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Its History in a Few Words

The history of Florence began long before the Romans called it the “flourishing one”, with the Etruscans who settled in Fiesole. It was founded in  59 BC by Julius Cesar on the Arno’s banks to keep guard of the Via Flaminia which led from Rome to the north of Italy and Gallia.

The Goths, the Lombards and the Franks took over one after the other. There was a twist in its history when it became the capital of the area ruled by Ugo of Tuscany in 1000AD.

Over 100 years later it became a city-state that a few years later was under the control of councils supported by another council composed of the thriving merchant group. Because of the power struggle among groups defending different interests, in the beginning of the 13th century it was necessary to delegate power to a podestá, a foreigner to rule, who was supposed to not be able to decide on matters such as alliances.

In the Middle Ages Florence was a thriving wealthy city-state that traded wool, silk and leather at an international level. It had a healthy economy and was leader in the arts. Florence was led by rich traders and artisans who had their own guilds.

A terrible power struggle took place between the pope’s supporters, the Guelphs, and the Holy Roman Emperor’s, the Ghibellines. It lasted about 100 years from the 13th century to the 14th century. The division within this fight between White Guelphs and Black Guelphs caused Dante´s banishment from Florence for his inclination towards  the White fraction. The Black Death decimated Florence’s population in the 14th century, a terrible period which Boccaccio’s Decameron has as its background.

Under the rule of Cosimo I de’ Medici (Picture 2),  Florence ‘s art world became even more rich. This statesman was an intelligent Maecenas such as Alberti, Brunelleschi, Luca della Robbia, Fra’ Angelico, Donatello and Fra’Filippo Lippi.

The objective of bringing scholars of different disciplines and artisans from Byzance was to join the Roman Catholic Church and eastern church, a target encouraged by the Church Council of Florence in 1439. The only result was that they only had a big impact on what was later called the Renaissance, the rebirth of classical arts and culture. Years later Lorenzo il Magnifico turned its court into a patronage of artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and humanists who converted Florence into the European heart of cultural activity.

Banking problems, Lorenzo‘s death, the Medici’s banishment and the decline of Florence all came together. To counteract the extravagant way the Medici court lived, a Dominican monk, Girolamo Savonarola favoured the development of an austere state until he was found guilty of heresy and sentenced to death burnt at the stake.
 
The republicans’ support of the French began a power struggle between Florence and the pope and the Spanish on the other side. The Medici were restored to power again by the Spanish in 1512, but were expelled after Charles V the Holy Emperor defeated the Medici Clement VII in 1527. In 1529 the pope and the emperor took over Florence and appointed Alessandro de’ Medici as head of the town. The Medici controlled Florence for 2 centuries and conquered Tuscany.

The Grand Duchy of Tuscany was given by Anna Maria de`Medici (Picture 1) to the House of Austria and so remained save for a period in which Napoleon held power. Finally, the Grand Duchy became part of the Kingdom of Italy. For 10 years it was capital of the kingdom, a role that Rome has played since 1871.

The destruction left by the Germans in  WWII only spared the Ponte Vecchio (Picture 3). And the floods of the mid-20th century sadly struck Florence’s art and architecture. To save pieces of art and architecture from destruction, all technology available was used. Today the Uffizi Gallery, partially damaged by a mafia bomb in 1993, is still very much thriving and determined to double its collection and display rooms by 2013.



 
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