Florence City Guide

by Jose Marc Castro on August 19, 2009

italyFLAG200Florence, or Firenze, is a city situated in the central region of Tuscany in Italy, where it serves as the capital of the region and of the province of Florence.  The city is found on the Arno River at the foot of the Apennines Mountains.  Florence is considered as the cradle of Italian Renaissance and world-famous for its Gothic and Renaissance architecture, museums, art galleries, palaces, and monuments.  Its famous sons, Leonardo, Dante, Machiavelli and Michelangelo, all have their works showcased proudly in the city.

Florence is Tuscany’s most important city, serving as its commercial, manufacturing, and transportation center.  It’s an important market for Tuscan wines, olive oil, flowers, and fresh produce. Its industries include the manufacture of agricultural machinery, fertilizers, automotive parts, motorcycles,   precision instruments, chemicals, and plastics. Traditional Florentine handicrafts, such as jewelry, silverwork, glass, pottery, leather goods, furniture, wood carvings, and embroidery, are prominent items for the thousand of tourists that visit Florence each year. The textile and fashion industry have also made its mark in the Florentine market.  It is the homebase of the famous Italian fashion house of Salvatore Ferragamo, while other prestigious designer brands such as Gucci, Chanel, and Prada have a strong presence in the city as well.

Historically, Florence was established as a settlement for retired Roman soldiers in 59 BC.  For over a millennium, the city struggled with Byzantine, Goth, Lombard and Frankish rule, reducing its population by the thousands.  The population grew again in the 10th century and established itself as a republic with a governing body of nobles and learned men representative of the people.  Despite of the internal factions of the Ghibellines and Guelphs in the 13th century, the city prospered with the support of a strong merchant base founded on wool and banking.  Thus, the merchant and bankers were ushered in the forefront of civic affairs and in the growth and affluence of the city.  It was these rich merchant families, such as the Medici, that sponsored the artisans and financed many expeditions that opened up its trade routes to the world.

The Medici became hereditary dukes of Tuscany and ruled until the end of their line in 1737.  The rule was then transferred to the imperial Austrian house of Habsburg, and then into the kingdom of Sardinia in 1859.  Two years later, Florence joined the newly formed country of Italy and served as its capital from 1865 to 1870, until it was superseded by Rome.  In the 20th century, Florence suffered two misfortunes—the German occupation of Italy during World War II and a flooding caused by the bursting banks of the Arno.

Though much of the city’s affluence lies in its past, this does not undermine the importance that it plays in modern Italy.  More than its museums and historic architecture, the city offers the lifestyle of a modern metropolis.

Residential Places in Florence

Florence has a diverse selection of accommodations offered for tourists, international students, and relocating expatriates alike.  The city center, near the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio, mostly has hotel accommodations and apartments for rent.  Real estate for sale and for rent, such as houses and villas are commonly found at the city’s suburbs and hills.

Finding the city districts may be confusing as Florence does not have any universally recognized district names.  An exception may be Oltrarno which is found south of Arno.  However, the city may be divided in accordance with the points of the compass from the city center.  At the south lies Oltrarno, Santa Maria Novella in the west, San Lorenzo and San Marco in the north, and Santa Croce in the east.

Hospitals and Universities of Florence

Florence is home to one of Italy’s oldest and largest universities, the Università degli Studi di Firenze (University of Florence).  Its long history started from its evolution from Studium Generale in 1321 until it became Istituto di Studi Pratici e di Perfezionamento.  It was not until 1923 that the Italian Parliament officially denominated as a university.  The university currently has 60,000 students taking classes in its 12 faculties.  These are the faculties of architecture, agrarian science, arts, economy, engineering, educational science, law, medicine and surgery, Pharmacy, political sciences, psychology, and mathematical, physical and natural sciences.  Every year it also hosts numerous international students for an opportunity to learn Italian language and culture.  The university also boasts of its list of notable alumni and professors, such as Sandro Pertini, who was the 7th president of the Italian Republic, Governor of Banca d’Italia Mario Draghi, and notable researcher of UC Berkeley Francesco Bandini.

There are other notable Italian universities in Florence for any international student who truly wishes to be immersed in Italian culture.  These are the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze at Via B. Ricasoli, Istituto Superiore per le industrie artistiche at Via degli Alfani, and Scuola dell’Opificio delle pietre dure e Laboratori di restauro di Firenze  at Via degli Alfani.

