The principal Tuscan city, Florence (Firenze) is the world’s most celebrated storehouse of Renaissance art and architecture. Set on the banks of the Arno below the wooded foothills of the Appennines, this beautiful city has long been the focus of Italian arts and letters. Brunelleschi’s revolutionary design for the dome of the Duomo (Cathedral) is generally accepted as the first expression of Renaissance ideas in architecture. This dome still dominates the city’s roofscape, just as the great Piazza del Duomo at its feet dominates life at street level. The shop-lined Ponte Vecchio bridge scans the river to arrive at Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens.
Siena’s most prosperous era pre-dated the Renaissance and consequently much of the fabric of the city is in the older Gothic and Romanesque styles. While most buildings are of reddish-brown brick (hence the colour ‘burnt sienna’), the stunning Cathedral is constructed of alternating stripes of black and white marble, and is said to be one of the best examples of Italian Gothic architecture. The labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets that make up the historic centre converge at Piazza del Campo. Overlooked by the giant campanile of the Palazzo Pubblico, this is possibly the most complete Medieval piazza in Italy. Twice a year, on 2 July and 16 August, a notorious bareback horserace known as the Palio is held here. It has been a special event since the 13th century and attracts crowds from all over the world. The 700-year-old university holds a summer school in Italian.
Located north of Siena, Pisa is famous for its Leaning Tower, a free-standing campanile or bell tower. Closed to the public since 1990, the tower is now reopen following a lengthy restoration project to reduce its tilt. Next to the tower, on Campo dei Miracoli, stand the elegant 11th-century Gothic Cathedral and the Baptistry. Nearby, the 13th-century Camposanto is a cemetery contained within a unique collonaded courtyard, said to have been built to enclose earth brought from Jerusalem by the Crusaders.
Arezzo is made up of an old upper town and a modern lower town, and is an important centre for the production of gold jewellery. Within the old town lie the Duomo, decorated with 16th-century stained glass windows, and the Basilica di San Francesco, containing a highly esteemed cycle of frescoes by Piero della Francesca depicting the Legend of the True Cross. The Piazza Grande is a wonderful Medieval square, famous for its regular antiques market, overlooked by several impressive historic buildings, notably the church of Santa Maria della Pieve and the Loggiato del Vasari, the home Vasari built for himself in 1540.
The peaceful walled town of Lucca is famed for its elaborate churches, which include the Cathedral of San Martino with its assymetric façade and campanile, the striking San Frediano decorated with colourful mosaics, and San Michele in Foro, built on the site of the Roman forum. The main shopping street, Fillungo, is noted for a number of early-20th-century, Liberty-style façades.
Known as the ‘city of beautiful towers’, San Gimignano is one of the best-preserved Medieval towns in Italy. During the Middle Ages, when the height of one’s tower was a symbol of prestige, families vied to build the tallest structure. Today, 14 of the original 76 towers remain, creating a truly unforgettable skyline.
The Tuscan Archipelago
The Tuscan Archipelago is a group of scattered islands lying between Tuscany and Corsica. The best known is Elba, which is linked to Piombino on the mainland by regular hydrofoil and ferry services. Famous as the place where Napoleon was briefly exiled before his final defeat at Waterloo, it has lovely beaches and campsites shaded by pines. Napoleon’s two homes, Palazzina Napoleonica dei Mulini (created out of two windmills) and Villa Napoleonica di San Martino are both open to the public.
Originally called "Castello di Corsignano", Pienza got its original name in honour of Pope Pius II who, in the second half of the 15th century ordered its renovation. He wanted to carry out his utopian image of the ideal city. The small town is a jewel and the Cathedral in particular merits a visit.
This splendid town known as "The Pearl of the 16th century" because of its artistic and architectural vestiges has conserved its beauty intact. As the visitor walks up its steep streets they discover the beautiful buildings and churches where the best Renaissance architects impressed their incomparable artistic talent. One shouldn't miss the magnificent Piazza Grande, the Cathedral with its incomplete façade, the Town Hall and the Renaissance buildings all around the square. In the valley below, set in an unforgettable landscape, is the elegant Temple of San Biagio.
Set on a hill 564metres above sea level, between the valleys of the Rivers Orcia, Arbia, Asso and Ombrone in an area rich in woods of oak and chestnut trees. The landscape is dominated by rows of vines from which the fine wines appreciated all over the world are produced. Amongst these wines the place of honor goes to the famous Brunello di Montalcino. Please see our Guide to Montalcino.
A beautifully preserved Medieval hilltown. Please see our Guide to Volterra and Val d'Era
The principal commercial port
Where high-grade white marble has been quarried since Etruscan times.