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My favourite place: Florence

In the September 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine, Joanne Paul selects Florence, Italy as her favourite place. History Extra caught up with her to find out more...

Published: August 17, 2017 at 10:48 am
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When did you last travel to Florence and why were you there?


I was last in Florence in November 2016 for a conference at the European University Institute. I spent only about a day and a half running around the city and am looking forward to getting back.

Why do you love the city?

Florence overflows with beauty and history. Everywhere you look there is something ornate and gorgeous, created by someone in the past who was trying to express some deep emotion. It’s a wonderful way to connect with history.

What top 3 sights would you recommend people visit there, and why?

Explore the cloisters, art and library at San Marco. Have a walk through the city and across the Ponte Vecchio. Pick up some delicious Tuscan food at Mercato Centrale.

During what period of its history would you most wanted to have visited Florence and why?

Certainly during the Renaissance! Probably towards the turn of the 16th century, when much of the art had been produced and could be seen in its full glory. This was also the period when there was a lot of tension between supporters of the Florentine republic and the Medici family, resulting in debate about how to think about citizenship and politics, which would shape later 16th- and 17th-century political thought. I would like to eavesdrop on such debates, and maybe have a quick chat with Machiavelli.

Where else in the world would you most like to visit and why?

There is so much to see around the Mediterranean. I’ve yet to visit Greece, and would love to see Athens and Delphi. Constantinople/Istanbul is so important in so much of what I study, so I hope to go there one day. When I was a child I planned on being an Egyptologist (somehow I ended up on the Renaissance instead), and still haven’t made it to Egypt – so it’s on the list!

Joanne Paul is a lecturer in early modern history at the University of Sussex with a special interest in the Renaissance. Her most recent book is Thomas More (Polity, 2016)


You can read more about Joanne's experiences in Florence in the September edition of BBC History Magazine – out now


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