Italy - Tuscany - Lucca -

Florence 1

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FLORENCE (Italian: Firenze) is the capital city of Tuscany. From 1865 to 1870 the city was also the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. Florence lies on the Arno River and has a population of around 400,000 people plus a suburban population of over of 200,000.

A centre of medieval European trade and finance, the city is often considered to be the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and was long ruled by the Medici family. Florence is also famous for its fine art and architecture. It is said that, of the 1,000 most important European artists of the second millennium, 350 lived or worked in Florence. The city has also been called the Athens of the Middle Ages.

Florence's recorded history began with the establishment in 59 BC of a settlement called Florentia (May She Flourish) designed to house former Roman former soldiers. .They built a castrum in a chessboard pattern of an army camp (castrum) with the main streets intersecting at the present Piazza della Repubblica. Florentia was situated on the Via Cassia, the main route between Rome and the North. Emperor Diocletian made Florentia capital of the province of Tuscia in the 3rd century AD.

St Minias was Florence’s first martyr. He was beheaded at about 250 AD, during the anti-Christian persecutions led by the Emperor Decius. From around the beginning of the 4th century AD, the city experienced turbulent periods during which the city was often besieged and ravaged. The population may have fallen to as few as 1,000 persons.

Peace returned under Lombard rule in the 6th century. Conquered by Charlemagne in 774, Florence became part of the duchy of Tuscany with Lucca as capital. Population began to grow again and commerce prospered. Margrave Hugo chose Florence as his residency in about 1000 AD. This initiated the Golden Age of Florentine art. In 1013, construction began on the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. The exterior of the baptistry was reworked in Romanesque style between 1059 and 1128.

Political conflict in the 13th century did not prevent the city's rise to become one of the most powerful and prosperous in Europe, assisted by her own strong gold currency, the eclipse of her formerly powerful rival Pisa and the exercise of power by the mercantile elite.

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Cimabue's 'Crucifix' rescued after the flood of 1966 - see below - and displayed, unrestored, in the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce (above)



Of a population estimated at 80,000 before the Black Death of 1348, about 25,000 are said to have been supported by the city's wool industry. Florence came under the sway (1382-1434) of the Albizzi family, bitter rivals of the Medici. Cosimo de' Medici was the first Medici family member to essentially control the city from behind the scenes. Although the city was technically a democracy of sorts, his power came from a vast patronage network along with his alliance to the new immigrants, the gente nuova. The fact that the Medici were bankers to the pope also contributed to their rise. Cosimo was succeeded by his son Piero, who was shortly thereafter succeeded by Cosimo's grandson, Lorenzo in 1469. Lorenzo was a great patron of the arts, commissioning works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli.

Following his death in 1492, Lorenzo was succeeded by his son Piero II. When the French king Charles VIII invaded northern Italy, Piero II chose to resist his army. But when he realised the size of the French army at the gates of Pisa, he had to accept to accept the humiliating conditions of the French king. These made the Florentines rebel and they expelled Piero II. With his exile in 1494 and the restoration of a republican government the first period of Medici rule ended

During this period the dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola had become prior of the San Marco monastery in 1490. He was famed for his penitential sermons. He later blamed the exile of the Medicis as the work of God, punishing them for their decadence. He seized the opportunity to carry through political reforms leading to a more democratic rule. His monomaniacal persecution of various worldly pleasures in Florence both influenced and foreshadowed many of the wider religious controversies of the following centuries. Savonarola publicly accused Pope Alexander VI of corruption and he was subsequently banned from speaking in public. Later, when he broke this ban, he was excommunicated. The Florentines, tired of his extreme teachings, turned against him and arrested him. He was convicted as a heretic and burned at the stake on the Piazza della Signoria on 23 May 1498.

A second individual of unusual insight was Niccolò Machiavelli, whose prescriptions for Florence's regeneration under his strong leadership have often been seen as a legitimisation of political expediency and even malpractice. Commissioned by the Medici, Machiavelli also wrote the Florentine Histories, a history of the city.

Florentines drove out the Medici for a second time and re-established a republic on May 16, 1527. Restored twice with the support of both Emperor and Pope, the Medici in 1537 became hereditary dukes of Florence, and in 1569 Grand Dukes of Tuscany, ruling for two centuries. In Tuscany, only the Republic of Lucca (later a Duchy) was independent of Florence.

The extinction of the Medici line and the accession in 1737 of Francis Stephen, duke of Lorraine and husband of Maria Theresa of Austria, led to Tuscany's inclusion into the territories of the Austrian crown. Austrian rule was to end in defeat at the hands of France and the kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont in 1859, and Tuscany became a province of the united kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Florence replaced Turin as Italy's capital in 1865, hosting the country's first parliament, but was superseded by Rome six years later, after the withdrawal of the French troops made its addition to the kingdom possible

. After doubling during the 19th century, Florence's population tripled in the 20th with the growth of tourism, trade, financial services and industry. During World War II the city experienced a year-long German occupation (1943-1944). The Allied soldiers who died driving the Germans from Tuscany are buried in cemeteries outside the city.

In November 1966 the Arno flooded parts of the centre, damaging many art treasures. There was no warning from the authorities who knew the flood was coming, except a phone call to the jewellers on the Ponte Vecchio.

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Although the origins of the first Franciscan oratory are still lost in the mists of time, the construction of the new Basilica of Santa Croce (left) is well documented. It was officially started on May 3rd 1294, when the architect, Arnolfo di Cambio, laid the first stone of what was to become a masterpiece of Gothic art. His design was based on 'spatial grandiosity, with the structural elements carried out with rational clarity and sobriety'.

When the church was finished in 1442, it was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV. The facade was left undecorated. (In fact it was not completed until 1857-63, more or less at the same time as the Belltower was rebuilt to replace the original one which had been struck by lightning.) Architectural additions were introduced thanks to the patronage of Cosimo "the Elder" de' Medici and Andrea de' Pazzi. The former had the Chapel of the Novitiate built next to the Sacristy in 1434-45 by Michelozzo. It was decorated by Andrea della Robbia and Mino da Fiesole. The latter sponsored the Pazzi Chapel (in the first cloister or 'Cloister of the Dead') which was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and started in around 1430. (See next page)

Brunelleschi also designed the second Cloister of the Convent, or Greater Cloister, continued after his death by Bernardo Rossellino (1453 circa) with a fine entrance door (1450 circa) by Benedetto da Maiano. Rather out of place in this substantially Gothic ambience, the Niccolini Chapel (situated in the left transept) dates from a later period and was carried out in around 1570 by the architect Giovanni Antonio Dosio. Giorgio Vasari was "remodernizing" the basilica for the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici more or less in the same period (1566-1584). This was when the huge altars we can see on the walls in the side naves were built, all of them enriched with religious paintings carried out by the finest Florentine painters of the period.


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The presence of so many funeral monuments and tombstones (276 can still be seen on the cathedral floor alone!) has led to the Basilica being thought of as the city Pantheon, the burial place of Florence's most illustrious citizens. Here lie the tombs of Taddeo Gaddi and Count Ugolino della Gherardesca. Other famous inmates include Michelangelo (tomb by Vasari, 1570), Vittorio Alfieri (tomb by Canova, 1810) - and Galileo Galilei (tomb by Foggini, 1737) (right)........

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..........Michelangelo (left) and Machiavelli (below)

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The visit to Florence continues on the next page.
Please click on the 'Next' button (lower right).


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