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As the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence has an abundance of significant architecture and artistic masterpieces -- as do most of the smaller cities that dot the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside, such as Arezzo, Pisa, Lucca, and Perugia. This profusion of art and architecture is the direct result of historic rivalries between the inhabitants of various medieval cities. The nobility in each of these Tuscan and Umbrian cities spent centuries outdoing each other with shows of artistic wealth; they often competed to see who could procure the most elaborate and grandest artistic masterpieces. Today we are left with vivid reminders of those historic rivalries: an artistic treasure trove in nearly every city and hamlet in the region.

While historically this intercity rivalry boiled over into countless wars, today it persists in other forms: frequent clashes between soccer fans, graffiti sprayed on palazzo walls ("Pisa merda" is a favorite vulgar phrase of vandals from Livorno), and throughout the tourism sector at every level. Ask a hotel owner in Lucca how long a drive it is to Pistoia, and you'll get the response, "What do you want to go to Pistoia for?"

What would Tuscany and Umbria be today had these rivalries never existed? Brunelleschi might have continued to work as a goldsmith, instead of building his revolutionary dome in Florence's Duomo. Donatello might have eked out an existence as a stonemason and Michelangelo might have chiseled away in anonymity on his father's marble quarries, instead of becoming the legendary artists that produced some of Italy's most extraordinary works of art.

People flock to Tuscany and Umbria from all over the world to view the plethora of art that these rivalries produced, and as a result the region has become a prime tourist destination. These rivalries -- and the art they produced -- have permanently shaped the regions' identities and economies. Nowhere else in the world will you find as many architects and art historians who are charged with preserving and promoting this heritage.

Italians are acutely aware of their past because it is very much a part of their present. It's difficult not to be curious about history when you confront it everyday, whether you're walking on 12th-century paving stones, ambling though ancient ruins, or eating in a restaurant that is housed in a medieval palace.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.