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View of Florence looking towards Santa Croce.

Palazzo Vecchio.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.

In search of Florence with a timely guidebook

Tony Green explores this gem of an Italian city with a copy of Karl Baedekers 1906 guidebook to Northern Italy to see how things have changed or not, as the case may be
BEFORE we had Lonely Planets, before we had Rough Guides, before travel was even an option to most people, there was one publication that provided anyone embarking on their grand tour with everything they needed to know. Karl Baedeker gave his name to a series of guidebooks that still exists in some form today. The 1906 edition of the guide to Northern Italy is the one employed in the 1986 Merchant Ivory film A Room With A View, based on EM Forsters novel. In the preface, Baedeker assures readers that the purpose of his guide is to supply the traveller with some information regarding the culture and art of the people he is about to visit, as well as regarding the natural features of the country, to render him as independent as possible of the services of guides and valets-de-place, to protect him against extortion, and in every way to aid him in deriving enjoyment and instruction from his tour in one of the most fascinating countries in the world. The language is beautiful, and the disdain for Johnny Foreigner, or more likely in this case Gianni Foreigner, is evident on every page. Forster saw fit to lampoon the superior attitude as long ago as 1908. Armed with a 100-year-old guide book, how relevant would the Baedeker be in modern Florence? Its attractions have barely changed. Steer clear if you have no interest in art, architecture or churches. Or shopping. Or food. Otherwise Florence delivers everything it promises. Now, as then, the city is dominated by the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo. The most distinct cathedral in Europe is still imposing and strikingly beautiful more than 500 years after its consecration and 100 years after the completion of its marble facade. The view from the top is worth tackling the 463 hundred steps and narrow passages. Opportunists lie in wait back on ground level hoping to part tourists weakened by their recent exertions from their cash. Helpfully, Mr Baedeker has some words of wisdom to impart. It is advised that importunate beggars should be dismissed with niente or by a gesture of negation. This actually still worked outside the Duomo, where some local examples of living statues harass tourists distracted by the scale and grandeur of the cathedral. century later and sadly what may have been novel is now a nuisance. Only local cars are permitted in the city centre but the relentless traffic will soon send visitors in search of silence. A hundred years ago, the Hotel Lucchesi was described as being among nearly all the better hotels, which have lifts and steam heating. The best situation is described as being on the right bank of the Arno (gnats troublesome in summer). Today the hotels location by the banks of the Arno is more valuable than ever. It is an oasis of calm. The rooms are of a reasonable size with many either offering views of the river or of the Duomo in the other direction. In the 100 years since Karl Baedeker published his findings, the Lucchesi has graduated from pension to hotel. Its cool tranquillity is undoubtedly the main attraction in this hot and hectic city. Beautiful, assured of its own identity and arguably the cultural capital of Italy, nothing has changed much in the 100 years since Lucy Honeychurch wandered through its streets in A Room With A View. Gone is the necessity to have a list of your undergarments in Italian to give to the launderess. Gone is the compulsion to suspect that these foreigners are trying to cheat you out of your last penny. What remains true is what was true in the centuries before even Baedeker turned up. An amazing profusion of treasures of art, such as no other locality possesses within so narrow limits, reminisces with a history which has influenced the whole of Europe, perpetuated by numerous and imposing monuments and lastly the delightful environs of the city combine to render Florence as one of the most interesting and attractive places in the world. Travel facts Florence Tourist Information: Hotel Lucchesi: Accademia Gallery, Uffizi Gallery:

Northern Italy by Karl Baedeker.

For more stunning statuary, head to the Loggia dei Lanzi. Baedeker states that this was originally known as the Loggia dei Signoria, and 100 years later this is again what it is known as. The place is littered with classical sculpture including a copy of Michelangelos David. The real thing is next door in the Accademia Gallery. Florence is also home to the Uffizi, one of the worlds great art galleries. Santa Croce is the citys other major church on Mr Baedekers to-do list. It is the final resting place of Michelangelo, reminding visitors that this is the city of the Medici. Galileo and Machiavelli are close by. Should cultural overload become a concern, retail therapy is at hand. Leather goods are for sale all over the city. Its other chief offering is gold, particularly at another of the citys enduring landmarks, the Ponte Vecchio. Endless waves of tourists pass over this ancient bridge lined with shops, the prices being sufficiently high to make anyone think twice about stopping. The car was still a relatively new invention in 1908. Not so a

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Ponte Vecchio.