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Florence, Italy    the architecture you must see
Main façade. 002-Firenze.Duomo01.jpg (87571 bytes)003-bibliot.jpg (102276 bytes)
01 Church of San Spirito02 Florence Cathedral03 Laurentian Library
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04 Ospedale Degli Innocenti05 Palazzo Strozzi06 Pazzi Chapel
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07 Ponte Vecchio08 S. Maria Novella09 S. Maria degli Angeli
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10 San Lorenzo11 Basilica di Santa Croce12 Palazzo Medici
13 Palazzo Vecchio  

"Chain" map of Florence, 1470s

Florence (Italian: Firenze) is the capital city of the region of Tuscany, Italy. 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 in excess of 200,000 persons. The greater area has some 956,000 people. A center of medieval European trade and finance, the city is often considered 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.

Florence's world famous skyline

History of Florence

Florence's recorded history began with the establishment in 59 BC of a settlement for Roman former soldiers, with the name Florentia. Julius Caesar had allocated the fertile soil of the valley of the Arno to his veterans. They built a castrum in a chessboard pattern of an army camp (castrum) , with the main streets, the cardo and the decumanus, intersecting at the present Piazza della Repubblica. This pattern can still be found in the city center. Florentia was situated at the Via Cassia, the main route between Rome and the North. Through this advantageous position, the settlement could rapidly expand into an important commercial center. Emperor Diocletianus 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 of the Emperor Decius. The Basilica di San Miniato al Monte now stands near the spot.

The seat of a bishopric from around the beginning of the 4th century AD, the city experienced subsequent turbulent periods of Byzantine, Ostrogothic rule, 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. In 854 Florence and Fiesole were united in one county.

Margrave Hugo chose Florence as his residency instead of Lucca at about 1000 AD. This initiated the Golden Age of Florentine art. In 1013 the construction was begun of the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. The exterior of the baptistry was reworked in Romanesque style between 1059 and 1128.

Reviving from the 10th century and governed from 1115 by an autonomous commune, the city was plunged into internal strife by the 13th-century struggle between the Ghibellines, supporters of the German emperor, and the pro-Papal Guelphs, who after their victory split in turn into feuding "White" and "Black" factions led respectively by Vieri de Cerchi and Corso Donati. (See Guelphs and Ghibellines.) These struggles eventually led to the exile of the White Guelphs, one of whom was Dante Alighieri. This factional strife was later recorded by Dino Compagni, a White Guelph, in his Chronicles of Florence.

Political conflict did not, however, prevent the city's rise to become one of the most powerful and prosperous in Europe, assisted by her own strong gold currency, the florin (introduced in 1252), the eclipse of her formerly powerful rival Pisa (defeated by Genoa in 1284 and subjugated by Florence in 1406[1]), and the exercise of power by the mercantile elite following an anti-aristocratic movement, led by Giano della Bella, that resulted in a set of laws called the Ordinances of Justice (1293).

A rare snow-covered Florence
A rare snow-covered Florence

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 woollen industry: in 1345 Florence was the scene of an attempted strike by wool combers (ciompi), who in 1378 rose up in a brief revolt against oligarchic rule in the Revolt of the Ciompi. After their suppression, 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.

After Lorenzo's death in 1492 and his son Piero's exile in 1494, the first period of Medici rule ended with the restoration of a republican government, influenced until his execution (1498) by the teachings of the radical Dominican prior Girolamo Savonarola, whose monomaniacal persecution of the widespread Florentine sodomy and of other worldly pleasures foreshadowed many of the wider religious controversies of the following centuries.

A second individual of unusual insight was Niccolò Machiavelli, whose prescriptions for Florence's regeneration under 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, the 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. Only Republic of Lucca (later a Duchy) was independent from Florence in all Tuscany.

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 in 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 following its addition to the kingdom. 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 (Americans about 9 kilometers (6 miles) south of the city [2], British and Commonwealth soldiers a few kilometers east of the center on the north bank of the Arno [3])

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.

Florence and the Renaissance
The surge in artistic, literary, and scientific investigation that occurred in Florence in the 14th-16th centuries was precipitated by Florentines' preoccupation with money, banking and trade and with the display of wealth and leisure.

Added to this, the crises of the Catholic church (especially the controversy over the French Avignon Papacy and the Great Schism) along with the catastrophic effects of the Black Death were to lead to a re-evaluation of medieval values, resultant in the development of a humanist culture, stimulated by the works of Petrarch and Boccaccio. This prompted a revisitation and study of the classical antiquity, leading to the Renaissance. Florence benefited materially and culturally from this sea-change in social consciousness.

