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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. In fact, the city has also been called the Athens of the Middle Ages.
The historic Centre of Florence was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1982.
Florence's recorded history began with the establishment in 59 BC of a settlement for Roman former soldiers, with the name Florentia (May She Flourish) . 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, 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 Diocletian 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 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, construction began on the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. The exterior of the baptistry was reworked in Romanesque style between 1059 and 1128.
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 wool 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.
Following the death of Lorenzo in 1492, he was succeeded by his son Piero II. When the French king Charles VIII invaded northern Italy, Piero II chose to resist his army. But when he realised the size of the French army at the gates of Pisa, he had to accept the humiliating conditions of the French king. These made the Florentines rebel and they expelled Piero II. With his exile in 1494, the first period of Medici rule ended with the restoration of a republican government.
During this period the Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola had become prior of the San Marco monastery in 1490. He was famed for his penitential sermons. He blamed the exile of the Medicis as the work of God, punishing them for their decadence. He seized the opportunity to carry through political reforms leading to a more democratic rule. His monomaniacal persecution of the widespread Florentine pederasty and of other worldly pleasures both influenced and foreshadowed many of the wider religious controversies of the following centuries. But when Savonarola publicly accused Pope Alexander VI of corruption, he was banned from speaking in public. When he broke this ban, he was excommunicated. The Florentines, tired of his extreme teachings, turned against him and arrested him. He was convicted as a heretic and burned at the stake on the Piazza della Signoria on 23 May 1498.
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. In all Tuscany, only the Republic of Lucca (later a Duchy) was independent from Florence.
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, after the withdrawal of the French troops made its addition to the kingdom possible. 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 , British and Commonwealth soldiers a few kilometers east of the center on the north bank of the Arno )
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.
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