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An Italian town situated at the very heart of Italy (see picture 1), Florence (Firenze in Italian) is often referred to as the unique ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ (‘La culla del Rinascimento’). Its impressively high per
capita rate of trade achieved during the XV and XVI centuries would shrink today’s city of London (United Kingdom) to a dull village in comparison (see quotation 1).


Florence is populated by 366.488 residents, some of which are natives, the Florentines. To these, a population
of 10 millions-odd tourists (20% of which are Americans and 7.8% British) add up every year. Due to this extraordinary flow of tourists, the Florentines have developed a harsh sense of detachment towards strangers (though for most of the Florentines tourists represent a source of wealth). This does not mean that the
average Florentine is a racist or close-minded, characteristics that do not appeal to people living where modern culture and civilization developed five centuries ago. However, it may account for the hard time foreigners face when they try to socialize with locals (see quotation 2).

Florence’s population is composed of four distinct clusters of people – namely, a) the Florentines, b) the tourists, c) the foreign, largely American, students, and d) the immigrants (largely, but not exclusively, people from Albania, northern Africa, eastern Europe and South America). These groups do not interact or mix together except rare cases.

The Florentines typically make no difference between foreign students and tourists – both of whom are referred
to as ‘Americani.’ So foreign students may be disappointed to notice that the average local think of them
just as the common "cow to milk" or "chicken to pluck," in an economic sense.

What is really annoying of Florence is to see American students hanging around with people who a) pretend to be natives and b) take advantage of the former. Indeed, foreign students are often seen entering the ghastliest clubs with the incentive that, there, ‘International Students’ don’t pay for the entrance. (But this is only because their famous binge-drinking attitude will surely make up for the balance). Moreover, they
try to pull American girls on the simplistic principle that these are extremely easy, especially when they are not in their country. Florentines of course are not the same, becuase they know that these sorts of generalizations are often pointless. This is why one should be aware of whom you hang around with when you are in Florence.

Episodes of violence in Florence are very rare though. However what happens often is than girls land up very drunk, eventually consent getting picked up and then regret it. In some cases their regret becomes so severe that they feel the need to call up for the police and make up stories of rape by Florentines. (Though they may had never actually encountered one since the first day).

Florentines never go out in the same places where ‘International Students’ go, save rare exceptions. This is because these places are dull: drinks are disgusting and they play hiphop music. Florentines go to places that
look very expensive (and actually are, if you are a tourist) with the non-negligible privilege of getting free
drinks most of the times. (Hence it's a great deal of fun to hang around with a Florentine, if you manage to.)

The way in which typical Florentines hang around is best depicted by in the film ‘Amici miei’, a must-see by the Italian top-director Mario Monicelli.

What is in Florence

People who go to Florence are often of a cultural entertainment proneness (see picture 2). There are at least
15 worth-visiting famous squares, or ‘piazze’. Among them is Piazza Santa Croce, a remarkable place that although being crammed up with toursits during the day, is seized up by non-Florentine drug dealers at night. There are at least 10 architectural masterpieces in Florence, all of which are displayed in any serious Arts textbook. Among the most famous pieces of buildings one should recall the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge, see picture 4). What makes the ‘Old Bridge’ interesting is that it was built in the XIV century (that is, 150 years before Christopher Columbus discovered America), and it is still there. During the Second World War the Nazi Forces decided not to put it down because of its terrific historical importance.

There is an incredible supply of cultural stimuli in Florence, including many classic museums like the Uffizi, which only places like the Louvres in Paris stand comparison with for what concerns Middle-Ages and Pre-Modern Arts. There are also many libraries, gardens and theatres. What's more, all this plentitude of monuments is contained in the relatively small area of the 6 squared feets-wide ‘centro storico’, an area preserved by UNESCO. (Notice that this is just one eight of the whole Manhattan.) The resulting density of
artistic and historical attractions makes tourists feel like they are being dwarfed by the splendour of the Renaissance years (see quotation 3).
The Renaissance is the period of history during which humanity managed to escape the anxiety and depression brought about by a thousand years of alienation and ideological frustration imposed by the Catholic Church during the Middle Age. This was achieved by appreciating the Arts and by dedicating oneself to trade and financial affairs rather than bothering about life after death issues or salvation through dedication to God. Indeed, one the world’s first commercial banks was settled in the area of Florence during the XV century, and it is still there (its name is Monte dei Paschi di Siena). For these reasons, Florence is not only quoted as the ‘cradle of Renaissance,’ but also as the epicentre of modern age. (Although one of the main things missing during the Renaissance years in Florence was democracy).

Many important artists were born or spent a significant part of their life in Florence. Among the Florence-born, one should recall Leonardo da Vinci (the author of the Monna Lisa, a painting that has been stolen, allegedly, by a French eminent figure and that is now displayed in a French museum). Michelangelo Buonarroti, Donatello di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, Dante Alighieri (the author of the most important Italian poem, the Divina Commedia, or Comedy), Niccolò Machiavelli
(Makaveli, the founder of modern political thinking), and many more were also born and lived in Florence. More recently, Florence gave birth to Guccio Gucci (the founder of GUCCI, the famous elite fashion house) and to Roberto Cavalli (another fashion designer).
Quotation 1 - Florence (Italy), City of: "Did you know that Florence was the centre of the world during the XV and XVI centuries?"

Quotation 2 - Florence (Italy), City of : A: - "So you spent your term abroad in Florence! Have you met any Florentines?"
B: - "No, just been hanging around with other Americans. Florentines are so snobby. I had great ice-creams though."

Quotation 3 - Florence (Italy), City of: - "OMG! I spent a week in Florence with my girlfriend last month, and I still have to get over it."

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by Not really a Florentine October 16, 2008
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