Here is our selection of essential reading (and viewing) for the visitor to Florence. Click to buy the item from Amazon.co.uk (my affiliate links).
Florence – Cadogan Guide
Cadogan Guides are always strong on art, history and anecdotes, so their volume is an ideal choice for Florence, a city notable for its art, history and anecdotes. The Florence guide includes a wealth of background detail, practical information and a comprehensive listing of Florence’s attractions, grouped by geographical area, along with useful details of opening times, ticket prices and bus routes. Short sections on Siena, Lucca and Pisa are useful if you’re planning a day trip. They provide suggested itineraries for couples, Renaissance buffs etc., and give you a clear idea of sites’ relative importance. Buy this guide before you go, and use it to draw up your own list of must-sees.
> Buy the Cadogan Guide to Florence from Amazon.co.uk
Florence: The Biography of a City – Christopher Hibbert
The reliable Christopher Hibbert provides a complete history of Florence, from murky Roman beginnings to post-war developments. Like his study of Rome, this is a gripping account of an inconceivably turbulent history. Not just readable but entertaining, Hibbert’s text tells of a city wholly unused to peace; of revolts, uprisings, revolutions and plots; and of course, glorious art. The format is larger, more attractive and better-illustrated than most history books, making it a pleasure to read and return to.
> Buy Florence: The Biography of a City from Amazon.co.uk
A Room with a View – EM Forster
A classic of English literature, EM Forster’s story of love, society and self-discovery was made into an Oscar-winning film in the 1980s. The Merchant Ivory production, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands, was hugely popular and there are many for whom Lucy Honeychurch’s journey of self-discovery will always evoke memories of their own youth.
> Buy A Room with a View from Amazon.co.uk
> Buy A Room with a View on DVD
The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant
This recent novel falls somewhere between literary fiction and historical bodice-ripper. Dealing with big issues like art, sensuality and freedom (both physical and intellectual), the story is that of a strong-willed but trammelled girl from a mercantile family, Alessandra, an aspiring artist with connections to the heart of Renaissance Florence. Some of Dunant’s period detail is lifted rather recognisably from other sources (which may distract readers who’ve already read books such as Christopher Hibbert’s Biography – above). But Florence is alive in this book with the excitement of art, life and politics. The sufferings of women in a patriarchal society create hackneyed plot strands – but familiarity doesn’t make the theme less true or powerful – quite. Dunant does some different things with her material, and her writing and outlook keep the story fresh and gripping. I found parts of the book rather contrived and unoriginal, but as the story developed I was gripped to the end and suprised by my own involvement.
> Buy The Birth of Venus from Amazon.co.uk