilica − Basilica di Santa Croce − is less well known than Florence’s cathedral. It hosts the tombs of major Renaissance figures such as Galileo Galilei and Machiavelli. Italy’s rebirth owes so much to protagonists of renewal such as Rossini and Michelangelo, who also rest here. The church was built in the late fourteenth century for the Franciscan order. The basilica is much loved by the faithful, arriving from all over the world. Over and above its spiritual beauty, the church also hosts frescoes by Giotto and a wooden ceiling marvellously painted at the time of its construction.
What would a tour of Florence be without some shopping? You may want to purchase some traditional items or perhaps just to savour an experience to be shared with the Florentines themselves. Either way, San Lorenzo is the place for you! This famous downtown market showcases much of traditional Florence, not to mention echoes of the local folk culture. The mercato di San Lorenzo includes a two-storey food market. Here, in this marketplace dating back to the fifteenth century, gourmets will find many items of interest. Let us now turn to the other stalls, so popular among tourists on the lookout for souvenirs, clothing and in particular leather goods. Why not pick up a handmade leather bag here? The ideal souvenir! Enjoy the bright colours and fragrances, handed down from one generation to the next. Beauty for all the senses. The San Lorenzo marketplace stretches from the church of San Lorenzo (also known as the Medici church) to Via Nazionale. For nearly 300 years, the Medici church was the cathedral (before cathedral status was conferred upon Santa Maria del Fiore). Admittedly, with its unfinished facade, its rather rustic look and the location (outside the old city walls), it hardly looks like a cathedral building at all. However, Popes, politicians and artists have come to greatly love this location, because here we find Florence’s oldest church (as officially recorded). The consecration came through the intervention of Saint Ambrose in 393 AD. Still today, the church hosts very many artistic works that reflect the splendour of Italy’s arts.
When we think of Florence, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Uffizi Gallery. This is Florence’s largest and most important art gallery, hosting any number of paintings, sculptures and antiques that date back to Renaissance times. The collection is made up of more than 100,000 items, including drawings and old prints. This year-round exhibition features the Venus of Urbino by Titian, Bellini’s works, the Vicentian annunciation, Botticelli’s Venus and a thousand other works familiar to all who enjoy artbooks. Galleria degli Uffizi is therefore yet another ‘must’ on the itinerary of any Florence tour!
How do we convey a sense of the beauty of the world-renowned Campanile di Giotto? It is one of the most fascinating of Florence’s sites, located in the cathedral square, Piazza del Duomo − world-renowned, indeed, as a symbol of beauty and art. It is nearly 85 metres high, and affords one of the most impressive views of Florence. Again, a ‘must’ for day visitors (or, at least, for visitors who aren’t too scared of heights!!). Of course, some dedication will be required (‘just’ 414 steps up from ground level of the city of birth of the Renaissance and Italian culture in general). The views take in the church of San Lorenzo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Chiesa di Santa Croce, and, in part, the river Arno. The truly stunning view here, however, is the cupola or dome built by Brunelleschi. An amazingly unforgettable vision.
The two most beautiful piazzas in Florence – which we absolutely must include in our itinerary – are Piazza della Signoria and Piazzale Michelangelo. Piazza della Signoria is the heart of the city. It is flanked by Palazzo Vecchio and one of the wings of Galleria degli Uffizi. The square hosts many events such as open-air concerts and itinerant exhibitions. These events are enjoyed by the citizenry and by tourists who come to the square throughout the year. Piazzale Michelangelo, the most famous among Florence’s piazzas, is more discreetly positioned, with its panoramic view over the city reproduced in any number of postcards and prints picked up as souvenirs. Another Florentine sight which we must also visit is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The cathedral of Florence, the Duomo di Firenze, is the city’s spiritual heart, and a site that is world-renowned for its artistic beauty (the key attraction is the famed cupola or dome built by Brunelleschi). This cathedral, located in the stunning Piazza del Duomo, was built in the Gothic style. It is flanked by its belfry, the campanile di Giotto (another major Florentine attraction). Consider a chauffeur-driven car tour of Florence one of the necessities of life!
Pisa is one of Tuscany’s finest cities. The time spent on a stroll in Pisa will be well rewarded. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is absolutely one of the most well-known sights of Italy, not to mention the stunning Piazza dei Miracoli itself. In a word, Pisa is a great place to spend a few hours and perhaps snack on a local speciality or just relax and soak up the atmosphere of past eras, amid the key sights of this very special city. Pisa has so much to offer day visitors: old churches and palazzos, and the piazzas – spaces in which time seems to have come to a halt. Check out the many bridges of this city, spanning the river Arno. The city stands at the heart of Tuscany. In its sweetness, we might compare it to the invention of a medieval confectioner. For the historically- and artistically-minded, it is as though time had come to a standstill. Pisa is smaller than other tourist meccas such as Florence or Venice, but it is no less fascinating for that! You can visit Pisa quite happily in a day. Your city tour will remain indelibly impressed on your mind. However small and modest the place is, this little corner of Italy features no end of attractions. You will soon fall head over heels in love with the place. When you leave, your heart will remain here. A true jewel in Tuscany’s crown. The city’s most noted attraction is the Leaning Tower, which will be your first stop as soon as you reach Pisa.
