One of my favourite periods of history has to be the Renaissance. Beginning as early as the 14th century, the Renaissance saw the rebirth of European attitudes to art, architecture, finance, science, education and all areas of society.
English writer John Fowles nicely summarises the Renaissance by saying:
In essence the Renaissance was simply the green end of one of civilization’s hardest winters.
Nowhere better was the progress of the Renaissance embodied than in Italy, notably in the republic of Firenze and its surrounding areas.
I visited Tuscany earlier this year and got to appreciate first hand Florence and its surroundings. So here’s my brief guide to the Renaissance cities of Tuscany:
Ever since I became interested in Renaissance Italy, I had desperately wanted to visit this incredibly city. From the charming Ponte Vecchio to the sheer grandeur of the Duomo, Florence lives up to its reputation as the epicentre of Renaissance movement.
I was particularly impressed by Ghiberti’s intricate design on the Duomo Baptistery, which took him over 21 years to complete. It was also interesting to explore the Medici quarter of the city, where you can see the Palazzo De Medici and the understated local Church of San Lorenzo.
Florence’s younger sister Siena, is another great example of Renaissance architecture and culture. Faced by the rise of the Medici, the power of traditional Sienese banking families soon faded and the city became largely influenced by Florence.
Nowhere is this more evident than Siena’s Duomo, which mirrors the intricate exterior of her larger counterpart in Florence. The interior however is far more intricate, using gold, black and white colour palettes. The other area I enjoyed in Siena was the Piazza del Campo, home of the famous annual Palio!!
When I think of Pisa, I think of the leaning town like most people! So it was a great surprise to find a city that delivered as much character as Siena and Florence in a different way. The streets of Pisa are distinctly more narrow and it feels slightly more medieval, but the impact of the Renaissance is undeniable.
The Piazza dei Miracoli is the touristic heart of Pisa, home to three incredible building: the Duomo, the Baptistery and of course, the Leaning Tower. I found the Duomo itself the most impressive of all that I had seen and we were lucky enough to take part in the Good Friday service with the Cardinal of Pisa.
Smaller Towns – San Gimignano, Volterra, Lucca
During our trip, we visited a number of smaller cities/towns in the Tuscan hills which deserve at least some mention.
San Gimignano is a charming walled town, perched on a hill in the Tuscan countryside. Its buzzing atmosphere and Romanesque towers make it a picture perfect slice of Italian culture.
Volterra is a sleepy village high in the Tuscan hills, with a history of Roman rule. It’s a great vantage point, but also has some interesting art museums and a gate made from volcanic stone (Porta all’Arco).
At its height, Lucca was a powerful city state, competing with the likes of Florence, Venice and even Rome. Today, the city’s Renaissance walls remain in tact and there is plenty to explore in the city’s various Piazzas (some are even elliptic in shape). You may have heard of some famous Luccans like Puccini & Volpi!!
Thanks for reading my quick guide to Renaissance Tuscany! Let me know what you think in the comments below!!