The river Arno splits Florence, the capital of Tuscany into two parts. The gentle Florentine hills are bordering north with the descendants Appenines, east with the Pratomagno area and towards south with the Chianti mountains. Today Florence has about 450,000 inhabitants that mainly live from tourism, handicraft and industry, of which the most important one is the textile industry.
The city of Florence was founded in the 1st century b.C. from the Romans as Municipio Florentina (the flourishing) on the foot of a hill where still today can be found the Etruscan town of Fiesole. Initially Florentina was not of great importance. In the 4th century it became bishop’s seat.
The importance of Florence was increasing only around the 6th century with the economic growth, becoming in 1183 republic. In the 13th century was invented the banking system and the aristocracy was split up in two parts: the Guelfs (supporters of the pope and the pontifical theocracy) and the Ghibellines (supporters of imperial and laical interests). The Ghibellines wanted to prevent the growth of independent communes and for this reason, the middle class supported the Guelfs. But also within the Guelfs there were different opinions and therefore they were divided into white and black Guelfs. In 1282 was formed the town council and in 1293, the middle class took over the power.
From here originated the so called Signoria. Under the power of the Signoria, Florence continued with growth, becoming always more rich and powerful, until it was predominating nearly whole central Italy. One can understand the wealth particularly from the buildings of this era, such as Palazzo Vecchio or the churches S. Maria Novella and S. Croce or Giotto’s the bell tower. Before outburst of the Black Death in 1348 that killed two thirds of the inhabitants, Florence was one of the most populated towns in the world. In 1527, the banker Cosimo de’ Medici took over the power, until 1494, when the Medici were expelled from Florence.
Subsequently, from 1512 until 1527, with the help of Spanish troups, descendant occupied again the town. Only four years later Alessandro de’ Medici came back with Granduke Charles V. and in 1569, Cosimo I was named from Pope Pius V, Granduke of Tuscany.
Now, the Medici did not only have the power over Florence but over whole Tuscany, except over Massa, Carrara and Lucca. In 1737 with Gian Gastone‘s death, the Florentine dynasty was extinguished. Until 1859, with short interruption of the Napoleonic era (1801-1814), Tuscany was part of the Hapsburg empire. On 15.03.1860 Tuscany decided to become part of the Reign of Vittorio Emanuele II with one plebiscite. From 1865 until 1871, Florence was the capital of Italy.
In the dome square there is one of the most fascinating cathedrals in Italy, belonging also to the biggest cathedrals of the world: S. Maria del Fiore, built between 1296 and 1461 in a gothic style. The façade was only finished in the 19th century. In 1334, Giotto started to direct works and planned the cupola. Filippo Brunelleschi finished in 1434 the works of the cupola, inventing a new construction method.
Nearby the square Piazza della Signoria, for over 600 years the symbol of Florence. Here are situated Palazzo Vecchio (built in 1299) and its museum. Just a few metres away, one of the most famous galleries in the world: the uffizi, built between 1560 and 1574 by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo de’ Medici. Besides the great collection of Tuscan painters of the 13th and 16th century, there are also art pieces from northern Europe.
Nearly adjacent to the uffizi is situated the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge of the town, built in 1345. Initially, there were butchers and leather shops, who threw their rubbish in the river Arno.
Grand Duke Cosimo I passing every day the bridge from Palazzo Vecchio to his residence Palazzo Pitti didn’t like the smell, thus he ordered the opening of jeweller’s shops, which can be found there even today.
Palazzo Pitti was built in 1457 as residence of the banker Luca Pitti. A century later, it was property of the Medici family, who built also the Boboli Garden of 45,000 sqm. Inside of Palazzo Pitti there are three museums:
- Galleria Palatina
- Museo degli Argenti
- Galelria d’Arte Moderna
On the western side of the cathedral there are important buildings built between the 13th and 15th century, such as Palazzo Rucellai, Palazzo Strozzi , Palazzo Antinori and Palazzo Davanzati. Absolutely worth visiting is the convent of S. Marco (13th century) with important frescoes and Michelozzo’s library.
There are a few Florentine churches that shouldn’t be missed: Orsanmichele (1337) and Santa Maria Novella (XIII-XIV sec.) with many art pieces.
One of the most important renaissance churches is S. Lorenzo with the medici chapels, whereas the church S. Maria del Carmine is famous for the frescoes made by Brancacci. In the gothic chapel S. Croce can be found the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. The Roman basilica S. Miniato al Monte situated on the top of the hill overviewing Piazzale Michelangelo and a marvellous panoramic view of Florence.