Florence has what is classified as a warm temperate continental climate. It consists of hot, dry summers and cool, damp winters. Summer temperatures are higher than those along coastlines due to the lack of a prevailing wind. The small amount of rain which falls in the summer is convectional in type. Relief rainfall dominates in the winter.

A tour of Florence

Florence Duomo and Campanile Tower

Florence Cathedral and Campanile Tower

Combination pic of the view from the tower looking towards the Duomo

Combination pic of the view from the tower looking towards the Duomo

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

The Duomo in Florence is constantly being cleaned to remove the effects of pollution

The Florence Cathedral is constantly being cleaned to remove the effects of pollution

The bridges of Florence at sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo

The bridges of Florence at sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo

At the heart of the city is the Fountain of Neptune, which is a masterpiece of marble sculpture at the terminus of a still functioning Roman aqueduct. The Arno river, which cuts through the old part of the city, is as much a character in Florentine history as many of the men who lived there. Historically, the locals have had a love-hate relationship with the Arno — which alternated from nourishing the city with commerce, and destroying it by flood.

One of the bridges in particular, however, stands out as being unique — The Ponte Vecchio, whose most striking feature is the multitude of shops built upon its edges, held up by stilts. First constructed by the Etruscans in ancient times, this bridge is the only one in the city to have survived World War II intact.

One of the most famous buildings in the city is San Lorenzo, which contains the Medici Chapel, a private chapel owned by the Medici family who were one of the most powerful families in Florence during the 15th century. Nearby is the Uffizi Gallery, one of the finest art galleries in the world.

The Uffizi itself is located on the corner of Piazza della Signoria, a site important for three main reasons:

In 1301, it was where Dante was sent into Exile (a plaque on one of the walls of the Uffizi commemorates the event). 
In 1497, it was the location of the Bonfire of the Vanities (a plaque in the middle of the plaza commemorates that event), followed in 1498 by the execution of its instigator, Girolamo Savonarola 
In 1504, it was the original location of Michelangelo's David (now replaced by a reproduction as the original was moved indoors to the Accademia dell' Arte del Disegno), in front of the Palazzo della Signoria (aka Palazzo Vecchio). 
In addition to the Uffizi, Florence has other world-class museums:

The Bargello concentrates on sculpture, containing many priceless works of art created by such sculptors as Donatello, Giambologna, and Michelangelo.

The Accademia dell' Arte del Disegno (often simply called the Accademia) collection's highlights are Michelangelo's David and his Slaves.

Across the Arno is the huge Pitti Palace lavishly decorated with the Medici family's former private collection. The art gallery containd a large number of Renaissance works, including several by Raphael. Adjoining the Palace are the Boboli Gardens, elaborately landscaped and with many interesting sculptures.

The elaborate Santa Croce church contains the monumental tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante (actually a cenotaph), and many other notables.

The crowning architectural jewel of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as "The Duomo". The magnificent dome was built by Filippo Brunelleschi. The nearby Campanile Tower (by Giotto) and the Baptistery buildings are also highlights.

Other important basilicas in Florence include Santa Maria Novella, San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito and the Orsanmichele.

The city's principal football team is AC Fiorentina.

Florence has been the setting for numerous works of fiction and movies, including the novels and associated films Hannibal and A Room with a View.

Like many cities in Italy, the pensioner population overwhelms those who are under 14 years of age. This ageing process is due to low fertility which is widespread in Italy.

The principle transportation network within the city is run by the ATAF and Li-nea bus company, with tickets available at local tabacconists. Trenitalia runs trains between the railway stations within the city, and to other destinations around Europe. Long distance buses are run by the SITA, Copit, CAP and Lazzi buses. The transit companies also accommodate travelers from the Amerigo Vespucci Airport, which is five kilometers from the city center.

The centre of the city is closed to through-traffic, although buses, taxis and residents with appropriate permits are allowed in. Within the city walls most places can easily be reached by foot.

An urban tram network called the TramVia is currently under construction in the City.

The city is located close to Peretola Airport which has scheduled services run by major European carriers such as Air France and Lufthansa.

Economy and industry
Florence is home to the Italian haute couture establishment Gucci, notable as one of the most famous Italian fashion houses not located in Milan.

Notable Residents
Galileo Galilei, Italian physicist, astronomer, and philosopher. 
Leonardo da Vinci, famous for his Mona Lisa and other paintings, inventions, and scientific experiments. 
Michelangelo, a famous sculptor, also famous for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 
Dante Alighieri, The famous poet & writer of La Divina Commedia. 
Niccolò Machiavelli, famous Renaissance poet and philosopher