Marc Chagall

Florence, Italy, undergoes a new Renaissance

Florence, Italy, undergoes a new Renaissance

"Florence has changed," my friend Alessandra told me on the phone. "There's a new spirit here."

"I don't believe it," I said. "I know Florentines; they're conservative people who hate change."

"Come and see for yourself. I'm going on a trip. You can have my apartment," Alessandra said.

It was an offer I couldn't refuse. Although Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, and its entire center has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, both of us worried that it had become tourist hell. Too many day-tripping visitors. Dowdy, impossibly overcrowded museums and galleries. Suicidal traffic choking the narrow...