A tour of Florence, a city home to a quite incredible number of the world's most important works of art and architecture, is the prefect introduction to the cultural and artistic foundations of modern day Italy. Our tour of the Tuscan capital commences at the city's S.Maria Novella railway station, from where we head to the nearby Piazza San Govanni and Florence Cathedral, past renaissance palazzi, historic caffè, century old printing houses, and a proliferation of artists' studios.

Work on the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was supervised by Giotto, Francesco Talenti, and some years later by Brunelleschi who, in 1431, designed the building's spectacular dome. Next to the cathedral there is the Baptistery, embellished with stunning mosaics and the same coloured marble used to face the cathedral. Today, the baptistery's original bronze doors sculpted by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti are guarded within the Cathedral museum; as is a Michelangelo's "Pietà". The famous "Officine Panerai" watchmakers, located within the Palazzo Arcivescovile behind the baptistery, boasts a collection of every possible timepiece.

From Piazza S.Giovanni, by foot, we soon reach Borgo S. Lorenzo, lined with market stalls brimming with every kind of souvenir. Here we find the Basilica dedicated to Lorenzo il Magnifico, the renaissance cloister and old sacristy of which were designed by Brunelleschi. Work on the new sacristy was initiated by Michelangelo and completed by Vasari and Ammannati. The shrines of the Medici dynasty are decorated with Michelangelo's imposing statues of the Day and the Night, and the Aurora and the Crepuscolo. The Laurenziana Library, another important work by Michelangelo, houses an impressive collection of ancient manuscripts and papyri once belonging to the Medici.

Venturing in to the narrow alleyways and side streets which characterise this district of Florence, we come across any number of artisans' studios where jewellery inspired by the renaissance monili is made. Another building of certain tourist interest is that of the Palazzo della Stufa, built in 1557 on the site of a houseonce inhabited by Giotto. On the via dell'Ariento, we find the imposing Mercato Centrale: an enormous glass and iron edifice which, since 1874, houses Florence's busy indoor market.

In Via Cavour there is another of Florence's most significant buildings: the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. For over a century the building was the principal residence of the Medici, until the family moved to the Palazzo Vecchio. Palazzo Medici Riccardi was designed by Michelozzo for Cosimo il Vecchio. In 1659 the property was purchased by the Riccardi family who, in the 19th century, left it to the state. Today the edifice is owned by the Province of Florence and houses a series of temporary art exhibitions and the Biblioteca Riccardiana, a library containing an invaluable collection of ancient codex and a manuscript of Dante's Divine Comedy.

The nearby Piazza San Marco, once home to the seraglio of the Medici, complete with lions, giraffes and elephants, is now surrounded by building's belonging to Florence University and, to one side of the square, the Convent of San Marco. The cells and cloisters of the convent are adorned with marvellous frescoes by Beato Angelico. Other great works of art, including Michelangelo's "David", are located just a few minutes away in the Galleria dell'Accademia. To the right of the piazza, just off Via Cesare Battisti, there is the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata and Brunelleschi's "Spedale degli Innocenti", deemed to be one of the most significant works of renaissance architecture.