Lay of the Land
“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence…to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and close below, the Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.”~E.M. Forster
For such a small city—about 40 square miles—Florence certainly packs a punch. The Tuscan capital, once home to creative and academic greats like Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, is commonly regarded as a living museum, as stunning as it is significant. The medieval center of European trade and the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is both an extraordinarily wealthy city and a cultural focal point.
The old city is cut in two by the Arno River: the lively waterway was a source of trade and prosperity, as well as an unpredictable threat, responsible for a number of destructive floods. Four quarters divide the city: Santa Maria Novella, San Giovanni, Santa Croce and Santo Spirito. The city is further broken up into five wards, which follow the borders of the quarters for the most part, but revolve around the centro storico, the Historic Center, which is bounded by medieval walls built in the 14th century. All neighborhoods across the river are considered Oltrarno.
Indagare Tip: A note about Florence’s addresses: since Italy’s unification in the mid-19th-century, the city has had two numbering systems; because of a surge in businesses, it came up with a way to distinguish between commercial and residential addresses by adding a red letter (R for rosso) to the former and a black letter (N for nero) to the latter. This means that a street number doesn’t immediately indicate how far apart places are from each other. To add to the confusion, some businesses that have moved into former residential spaces don’t have the expected R on the number. Luckily, many of Florence’s streets are relatively short, especially those with the shops, so if you miss your destination, just backtrack, and if all else fails, duck into a caffè, have a machiatto, and ask a local for assistance.
Staff Quotable: “After only a few hours of exploring, Florence takes on a familiar, comfortable feel. But the best part is that no matter how many times you visit, the quaint city always has one more layer to peel back or puzzle to solve. My favorite way to begin a trip is with a hike to Palazzo Michelangelo at sunset. From this vantage point, you’ll have stunning views of the bridges, Duomo and city streets all wrapped in a sherbet bow.” ~Missy Weil, Travel Specialist