History of Florence







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History of Florence                                            (Back to Florence main information page)

The history of Florence stretches back as far as the eighth century B.C. when a primitive settlement lived in the valley, close to the Arno. 'Florentia' is recorded as an official Roman colony in 59 B.C. and was designed according to the typical Roman road system, which can be seen in many Italian cities today. There are two principal roads: the 'cardus' descends from the Baptistery to Via Roma and continues on to Via Calimala, while the 'decumanus' stretches from Via del Corso to Via degli Speziali until it reaches Via degli Strozzi. The Forum (public meeting place and market) was built at the point where the roads meet, on what is now the Piazza della Repubblica. During Roman rule, Florence was the most important city in Roman Tuscany.

Florentia was invaded by numerous tribes in the following centuries: Goths, 'Silicone', Ostrogoths and Longobards. Many inhabitants adopted Christianity at the time of the Silicone, and the first churches appeared outside the Roman walls of Florentia: San Lorenzo and Santa Felicita were built during the fourth century A.D and can be visited today.

Charlemagne's arrival put an end to the colony's expansion. Buildings were still constructed however, and the 'Battistero di San Giovanni' dates back to this time. The city flourished in the ninth and tenth centuries, a great deal of money was spent on the construction of many religious buildings e.g. the 'Badia Fiorentina'. Many public works were undertaken, including the building of the city walls in 1078. Florentia was a cultural and economic success!

Florence's wealth and power grew at an enormous pace; a second set of city walls had to be built; the district of Oltrarno became part of the city and Romanesque-style architecture ruled (e.g. San Miniato and Santi Apostoli churches). Florentine craftsmen became involved in the textile trade (beginning with the trading of wool and silk), which lead to gradual urbanization. Political tension began to rear its ugly head in the thirteenth century as two political factions (the Guelphs and the Ghibellines) fought for power. At the end of the thirteenth century, there was something of a cultural revolution'. A major player in this revolution was the architect Arnolfo di Cambio who designed the Palazzo dei Priori (which became the Palazzo della Signoria a century later) and also started work on the reconstruction of Santa Maria del Fiore, which was completed in successive centuries. Arnolfo also continued with the construction of the third and final set of city walls.

The city was devastated by plague in 1348, and political conflicts were still rife. The Ciompi Riot occurred as a result of the people's frustration - the poor reacted against their 'unjust' governor. Meanwhile, Florentine merchants and bankers were already working hard to increase their wealth in order to attain power over the nobility.

Lorenzo de' Medici played an important role in Florence's history; he strengthened the political interests of the nobility, while dedicating himself to his love of the Arts and philosophy. The city underwent a cultural rebirth, which became known as Humanism. After Lorenzo's death in 1492, the city came under the harsh, puritanical rule of the Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, who was elected to the leadership of the Republic. He was so unpopular that he was burned alive six years later by angry citizens. The leadership of the city was unstable for several years after that, but the de' Medici clan regained power and Florence had her first Duke in 1530.

The succession of the Grand Dukes of the Medici family continued until the end of the eighteenth century, but Florence gradually lost the central role it had occupied in preceding centuries. The last heir of the Medici's handed over power and all the family's riches to the House of Lorena, whose rule continued until 1859, when Florence was united with the rest of Italy (which later became the Kingdom of Italy). Florence was only the capital of this kingdom for a few years and the court transferred its official residence to the Palazzo Pitti. A lot of urban design and restructure took place during the nineteenth century, including the construction of embankments along the Arno and piazzas in the centre of the new districts of Barbano and Mattonaia (which are now Piazza dell'Indipendenza and Piazza D'Azeglio). The 'arnolfiane' wall and the Jewish Ghetto were demolished, to make way for a series of ring roads which were to lead to the Piazzale Michelangelo, and the Piazza della Repubblica.

World War Two had a devastating effect on Florence. The city sustained many damages, especially to its bridges and the area inside the 'Ponte Vecchio'. The flood of 1966 further hindered the preservation of valuable Florentine treasures.

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