City Discovery: Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance

Florence, The Cradle of the Renaissance, is best known for the artists, authors and politicians that came from the city during the 14th through 18th centuries.  It is the capital of the Tuscany region, and roughly 25% of the world’s greatest masterpieces are behind the walls of its many museums.

Arguably the most famous building on the city’s skyline, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as the Duomo, was built over a period of 140 years, not being completed until 1436 when Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome was finished.  At the time, it was the largest dome in the world.

In 1966, the Arno River flooded and ravaged the city of Florence.  Many masterpieces, rare books, and works of art were destroyed.  Today, throughout the city center there are plaques on building walls to demonstrate how high the water reached.



Intercultural experiences highlight exposure with the local culture, promoting a multilateral exchange of ideas, language and opinions.

Buy a purple scarf and head out to the stadium to watch Florence’s soccer team, Fiorentina.  Soccer in Italy is one of the most significant symbols of Italian Culture and is a constant topic of discussion in any coffee shop or bar in the city.  Fiorentina’s team color is purple, or viola, and wearing it is the best way to display your team pride.  Students are encouraged to participate in the support of the Fioentina and become a real Florentine for a day.  During the summer, attend a match of Calcio Storico.  This ancient, violent form of soccer is hardly recognizable in today’s version of the sport.  Documented matches reach back as far as 1490.  While interest in the sport waned in the early 17th century, it was revived in 1930.  Today, three matches are played each summer with the final taking place on St. John’s Day (June 24) in honor of Florence’s patron saint.

Take a cooking class and go on a gelato tour.  Food is probably the most representative image of Italian Culture.  By attending cooking classes, you will learn how to prepare some delicious Italian recipes and be able to show off your new appreciation for Italian cuisine with you friends when you return.  The gelato tour will show students the best gelaterie in town.  These two food activities are ideal ways to get immersed in the local culture.

Photo by ISA Student Evan Lester


ISA excursions and cultural activities highlight historical parts of the local culture to help students better understand their new environment.

Head to the Galleria dell’Accademia museum with your ISA Florence staff to see Michelangelo’s David.  While two duplicates exist outdoors (one in front of Palazzo Vecchio where the original once stood and one overlooking the city in Piazzale Michelangelo), the original stays safe indoors.  While you’re in the mood for museum visits, make sure to plan a day to visit the Uffizi Gallery.  Italy’s largest museum, the Uffizi contains one of the greatest collections of Renaissance art in the world.

Take a daytrip to Siena and San Gimignano.  Siena is a fascinating medieval town in the south of Tuscany, and the city center is a UNESCO Heritage Site.  With the help of a guide, you’ll discover its history and the Roman foundation of the city.  Siena is also famous for the Palio, a traditional medieval horse race.  The whole city, divided into 17 contrade, is involved year-round in preparation for this race, and the citizens are very competitive.  San Gimignano, also a UNESCO Heritage site, is a little pearl of a town up on a hill, mainly famous for its medieval architecture, especially its towers.  For this reason, San Gimignano is called the medieval Manhattan.


Sociopolitical discovery highlights social and political activities or experiences.

Few families have played a larger political role than the Medici family.  One of the most famous Medici is Lorenzo I (or Lorenzo the Magnificent), who reigned as Signore of the Republic of Florence and is best known for his contributions to the art world, sponsoring such artists as Botticelli and Michelangelo.  Catherine de’ Medici married King Henry II of France in 1533 as a symbol of political partnership between Tuscany and France.  The Medici ruled over Florence from the 15th to the 18th centuries and left their mark on everything they built.  You’ll find the Medici family crest (a shield with six spheres) all over Florence and surrounding Tuscan region.  While on any ISA tour, create a fun competition with you friends to see who can spot the most crests as there will always be plenty to find.

The Republic of Florence played a dramatic political role from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance.  Author of The Prince, Niccoló Machiavelli, is recognized as the founder of modern political science and served as an official in the Florentine Republic.  He sought to persuade Tuscany and surrounding regions with his political doctrine, which is still studied today by historians, philosophers, and law students alike.  Today, the term “Machiavellian” is used to describe someone known as a ruthless leader.  Visit Machiavelli’s tomb inside the Basilica of Santa Croce nearby the Florence University of the Arts and ISA offices.


Professional experiences provide exposure to professional development opportunities during an ISA program.

Planning to spend a full academic year in Florence?  Participate in the ISA Florence Certificate Program and earn a professional certificate in Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry, Hospitality Management, Wine Studies and Enology, or Publishing.  These Career Programs are perfect for motivated students seeking to develop new skills and knowledge while building a body of work and professional experience in an international learning environment.

Students taking Journalism classes in Florence can work on the Florence University of the Arts (FUA) J-School’s publication, Blending, and get first-hand experience publishing a magazine.  Not taking a journalism course but still enjoy writing?  Write for the ISA Florence Magazine, MagazISA.  Write articles about your excursions and activities and share your observations on living and learning in Florence with ISA.


Environmental experiences expose students to different environmental aspects of the host country.

Pack a lunch and head to the beautiful Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace!  The largest green-space in the Florence city center, these huge 16th century gardens cover 111 acres and are filled with beautiful flora and Renaissance sculptures, making it a true outdoor museum.  It’s rare to find such large, open spaces in an Italian city, but here, there is plenty of shade to be found on a hot day or fantastic open spaces to soak up the warmth of the sun, making this a great spot to take advantage of the city’s beautiful weather.  Gather with friends, practice your Italian, and enjoy the greenery of Florence.

Florence is located in the heart of the Chianti region and each semester ISA takes students on an excursion to a different “hilltown” of the region.  Much of the Chianti region overlaps with Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) regions.  The DOCG sets standards for the agriculture of the region, ensuring that appropriate techniques are being practiced in order to sustain the environment of the area for future quality.  Additionally, the DOCG ensures that products are appropriately labeled according to their region for quality assurance.

Discover more about the amazing history of Florence and what you could learn during a semester abroad.

The 2015 City Discovery Series aims to showcase one of ISA’s program locations each week. Facts about each location and Discovery Compass activity examples are given, highlighting the areas of Intercultural, Historical, Sociopolitical, Professional and Environmental discovery. The Discovery Compass aims to help students have the best possible study abroad experience by helping them to gain a better understanding of the local environment, customs and people through a variety of experiences.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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