Florence, the epicenter of the Renaissance is a small compact city. Culturally rich, with more artistic masterpieces per per square kilometer than anywhere else, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Here are 7 books that will guide you to the very best of the city but also help unlock it’s mysteries and make you feel like a local.
The Cognoscenti’s Guide to Florence: Shop and Eat Like a Florentine by Louise Fili & Lise Apatoff
“Shop and eat like a Florentine, with this pocket-sized guide to the best of this magnificent Tuscan city known for its art, culture, and cuisine. Celebrated graphic designer Louise Fili takes you on eight walks through Florence, discussing more than seventy shops–some run by the same families for generations, others offering young entrepreneurs’ fresh interpretations of traditional techniques. Discerning travelers will discover rare books and charming hats; vintage Puccini and handcrafted toys; cioccolata da bere (drinkable chocolate), colorful buttons, and bolts of rich silk fabric, in this enchanting introduction to makers and purveyors of clothing, home decor, accessories, specialty foods, and much, much more”
Secret Florence by Niccolo Rinaldi
Visit a church in a prison, learn how Florence became the centre of hermetism during the Renaissance and where you can still find traces of it today, escape from the crowds of tourists to visit little-known artistic masterpieces, head off to hunt for the 34 plaques displaying quotes from the “Divine Comedy”, fill up your tank at a vintage service station, have your children count the number of bees sculpted on the monument to the glory of Ferdinand I, look for the last wine distributors of the Renaissance, notice the minuscule windows designed to let children look out quietly onto the street, visit superb private gardens that even the Florentines don’t know about, learn how the purple colour of the Fiorentina football team is connected to the pee of a Florentine crusader in Palestine . . .
Far from the crowds and usual clichés, Florence holds many well-hidden treasures that are revealed only to the city’s inhabitants or travellers who know how to step off the beaten track. An essential guide for those who think they know Florence well or for those looking to discover the hidden side of the city.
An Art Lover’s Guide to Florence by Judith Testa
No city but Florence contains such an intense concentration of art produced in such a short span of time. The sheer number and proximity of works of painting, sculpture, and architecture in Florence can be so overwhelming that Florentine hospitals treat hundreds of visitors each year for symptoms brought on by trying to see them all, an illness famously identified with the French author Stendhal.While most guidebooks offer only brief descriptions of a large number of works, with little discussion of the historical background, Judith Testa gives a fresh perspective on the rich and brilliant art of the Florentine Renaissance in “An Art Lover’s Guide to Florence. “Concentrating on a number of the greatest works, by such masters as Botticelli and Michelangelo, Testa explains each piece in terms of what it meant to the people who produced it and for whom they made it, deftly treating the complex interplay of politics, sex, and religion that were involved in the creation of those works. With Testa as a guide, armchair travelers and tourists alike will delight in the fascinating world of Florentine art and history.
Blue Guide Florence by Alta MacAdam
The tenth edition of this accessible, scholarly guide to the city of the Renaissance. An essential handbook for any traveller who wants to fully understand the development of Italian art history.
Completely updated, this edition contains superb plans and illustrations of painting, architecture and sculpture, and includes full coverage of several newly opened museums and palaces. Detailed coverage of where to stay and eat.
The depth of information and quality of research make this book the best guide for the independent cultural traveler as well as for all students of art history, architecture and Italian culture. Ideal as an on-site guide as well as a desk resource.
City Secrets: Florence, Venice: The Essential Insider’s Guide by Robert Kahn
“City Secrets Florence and Venice” brings together the recommendations of artists, writers, historians, architects, chefs, and other experts whose passionate opinions and highly informed perspectives illuminate well-known sites as well as overlooked treasures. These expert travel companions share with you their favorite little-known places including restaurants, cafes, art, architecture, shops, outdoor markets, strolls, day-trips, as well all manner of cultural and historic landmarks. Clothbound, elegant, and pocket-sized, the guide features a subtle non-guidebook design and detailed maps. With over 50 contributors and 100 venues, “City Secrets Florence and Venice” is a valuable supplement to any guide more devoted to travel basics.
A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to Save Venice and the American Academy in Rome.
Florence: A Map of Perceptions by Andrea Ponsi
Many years have passed since architect Andrea Ponsi settled in Florence, and still he feels he does not fully comprehend this mysterious city. The way Florence eludes understanding, however, can be an opportunity–to keep seeking, to keep exploring. Ponsi’s Florence is endlessly suggestive. His tour of the city is one of continually shifting light and perspective, of stunning symmetry and an even more compelling asymmetry, of sudden transitions from bustling streets to the most perfect silence.
While Ponsi does consider such celebrated sites as the Piazza Santa Croce, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Duomo, the book is a decidedly personal view of Florence. The author notes the city’s recurring geometry–the square courtyards, triangular spires, octagonal plaques and pillars–and marvels at a room almost too big to be called a room. He views the city from various terraces and likens the expanse of rising and falling rooftops to ocean waves.Here is Florence as labyrinth, possessing a medieval density that is relieved only by the sudden views of sky framed by its piazzas. Ponsi shows us a six-street intersection and ponders the abundance of acute angles, both indoors and out, in this city of infinite corners.
In Florence, humans and buildings commingle. The author equates haircuts and changes of clothes with fresh coats of paint and re-shingling jobs, and contemplates the way a human hand, feeling its way down a city block, adds to the patina of a stucco wall. Ponsi sees the city itself as a living body, through whose veins its inhabitants course.
This is the way we dream an architect could speak to us, fully communicating his passion. The book’s elegant, concise prose–as well as its balance of the civic with the intensely personal–recalls the Calvino of “Marcovaldo” and “Invisible Cities.” The text is accompanied by Ponsi’s own spare but evocative watercolors and sketches, which, like his words, seek to behold rather than pin down. This lyrical tribute is as much an ode to the lost art of contemplation as it is to Florence–a city where every moment is different from every other moment.
The House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert
It was a dynasty with more wealth, passion, and power than the houses of Windsor, Kennedy, and Rockefeller combined. It shaped all of Europe and controlled politics, scientists, artists, and even popes, for three hundred years. It was the house of Medici, patrons of Botticelli, Michelangelo and Galileo, benefactors who turned Florence into a global power center, and then lost it all.
The House of Medici picks up where Barbara Tuchman’s Hibbert delves into the lives of the Medici family, whose legacy of increasing self-indulgence and sexual dalliance eventually led to its self-destruction. With twenty-four pages of black-and-white illustrations, this timeless saga is one of Quill’s strongest-selling paperbacks.