It was originally named Florentia and was founded by Julius Caesar as a retreat for retired military veterans. Being situated on fertile ground and on a major route from Northern Italy to Rome it grew from being a small Roman settlement to a busy commercial centre. At the beginning of the 4th century the Byzantines and the German Ostrogoths were continually fighting for control of the area and caused much destruction and hardship. By the 6th century peace was restored under Lombard rule and by the 6th century Florence prosperity steadily increased.
Art was brought to the city during the reign of Margrave Hugo, who moved to Florence in 1000 AD. Prosperity continued and by the 10th century the city minted its own currency the ‘florin’; the city became a powerful banking centre opening up branches all over Europe. The powerful Medici banking family ruled the city and became patrons of the arts. Due to its prosperity, Florence attracted many immigrants and visitors including artists who set up mercantile guilds throughout the city, which helped set the stage for the creative movement known as the Renaissance. Famous artists flocked to the city to create their masterpieces, including Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Leonardo da Vinci. Their frescoes, sculptures, architecture and paintings are still preserved throughout the city.
In the 1700s, Tuscany became part of Austria, and was later ruled by France. After unification in 1861, the city became part of Italy. Florence was the capital of Italy for a short period, replacing Turin in 1865, and hosted its first parliament; it was replaced by Rome in 1871 following its addition to the kingdom.
Florence today is still an important banking centre and tourists flock to the city to enjoy its unique architecture and the vast quantity of Renaissance art.
Places to visit in Florence
I only list the most obvious examples The famous Green and White cathedral (Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore) – Uffizi art gallery (masterpieces famous artists) – Academy Gallery (Michelangelo’s David) – Modern Art Gallery (Pitti Palace – Tuscan Artists) – Silver Museum (treasures of Medici family) -Churches of Santa Croce (tombs of famous artists), Santa Maria Novella and San Lorenzo- the extensive Boboli Gardens. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the finest museums of the world founded on a large bequest from the final member of the Medici family. Florence is the fashion capital of Italy with lots of upmarket boutiques and shoe shops in the shopping area between the station and the cathedral – Jewellery shops surround Ponte Vecchio. The Famous Ponte Vecchio (1345) was the only bridge not bombed in World War II – see photo).
Siena is Italy’s prettiest medieval town and is built on three hills. Cars are prohibited within the medieval walls of the town and some of the streets are fairly steep. Along the 31 miles between Florence and Siena is the beautiful Tuscan countryside, with the famous Chianti vineyards.
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Photo: Ponte Vecchio (VG) 6