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Florence History

The origins of Florence

The origins of Florence back to Roman times. For the sake of defense, the city was set at the confluence of two streams, the Arno and the Mugnone. The built-up area, like all the cities founded by the Romans, was characterized by straight roads which crossed at right angles. The two main roads led to four towered gates and converged on a central square. now Piazza della Repubblica. Archaeological finds have made it possible to locate the remains of various important public works such as, the sewage system, the pavement of the streets and the Temple of Isis, in Piazza San Firenze. At that time there was a river port; the river was navigable from its mouth up to its confluence with the Affrico, upstream from Florence, and the first bridge was built close to the Ponte Vecchio, around the first century B.C. The first Florentine churches were built: San Lorenzo consecrated in 393, the first diocese, and Santa Felicita, whose origins go back to the 4th and 5th centuries. The Barbarian invasions seriously impaired the importance of Florentia. Its strategic position explains why the city was contested between the Goths and the Byzantines. In 541-44 new city walls were built. Around the end of the 6th century when the Lombards conquered northern and central Italy, Florence also fell under their dominion. This was the beginning of the darkest period in the city's historyand and it was Cutted off from the major routes. During the period of Lombard domination a number of religious buildings were founded in the city, including the Baptistery of San Giovanni In the Carolingian Period, 8th century, a feudal system was installed and Florence became a county of the Holy Roman Empire. This third set of walls partly followed the line of the old Roman walls. Towards the end of the 10th century, Countess Willa, widow of the Marquis of Tuscany, who owned an entire district within the city-walls, founded and richly endowed a Benedictine abbey in memory of her husband called the 'Badia Fiorentina'. Around the middle of the 11th century the position of Florence in Tuscany became even more important because Lucca was no longer the seat of the marquisate and because of the city's decisive participation in the movement for the reform of the church. In 1055 Florence played host to a council, under Pope Victor II with the presence of Emperor Henry III and the participation of 120 bishops. Many old structures were rebuilt during the second half of the 11th century, the cathedral of Santa Reparata, the Baptistery and San Lorenzo. Matilda, daughter of Countess Beatrice, became the sole countess of Tuscany. Henry IV's victory in 1081 led to the official deposition of the Countess who was abandoned by all the Tuscan cities except Florence. This faithfulness to the deposed Countess cost the city an imperial siege in July of 1082, which failed. Matilda's special attachment to Florence and the consequent rupture with the emperor led to the construction, in 1078, of a more efficient system of defense and the city was supplied with new walls - those which Dante was to call 'la cerchia antica'. When Countess Matilda died in 1115 the Florentine populace constituted a Commune. In 1125, upon the death of the last emperor of the Franconian dynasty, Henry V, the Florentines decided to attack and destroy Fiesole, the neighboring rival city. The two counties were conclusively united and remained as separate entities only on an ecclesiastic level. The community was made up of religious and secular representatives, with three dominant social groups: the nobles, grouped into consorterie, the merchants, and the horse soldiers, the backbone of the army. Although the nobles held most of the power in the 12th century, it was nevertheless mainly the merchants who were responsible for the growth of the city. The trade with distant countries was intensified and became a new and much richer source for the accumulation of capital. This process of expansion underwent a halt when Frederick Barbarossa advanced south into Italy. In 1185 the emperor even deprived the city of its contado and restored the marquisate of Tuscany. In 1197 Henry VI, Florence regained control of her contado. In 1172 the Commune therefore decided to enlarge the city walls and incorporate the newest districts and enclosed an area that was three times as great. The 'Oltrarno' was enclosed in the walls as early as 1173-1175. As a result the Arno became an infrastructure within the city. In the 12th century the skyline of the city was punctuated by numerous towers , later used as houses, but in the 12th century the towers still served for military purposes and gave birth to the phenomenon of the 'Tower Societies', associations which reunited the owners of various towers enabling them to control a portion of the city. At the beginning of the 13th century the city had 48 churches. The speed with which the new walls were built is a sign of the prosperity that reigned in Florence. The city had become the principal