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Livorno, Italy

The lovely seaport village of Livorno, where the Medici Family grew prosperous trading with merchants from the eastern Mediterranean, serves as the perfect gateway to two of Italy's most enchanting cities -- the magnificent Florence and the intimate Pisa.

More than any other place, Florence and its landmarks symbolize the wealth and power of a golden age. Few structures anywhere rival the beauty of the Duomo, the grand Cathedral of Florence, famed for its lanterned dome designed by Brunelleschi. The nearby Baptistry is renowned for its magnificent bronze doors depicting scenes from the Bible. Michaelangelo himself thought these doors to be so beautiful, he named them the Gates of Paradise. Also near the Duomo is the graceful Campanile Bell Tower by Giotto, only five stories high but soaring in architectural significance.

Florence's most famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, which spans the Arno River and leads to the Medici's Pitti Palace, is famous for its engineering and place in the city's gilded history. Built in Ancient times by the Etruscans, the Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Florence to have survived World War II. Gold- and silversmiths long ago built their shops on the bridge. Today, it is home to numerous jewelry shops selling antique and designer jewelry.

In keeping with its historic reputation as a center for art, Florence is home to some of the most renowned museums in the world. The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo features works by Ghiberti, Donatello, and Michaelangelo. At the Uffizi Gallery, you'll find masterpieces by Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, and Botticelli. And at the Galleria dell'Accademia, Michaelangelo's original David is an awe-inspiring sight.

Of the elegant buildings that reside in the "Field of Miracles," it is the famous leaning Campanile or Bell Tower that has drawn visitors for centuries. Now inclined 14 feet to one side due to the settling of the subsoil, engineers have been hard at work shoring it up to prevent it from leaning any further. The tower also has historical significance as it is said that Galileo conducted his famous gravitational experiments from the top of the tower.
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