Florence, the pearl of the Italian Renaissance
There is an air of fervour and passion among its streets full of restaurants and workshops. Art, history and culture are in Florence, the lime that unites its inhabitants with the city. Thanks to a historical-artistic lens, we savour Florence, a city that is described by many as both exuberant and elegant. Only through a journey into its past can we deeply know its values, its “madness,” and its soul.
The sarcophagus of the Spouses, Louvre museum (Paris, France).
The earliest traces of Florence root back to the Etruscans. This population lived in approximately what is now Tuscany, western Umbria, northern Lazio, western Campania and part of northern Italy, near the Po valley. Around the 9th–8th century BCE, the Etruscans formed the small settlement of Fiesole (Faesulae in Latin). However, the unstoppable power of Rome saw the expansion of the roman culture in the area with the conquests of the roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 80 BCE.
The present city of Florence was established by Julius Caesar in 59 BCE as a settlement for his veteran soldiers. It was originally named “Fluentia” because it was built between two rivers and was later changed to Florentia (“flowering”).
Situated along the Via Cassia, the main route between Rome and the north, and within the fertile valley of the Arno, the settlement quickly became an important commercial centre.
Seat of an episcopal diocese as early as the 4th century CE, the city was called “Municipium splendidissimum” and, from the time of Emperor Hadrian, was connected to Rome by the Via Cassia. Under Diocletian, it was raised to Corrector Italiae, the capital of the Etruria and Umbria regions.
Lorenzo De Medici "The Magnificent", Magi Chapel (Architas, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, Florence passed through periods of Byzantine, Ostrogothic, Lombard, and Frankish rule, during which the population dropped to a few thousand. The city developed from the 10th CE century, and from 1115 CE, it became an autonomous municipality. Later Florence was the epicentre of a profound war, motivated by political and religious reasons: the fight between Guelphs (supporters of the Roman Papacy) and Ghibellines (in favour of the Holy Roman Emperor). After ups and downs, the Guelphs won (with the so-called “Battle of Colle,” June 17, 1269 CE) but were soon divided internally into “Whites and Blacks” (Dante Alighieri himself, the famous Italian writer, sided with the White faction).
Internal political strife did not prevent the city from developing into one of the most powerful and prosperous in Europe, reaching its apex with the notorious Renaissance family of the “De Medici”.
The “Signoria” of the De Medici gave incredible lustre to the city, especially under the rule of Lorenzo De Medici, known as “The Magnificent”. Between the 14th-16th centuries CE, Florence was the cradle of the Renaissance, distinguishing it by its extraordinary literary, artistic and scientific development. The city, with its world-renowned artists, thinkers, scholars, and scientists, among many others, boasts names of the calibre of Michelangelo, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli, Niccolò Machiavelli, Filippo Brunelleschi, Galileo, and Leonardo da Vinci. In all respects, materially and spiritually, they contributed to making Florence a most important place for the rebirth of world culture.
In 1555 CE, with an army formed with Spanish and German allies, the Medici finally defeated the bitter enemy Siena at the Battle of Scannagallo and gained a vast territory. As a result, over the centuries, Florence ruled almost all of Tuscany until the arrival in Italy of Napoleon Bonaparte. He sanctioned French rule over much of Italy.
Florence took Turin’s place as the capital of Italy in 1865 CE, at the request of Napoleon III under the September Convention, until this role was transferred to Rome in 1871 CE.
During World War II, the city was occupied for a year by the Germans until it was liberated in 1944 CE by troops of the New Zealand Army (2nd New Zealand Division), liberating Tuscany. After many days of vigorous fighting, the New Zealanders forced the enemy to retreat.
The Oltrarno was freed by the New Zealand Army (2nd New Zealand Division) on August 4, 1944, and the centre of the city by the fight of the partisan brigades of the Tuscan Committee for National Liberation on August 11, 1944, after suffering extensive damage, such as the demolition of bridges and houses, by mines from the fleeing Germans. Florence is among the Cities Decorated for Military Valor for the War of Liberation because it was awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valor for the sacrifices of its population and its activity in the partisan struggle during World War II.
Inside view of the museum (Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
It preserves one of the most relevant collections of scientific instruments and vanguard in the world, material evidence of the importance attached to science and its protagonists by members of the Medici dynasty and the Lorraine grand dukes. The opening coincided with the 400th anniversary of the publication of “Sidereus Nuncius” (March 1610 CE), the work with which Galileo Galilei popularised his discoveries in astronomy obtained through the use of the telescope.