Florence can overwhelm its visitors, with priceless art and historic architecture from the golden age of the Renaissance. The first sight of the Duomo's implausibly large, red cupola- an engineering miracle of the 15th century - is breathtaking. Medieval and Renaissance palaces, churches and monuments follow one another in dizzying succession. Even the retreating Nazis, bombing bridges as they left, stopped short of bombing the Ponte Vecchio, moved by its absolute uniqueness. Florence's combination of unequalled beauty with centuries of history is a heady mixture.

Yet Firenze is still essentially a proud, provincial town, with a conservative mentality. You sense that its citizens pay a certain price for living in an open-air museum. Don't be surprised if you find the Florentines a bit cold and stand-offish. I fact, those who deal with the masses of tourists are often the least cordial. But among the Florentines are many who will offer the visitor a warm smile and helpful gesture. And the vitality of this small city, the robustness of its cuisine, the enduring beauty of its architecture and the richness of its treasures will always educate, exhilarate and dazzle those who go to see it.

The historic district of Florence (known as il Centro Storico), where most of the city's monuments and attractions are found, lies within the area once encircled by medieval city walls. In the 1860's, when Florence was briefly capital of the newly formed Italian Republic, these were replaced by large boulevards which today form a ring road (viali di circonvallazione) around the ancient nucleus. the city falls naturally into two sections: The Duomo side of the Arno River lies across from the Oltarno (literally "beyond the Arno"). On the Duomo side, the Pieazza della Signoria and the Duomo itself are imposing and important centres of religious and political power. The Oltarno, while it does include many monuments such as Palazzo Pitti and the churches of Sanot Spirito and Santa Maria del Carmine, has a less imposing feel and more popular flavour (through rising prices have slowly driven out the original inhabitants, replacing them with wealthy Florentines and foreigners). Perhaps the last bastion of the old Florentine popular culture is in the Oltrarno - the San Frediano neighbourhood, still known for its artisans who handcraft shoes, restore furniture and practice goldsmithing.

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Camelot International have a number of high quality hotels and apartments that you may wish to view. All the properties are available for you to book through the internet at very compettitive prices and all bookings over three nights will receive a free copy of the "Cities of Europe" CD.

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