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Baptistry <i>(battistero)</i> Piazza Duomo, dedicated to St John the Baptist and believed to have been built between the 5th and 12th centuries

The cultural and historical impact of Florence is overwhelming. Close up, however, the city is one of Italy's most atmospheric and pleasant, retaining a strong resemblance to the small late-medieval centre that contributed so much to the cultural and political development of Europe.

Its diversely striking buildings, formidable galleries and treasure-crammed churches attest to the Florentine love of display. Even long after it had been eclipsed on the political and economic fronts, Florence upheld its elegant appearance: and its skyline, with its russet rooftops and lofty domes, is indeed picturesque.

The glory of Florence is rooted in its past. The Medicis commanded the city's fortunes for centuries and, as patrons, they encouraged the Renaissance's influence on the city. They are attributed in today's Florence: their family crest of six balls still adorns many public buildings and and their support of many artforms is evident in the city's streets.

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