center of continental Tuscany, with a population that at this point must have been around 30,000 inhabitants. The Commune thus experienced a period of peace during which the economic basis of the city continued to expand. The merchants, who had begun to organize in corporate association. The city still preserves some of the buildings which served as headquarters for the Guilds. The increase in size and population, due to the accelerated immigration from the countryside, lay at the basis of this economic expansion. The immigrants settled in the city district which corresponded to the part of the contado. This was why the Oltrarno increased enormously and a new bridge was constructed in 1128 and in 1237 a third bridge was built upstream , across the widest point of the Arno and was called Ponte alle Grazie. The new religious orders (Franciscan, Dominican, Augustinian, Servite, Carmelite) played a leading role in the structuralization of the late medieval citythe and they created vast convent complexes, full of cloisters and rooms for study and work ; they organized the communitarian life of the urban population, playing a role in political and cultural as well as religious life. The new cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, whose construction began in 1294. 1216 saw the beginning of feuds which were to afflict Florentine society for the entire century, dividing the citizens between Guelphs and Ghibellines. In 1244 the Ghibelline nobles, who were in power, decided to broaden the social base of the government. Only a few years later, in 1250, the merchants and the artisans as a whole managed to usurp the power of the Ghibelline nobles and initiate a new political policy. This was the beginning of another period of peace and prosperity and the city's economic and financial power was affirmed. The gold florin was coined on 1252 and the silver florin was coined as early as 1235. In 1255 construction began on what was to be called the Palazzo del Popolo, now the Bargello, which was erected to house the Councils of the Commune. At the battle of Montaperti, 1260, the Florentines were defeated by the Sienese hosts, which resulted in the obliteration of all that the merchant middle class had accomplished politically. The Ghibellines resumed power and restored the old institutions they decreed the destruction of the palaces and towers and houses which the principal exponents of the Guelph party owned in the city and in the surroundings. The city was covered with rubble, and 103 palaces, 580 houses and 85 towers were totally demolished not to speak of the partial damage done to other buildings. Florence would have been destroyed had it not been for the fearless defense of Farinata degli Uberti at the convention of Empoli. The Ghibellines, were forced to accept the services of Clement. The pope openly favored the Guelph faction which thus succeeded in reconquering the. Two new parties began to shape up among the people at large: the 'Magnati' or entrepeneurs and the 'Popolani' or workers. In 1293, the Magnati were prohibited from taking part in the political life of the city Great things were done in the fields of architecture and town planning. The population had continued to increase. In 1282 a belt 8,500 meters long was planned, enclosing an area of 430 hectares, five times that of the precedent urban area. The entrepreneurs then in power decided to construct two great buildings which were in a sense to be symbols of the wealth and power of the city: the new cathedral and Palazzo della Signoria. A whole new series of urban measures were undertaken. The numerous towerhouses were flanked by the palaces which the middle class merchants were building as a symbol and visible sign of their wealth and power. Towards the end of the 13th century and in the early 14th century the contrasts between the popolo minuto-middle and lower middle classes- and the popolo grasso-wealthy merchants-were accentuated. The rivalry between two noble families resulted in much dissension and led to the formation of two antagonistic groups of political factions to be known as Blacks and Whites. The two parties took turns at the priorate. The Neri invoked the intervention of the pope who sent as his peacemaker Charles of Valois, the brother of Philip Le Belle, king of France. He openly favored the Neri, and even had the heads of the Bianchi arrested and forced those who were most compromised, including Dante Alighieri. During the 14th century, internal strife and wars were aggravated by famine and epidemics, particularly the deadly plague of 1348. Further damage was caused by the disastrous flood of. The 14th century was therefore a century of political and economic and it was also reflected in the city's architectural activity which continued at a much slower pace than before . The Ponte Vecchio was built by Taddeo Gaddi in three sweeping arches with a road much wider than before. When power returned to the popolo grasso at the end of the 14th century, an oligarchic regime was established in . That part of the middle class which had