The history of Tuscany dates back to prehistoric times. Later, the Apennine people, who traded with the Minoans and Mycenaeans of the Aegean, inhabited it as early as the second millennium BC. Etruscans created the area’s first major civilization, a center of mining and agriculture that reached its zenith during the 6th century BC. They were conquered by the Romans around 264 BC.
The Romans established the cities of Florence, Pisa, and Siena; built extensive roads and aqueducts; and brought peace to the region. It was later lost to the Goths, and subsequently to the Byzantine Empire. By 568 AD, the Lombards, a Germanic tribe, began their 200-year rule of Italy.
During medieval times, the Black Death twice ravaged Tuscany, but this was also a prosperous time as pilgrims traveling between France and Rome filled the coffers of churches, taverns, and marketplaces. Communities sprung up around the more prosperous centers of commerce, and they in turn grew in wealth and reputation.
This period laid the groundwork for the birth of the Italian Renaissance, a cultural, political, and artistic revolution whose importance cannot be overstated. It was here that Michelangelo sculpted David, where Botticelli painted the Birth of Venus, and where new and daring ideas in science, economics and politics took hold.
Tuscany Lifestyle and Culture
Tuscany’s cultural legacy has great and historic significance; evidence of its long-standing status as a center of learning and invention can be found throughout the region. Indeed, the spirit of the Renaissance can be felt and seen everywhere: not just in large cities like Florence and Pisa, but also in smaller villages and the region’s famous hill towns. Every village lays claim to a piece of that legacy, whether with an actual relic from the era or with ideas that changed the course of their history.
Life moves slowly in Tuscany, and the people here take true pleasure in the little things that make life worthwhile: gardening and farming, friendship, food and wine are of crucial importance. What’s more, the Tuscan people are both welcoming and friendly.
Tuscany Sights and Landmarks
There’s so much to do and see in this region that you’ll undoubtedly want to visit often.
In Florence, spend time at the Basilica of San Miniato Al Monte. This 13th-century church is situated atop a hill just outside the city. The views are stunning, and the building is one of the finest examples of Tuscan Romanesque architecture in the world. Galleria dell’Accademia is home to a breathtaking collection of works by Michelangelo, most notably his sculpture of David. Piazza della Signoria, the city’s vast plaza, is the center of a vast array of museums and palazzos; the square itself is worth a visit for its gorgeous Fountain of Neptune and its collection of outdoor sculptures.
In hilltop Lucca, visit Guinigi Tower, a tall medieval structure with olive trees sprouting from the top. From the top, the incredible walled city and the green Tuscan countryside spread out before you.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa gets all the attention; but the Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles, in which the tower stands is home to other treasures, including the remarkable cathedral and baptistery.
Florence Entertainment and Activities
Tuscany will never leave you wanting for great entertainment. In Florence, you can rent a Ferrari for the day for a drive into the country, experience a uniquely Italian brand of dinner theater at Circo-lo Teatro del Sale, or stroll the immaculately manicured and tranquil grounds of Giardino Bardini. At Museo di San Marco, witness Florence’s largest collection of sacred art. Highlights include the Sogliani fresco, and the Albertinelli collection.
Art lovers will also be enthralled by the collection at Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, located in the palace at Piazza della Signoria. Its collections have existed as a museum for more than 700 years. Here, you’ll find works by Donatello and Michelangelo, the private rooms of the Medici court, and so much more.
If you’re looking for something to do after the sun goes down, consider Trip per Tre, one of the city’s most popular pubs. It’s known for free snacks, generous drinks, and a convivial, rock ’n’ roll–style atmosphere. Life Club is a hotspot for young trendsetters to meet friends and dance. At Casa del Vino, a cosmopolitan crowd mingles over an impressive selection of wines and cheeses. The seats are always full, and for good reason.
Tuscany Restaurants and Shopping
One of the best reasons to visit Tuscany is the food. Florence’s La Prosciutteria serves antipasti platters full of delicious meats and cheeses in a low-key environment. Panino fans insist that the best in the city are at Salumeria Verdi, where Pino serves up sandwiches, pasta plates and drinks with a smile. Seafood lovers with refined tastes will find plenty to like at Pescheria San Pietro, a gastro-pub with a well-earned reputation for fresh, lovingly prepared dishes nearly as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. Lines stretching around the block are not uncommon at All’Antico Vinaio, a sandwich shop known for its focaccia bread, Pecorino Romano, delicious pastrami, and friendly service.
Florence and surrounding Tuscany have much to offer shoppers, too. The latest fashion is on display and for sale along the main streets of Florence’s Santa Maria Novella District. Stores here offer collections from top Italian and international designers. In the open-air markets of Siena, you’ll find leather goods of unparalleled quality. In Lucca, the furniture is as exquisitely made as the intricate lace.