The Torre di Pisa is one of the most frequently photographed sights of this part of the world. How could you visit Pisa for the day and not see the Leaning Tower? It leans (quite clearly) to one side, as the name suggests, and its history is well worth the telling. It took nearly 350 years to build it, and in all that time it never stood perfectly upright! It began leaning in the thirteenth century. The second floor was already up. The apparent reason is that the land is ‘soft’ here. The building work was interrupted twice, once for a century and then again at the end of the thirteenth century. The work stopped not because of this problem but − unexpectedly − because of war. The architect responsible for the original work is unknown, totally lost to posterity.
The city’s Baptistery is a major attraction. The Battistero di Pisa is just one of the many constructions in Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa’s renowned square, positioned slightly higher than the Leaning Tower itself. The Baptistery is one of Italy’s oldest structures.
Very high up on our list of sights to see in Pisa is the Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta). This splendid cathedral occupies the space between the Leaning Tower and the Baptistery. It ‘presides over’ Piazza dei Miracoli, so to speak. The Cathedral is indicated as the oldest of the monuments making up Pisa’s famed ‘squadra’ (or team of monuments, as it were). It symbolises the wealth of the former Maritime Republic of Pisa. During a period of mass bloodshed, but also of art and of complexity in the sphere of things spiritual, the Church served as a guide for Pisa’s citizenry, as an attraction then for the faithful, and today also for tourists. Both the church’s interior and its exterior are a delight for the eye: art, architecture and faith blend seamlessly, thanks to the skills of the masters who constructed and adorned this monument. Embodied are passion and a love of place, as reflected in the stunning mosaics and marvellously polychrome marble works adorning this building. Pisa’s cathedral, a masterpiece of the era of the Romanesque style, is in a class of its own. It was built to attest to the strength and determination of the people of Pisa as they struggled throughout the years of the city’s life as a maritime power. The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta should be viewed from all angles to appreciate its stunningly white, clean-line luminous overall look.
The monumental cemetery of Pisa may seem a rather odd tourist spot to recommend. However, it is most important for the citizenry. It is a remarkable place of worship and monument to the faith. A building in white marble, whose walls are solid and, in their own way, imposing. It will not only attract your attention, it may well disconcert you. The traces of many epochs have been left behind here, dating back even to Etruscan and Roman times, not to mention the Middle Ages. Peace reigns supreme here. An ‘artistic’ tranquillity…
The cathedral works museum also tells us much about Pisa’s history. This is one of the finest and most well maintained museums of the whole of Tuscany. Check out the amazing silverware items, sculptures, paintings and other artworks of all kinds.
Pisa is more than ‘just’ Piazza dei Miracoli and its monuments. Its charm is also to be found in the hidden details, in the hidden attractions that will suddenly seize your attention and imagination: in a word, your heart, mind and eyes – and Santa Maria della Spina is a case in point. This small Gothic church is discreetly sited on the banks of the Arno river flowing through Pisa. The church of Santa Maria della Spina goes back some 800 years. Eight centuries, and yet the church of Santa Maria della Spina is as sprightly as ever, and one of Tuscany’s most beautiful places of worship. A visit is mandatory!
Palazzo dei Cavalieri is one of the major attractions of Pisa. Built in the square now called Piazza dei Cavalieri, this palace stood at the heart of the political life of the city during the Middle Ages. The name comes from a knightly order, as the residence of the Cavalieri di Santo Stefano (the knights of St Stephen), an order founded in the mid sixteenth century by Cosimo I de Medici, Duke of Tuscany and Lord of Florence. The knights of St Stephen earned Pisa great prestige. What of Palazzo dei Cavalieri today? It hosts the University of Pisa, no less! The university was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte − who was greatly admired here as a thinker of the first order. A statue of the founder of the order of the Cavalieri di Santo Stefano, Cosimo I, stands before the building.
If you’re going to spend a whole day in Pisa, you will most likely pick up a souvenir at some stage! One of Pisa’s shopping streets that is most noted worldwide is called Borgo Stretto. The habitués of shopping tours in Italy are all fully aware of where Borgo Stretto is and what it has to offer, So, be sure to check out the sales outlets, haute couture boutiques and ateliers here. The atmosphere will stun you, and you will be equally amazed at what you’ll find even in Pisa’s other tiny, pleasingly arcaded Gothic alleyways and narrow streets, which will make your stroll through Pisa most satisfying. You will note just how architecturally accomplished the old palazzos here are – stunning examples of the architecture of the Middle Ages for which Pisa is so rightly famous around the world! Borgo Stretto leads you on to the sixteenth-century Piazza delle Vettovaglie (literally, the provisions or grocery square). The square is an enchanting place to go, as the market sets up to provide the best in coffee beans, Tuscan wines (with a taste that is strong or delicate, as the mood will dictate), fresh meat and fish. The fragrance of freshly baked bread spreads an air of domesticity over the urban landscape. Please also note the marked aromas of spices (a typical feature of the Maritime Republics from the time of their emergence as major sea powers). In the evening, Piazza delle Vettovaglie hosts the city’s dynamic nightlife.