been excluded from power joined arms with the people and found a leader in Giovanni de' Medici, head of the richest and most powerful company of Calimala. The opinion favorable to the Medici continued to grow. it was a golden period in European intellect and culture. Take for example Filippo Brunelleschi. An incredible number of artistic personalities determined the image of the Renaissance city of whom Donatello, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Beato Angelico, Michelozzo, Giuliano da Sangallo and Benedetto da Maiano are but a few. Lorenzo the Magnificent knew how to impose his personal power. But upon his death in 1492 Pietro the Unlucky, to demolish the wonderful structure of Medici power. He constrained the city to eliminate him and re-establish in full the republican regime. The people were divided between those who sided with the Medici and the citizens who preoceeded to reform the government. But it was not long before the Medici and their supporters made a comeback. This was when Michelangelo created his famous statue of David to be located in front of the Palazzo della Signoria as guardian to the Florentine freedom. When news of the sack of Rome in 1527 arrived, the people rebelled and once more ousted the Medici. On August 12, 1530, after an eleven-month siege, the armies of the emperor and the pope together entered Florence and Alexander de' Medici was declared 'head of the government and of the state'and he installed a tyranny. Leonardo, carried out his initial artistic experiences in Florence, where he stayed until 1482, when he left Florence to go to. Michelangelo and Raffaello had already created a different artistic atmosphere in Florence and, whilst Leonardo was artistically involved in Milan, Michelangelo moved the centre of art to Rome in 1504. The great new patrons of this period were Popes Clement VII, Julius II and Leo X. Raffaello came to Florence from Urbino in the same year as Michelangelo's departure for Rome. He stayed there for four years. Michelangelo returned from Rome in 1516 to design the facade of San Lorenzo Church on request of Pope Leo X, a Medici. Following the seige of Florence by the Spanish in . Michelangelo was forced to leave Florence again. In 1534 he was re-called to Rome to undertake the Sistine Chapel frescoes. Meanwhile the aspect of the town of Florence began to tend towards spacious piazzas, where meetings and theatrical representations were held. Giorgio Vasari, painter, architect, art historian, transformed the Palazzo degli Uffizi into a large urban hall. Signs of decadence became more obvious under the government of the two sons of I's and were accelerated in the 17th century. Economically the situation had also changed. Trade and manufacturing were on the decline After the death of Grand Duke Gian Gastone, the last Medici, the important European countries in Vienna decided to give Tuscany to Francis I Duke of Lorraine, French-Austrian dynasty. While the arrival of the Lorraine family in Florence revived the town's economy, it unfortunately also accentuated its provincial mentality which prevented Florence from participating in international cultural expansion and the consequences for the town lasted for a long while. In the mid-18th Century, when international culture was once more open to discussion, the Lorraines asked the Frenchman Jadot to come to Florence to9 provide a neo-Classical touch of strong historical flavour, good taste and elegance seen in the little Meridiana palace in Boboli and the White Room in Palazzo Pitti. When Leopold II of Lorraine again gained control of the town and elegance of the neo- classical period were substituted by the enlightening theory to return to nature and the liberty of mankind. In 1859 the Lorraines left Florence for good. Following that and after the Second War of Independence and after Tuscany joined the Savoy Reign of Unified Italy, Florence was the capital of Italy for 5 years from 1865 to 1870.

Florence has been suffering from a process of degradation and. The old structure can no longer cope with the demands of modern urban Giuseppe Poggi's plan for 'Florence, capital of Italy' (1864-1870) and its implementation - with demolition of the city walls to construct the ring road boulevards, creation of Viale dei Colli and Piazzale Michelangelo and the initial development of new residential districts both inside the ring road (the Mattonaia district around Piazza dell'Indipendenza and the Maglio district around Piazza d'Azeglio) and outside (Savonarola, San Jacopino, Piagentina) - and after demolition of the city centre around the old market (1885-1889) to create the grand Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II (now Piazza della Repubblica) The city spread rapidly as far as the foothills Between 1890 and 1915, the population grew by fifty thousand. Between 1905 and 1913, 36,652 rooms were constructed and about 2,000 low-rent dwellings were built. The terraces of middle class two-storey houses known as 'trenini' ('toy trains')


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