There are however, international universities who have chosen to put up a campus in Florence.  These include the American universities of New York University at Villa La Pietra on Via Bolognese,  Syracuse University at Villa Rossa in Piazza Savonarola, California State University on Via Giacomo Leopardi, De Paul University  at Dante Alighieri  on via De’ Bardi, Florida State University (Florence Program) at Borgo degli Albizi, James Madison University Program at Piazza degli Strozzi, John Hopkins University  (The Charles S. Singleton Center for Italian Studies)  at Villa Spelman on Via S.Leonardo, Michigan State University at Centro Linguistico Dante Alighieri on via dei Bardi, Pepperdine University at Viale G. Milton, Rutgers University  at Chiasso del Buco, Stanford University in Piazza S. Maria Sopr’Arno, University  of Connecticut  on Via Ghibellina, and Bowling Green State University on Via San Gallo,.

Other international universities in the city are the Universita di Parigi on Via Bolognese, Universita di Tokyo on via B. Lupi, Universita Internazionale Dell’Art on Via Forbici, and the Dutch University (Institute  for Art history) .

Medical Facilities

Italy has government and private hospitals that provide quality healthcare. The country’s national health system provides affordable healthcare to all European citizens through its government hospitals. However, most expatriates prefer private insurances to cover their medical expenses as to avoid the long waiting list in government hospitals. It also allows them to choose their preferred doctors and be treated in private hospitals that have better accommodations than their state run counterparts.

Florence has several private and government hospitals.  Listed below are the hospitals in Florence that are equipped with emergency services, as well as general care and specialty hospitals.

Florence Hospitals and Emergency Service
Hospitals Address Telephone

General Hospital of S. Maria Nuova Piazza S. Maria Nuova 27581
Anna Mayer Hospital Via L. Giordano 56621
General Hospital of Careggi Viale Morgagni 4277111
S. Giovanni di Dio New Hospital Via Torregalli 71921
S. M. Annunziata Hospital Via dell’Antella 27941
Florentine Ophthalmic Hospital Via Masaccio 578444
Orthopedic Traumatologic Centre Lg. P. Palagi 413645 / 544 / 6781
Tuscan Orthopedic Institute  V.le Michelangelo  27691
Children’s Hospital  Via L. Giordano  055-56621
Fraticini Inrca  Via de’ Massoni 055-400041, 055-042, 055-043, 055-402, 055-568

Commercial Establishments in Florence

The shops in Florence range from the most exclusive designer brands to the budgeted flea markets.  The most high-end shops of the city are found along both sides of via de’ Tornabuoni and extends to Via della Vigna Nuova and to the adjacent streets.  Housed in these area’s old palaces and boutiques are some of Italy’s biggest designer brands, such as Mila Schön ensconced, Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada, and Armani.

Other shops are found along Via Cerretani, down to Via Roma all the way to the Piazza della Repubblica.  It continues on to Via Por Santa Maria and Ponte Vecchio, where most gold and jewelry shops are located,    and ends at Via Guicciardini. Most of the shops and boutiques found on this stretch are mid-range.  The Florentine shopping malls are I Gigli at Campi Bisenzio, Carrefour in Calenzano, and IperCoop (Opening Soon) found at Sesto Fiorentino, Lastra a Signa, and in Empoli.

Also found in Florence are open-air markets, such as the san Lorenzo Market where the noise and haggling adds to the vibrancy of the place.  The new Market, housed under the sixteenth-century Loggia del, attract buyers with its leather goods and souvenirs.  The flea market at Piazza Santa Croce is a good venue to scout and haggle for antiques.

Florence Delicacies

Tuscan cuisine is characterized by these fundamental ingredients: bread, extra-virgin olive oil, grilled meat, and wine.  In combining these ingredients with the region’s local produce dishes out the fine Tuscan cuisine.  Florentine cuisine grows from a tradition of peasant eating rather than rarefied high cooking. There are countless restaurants in Florence that serves both the typical Tuscan cuisine and other Italian specialties.  Some of the city’s best gourmet and gastronomic restaurants include Florence most famous restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri at Via Ghibellina, Alle Murate at Via del Proconsolo, Cantinetta Antinori situated  at the Palazzo Antinori in  Piazza Antinori, Da Stefano for seafood at Via Senese, and Il Cibreo at Via de’ Macci.  Some establishments suited for business luncheons and dinners are Gustavinoat Via della Condotta, Incanto in the Piazza Ognissanti, Ristorante La Loggiaat Piazzale Michelangelo, and Ristorante Sabatiniat Via de’Panzani.  On the other hand, the restaurants Acqua al 2 at Via Vigna Vecchia, Angels at Via del Proconsolo, Osteria Café Italiano at Via Isola delle Stinche, and Ristorante Beccofino in Piazza Scarlatti are fit for casual dining.  For inexpensive, yet still delectable dishes, Alle Mossacce at Via del Proconsolo, Antico Ristoro di Cambi at Via San Onofrio, Filipepe at Via San Niccolo, Il Pizzaiuolo at Via dei Macci, Trattoria Borgo Antico in Piazza Santo Spirito, and Trattoria Ruggero at Via Senese are the best places to go to.

