City Guide - Florence
Florence (Firenze) was hampered in its growth in the early Middle Ages due to allegiance to the pope. So while the Vatican held its supporters (Guelphs) in check, other Roman emperor supportive (Ghibelline) cities such as Lucca, Pisa and Siena flourished. It wasn't until the 12 century that Florence began to exercise its muscle and started its regional conquest with a victory over nearby Fiesole in 1125. A systematic procession followed as the city and its leaders sought to command the adjoining countryside we know today as Tuscany.
While there were many battles won and lost, including the major defeat at the hands of the Sienese at Montaperti in 1260, Florence would eventually win out. By 1555 with Siena finally defeated and the city under the rule of the powerful Florentine family - the Medici - who would control the city and the Tuscan region, ruling for the next 184 years.
While there are many focal points in Florence, Ponte Vecchio ("old bridge"), is one of its most recognized. Indeed the city's oldest bridge - built in 1345 - ponte vecchio was the only bridge to escape destruction during WW II. In 1565 a private corridor was built on the east side of the bridge to allow the Medici family to travel back and forth from the residences in the Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio, and thus avoid the people below. The bottom walkway was originally lined with workshops of butchers, tanners and blacksmiths, the bridge today houses shops specializing in new and antique jewelry of all kinds.
Another major point of interest - Santa Croce. Known as the 'Westminster Abbey' of Florence, this historic church houses several grave sites for some of Italy's favorite who's who - Michelangelo, Galileo, to name but a few.