Storming the Night Scene

Prominent scene in the Florentine nightlife is the crowd of foreign students who have come to Florence to study art and culture.  Many of the city’s bars and clubs are found at Piazza della Signoria and at the Oltrarno, situated south of the river.  Some well-known bars and pubs in the city are Le Volpi and L’ Uve at Piazza de’Rossi for an authentic Italian wateringhole, the Irish pub Fiddler’s Elbow at the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, La Dolce Vita at Piazza del Carmine, the wine counter tiny Vini,  on Via dei Cimatori, Casa del Vino on Via del Ariento, Girasol Latin Bar on Via del Romito, Café de Paris at Piazza Dalmazia and Angels American Bar on Via del Proconsolo for a variety of cocktails and drinks.

Popular clubs and discos in the city include Central Park on Via Fosso Macinante, Tenax on Via Pratese, Dolce Zucchero on Via Pandolfini, Universale, on Via Pisanaand Yab on Via Sassetti.  On the other hand, the Jazz Club on Via Nuova dei Caccini , Be Bop on Via dei Servi, Chiodo Fisso club on Via Dante, Eskimo on Via de’Canacci Alighieri, Auditorium Flog on  Via M Mercati, Astor Caffe at the  Piazza Duomo, and Caffe la Torre at  Lungarno Cellini are notable clubs  that feature live music.

Service Establishments of Florence

The national Italian telephone company, or Telecom Italia, is a major telecom company in Italy that offers a wide range of telecommunication products   and services.  It is the most common provider of fixed line services in the country. It also offers internet access with its brand Alice TinIt and mobile services through its mobile arm, Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM).   Another major telecom company in Italy is Tele2.  This telecom company offers fixed telephony, broad band connection, and mobile services.  Other fixed telephone and internet service provider in Italy are MCI Worldcom, AT&T, Infostrada, and Albacom.  Internet access with Infostrada  is via ADSL and broad band with Albacom.

Other mobile companies in Italy are Omnitel Vodafone, Wind, and H3G.  On the other hand, internet service providers in Italy are Tiscali (broad band), Libero, Alice.it, Isinet, and Blunet.  DADAnet and  Frael are internet service providers in Florence.

The main electric power distributor in Italy is Ente Nazionale per l’Energia Elettrica, or ENEL. The company used to hold a monopoly over electric distribution until the government passed a law for the deregulation of electricity.   Other key players the emerged from this deregulation are Edison, Energia Italia, Acea, Enipower, Endesa, and Electrabel.

Security in Florence

Florence has police stations posted in strategic locations to enforce order and safety in the city.  Listed below are their locations and emergency numbers.

Police (Polizia) in Florence
Location Telephone

Via Zara 2 055 497 71
Via Gramsci 522 055 449 251
Via Pietrapiana 50/R 055 203 911
Via Sgambati 21 055 323 886
Piazza del Tiratoio 6 055 497 7499

Embassies in Florence

Most of the diplomatic missions to Italy have their offices located in Rome.   There are a few located in Florence, however the consulates and embassies found in the city are that of European, South American, and North American countries.

The European consulates in Florence are Belgium, Denmark, AND Malta on Via dei Servi, Finland on Via Strozzi, France at Piazza Ognissanti, Germany at Lungarno Vespucci, Great Britain at Lungarno Corsini,  Monaco on Via Cherubini,  the Netherlands on Via Cavour, Norway on Via G. Capponi, San Marino on Via Roma, Spain on Via G. La Pira, Sweden on Via Bonifacio Lupi, and Switzerland at Piazzale Galileo.

The countries in the Americas with consulates in Florence are Brazil at Piazza Pitti, Costa Rica and Venezuela  on Via Giambologna, Honduras on Via dei Bardi, Mexico on Via Arte della Lana, Panama on Via Mayer, Peru on Via della Robbia, and the United States at Lungarno Vespucci.

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