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Visita il Mugello, culla dei Medici, a due passi da Firenze e le bellezze toscane

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Inhabitants in 1991: 403.294

The Municipal territory of Firenze extends for 102,41 square kilometres along the middle course of the Arno, for the most part in a punchbowl enclosed by the hills constituting the extreme offshoots of the sub-Apennines of Monte Giovi and Monte Morello and by the rising hills of the so called Monti del Chianti. Already a Roman Municipality, Firenze achieved maximum importance in the Dark Ages and at the start of the Renaissance. Its urban development in the past is documented by the succession of wall belts regarding the Roman city (the cardo maius corresponded to the route of the present day Via Roma and Via Calimala and the decumanus maximus to the present day Via Strozzi and Via del Corso), the wall perimeter notably reduced in the Byzantine era, but returned to the original dimensions with the so called first circle, built in the Carolingian era, while inside, the city was subdivided into four zones, which took the name of each of their principal gateways: Porta Duomo, Porta San Pancrazio, Porta Santa Maria and Porta San Piero. In 1172 a second circle was constructed and for the first time it extended into Oltrarno and Firenze was thus divided into six zones (San Pier Scheraggio, Port Duomo, Borgo, Porta San Piero, San Pancrazio and Oltrarno). The continual population increase convinced the Municipal Governors in 1284 to decide on the erection of the third ring wall, whose construction was finished in 1333 ; this last, corresponding to the present day bypass road and executed with great foresight, turned out, because of the demographic stagnancy in the subsequent centuries, to be sufficient to contain the expansion of Firenze until the 1800s. In 1343 however, the city was again divided into four quarters (Santo Spirito, Santa Croce, San Giovanni, Santa Maria Novella) and each administrative division stretched also over the corresponding county. Firenze was capital of the Italian Realm from 1865 to 1870. We will mention only some of the most recent changes to the Municipal territory : in 1865 part of the suppressed Municipalities of Legnaia and Pellegrino were aggregated to it together with territories belonging to the Municipalities of Bagno a Ripoli, Galluzzo and Fiesole ; in 1910 the districts of Settignano, Rovezzano, Pellegrino and part of that of Coverciano and Mensola, which belonged to the Municipality of Fiesole, were also aggregated to Firenze ; in 1928 areas from the territory separated from the Municipality of Brozzi, Casellina and Torri, Galluzzo and Sesto Fiorentino were added, and finally in 1939 a part of the districts of Ponte and Greve were detached and assigned to the Municipality of Scandicci.

The origins of Firenze go back to the X century B.C., when an Italic population of the Villanoviana civilisation settled at the influx of Mugnone and Arno. But the ancient notes are very uncertain and it is not possible to even determine with any certainty when it became “municipium splendidissimum romano” (marvellous Roman Municipality) It is a certainty that Silla gravely damaged it in order to punish those who had followed Mario, and it is very probable that it rose again towards the year 50B.C. with the agricultural laws of Giulio Cesare. Under the Empire Firenze grew and acquired importance, with Marco Aurelio or perhaps with Diocleziano, it became Seat of an Italian Commander a sort of governor whose jurisdiction extended over Tuscia and Umbria. While the city was being Christianised (the new religion having been introduced by San Miniato, who suffered martyrdom in 250) the miserable centuries of the Imperial crisis and the barbaric invasions began : besieged by the Ostrogoti di Radagaiso (405) and liberated by the troops of Stilicone on the anniversary of the Martyr Santa Reparata, who was taken as patron of the city, it was occupied by the Byzantines in 541 and plundered and partly destroyed by Totila in 552. In 570 Firenze, with Toscana became a Longobardo dominion : the decadence of this century was not as bad as one has been led to believe ; the importance of the Fiorentino Episcopate increased, various religious buildings were founded (among which was the Battistero [Baptistry]) and the city was probably the seat of a Duke. Carlo Magno stopped there three times and legend has it that he re-founded the city ; In 854 Lotario I united the Fiesolano and the Fiorentino councils and decreed that the Count should have his seat in Firenze. The last invasion, that of Hungary, again devastated the countryside ; but with the Ottoni the city re-flourished and the Marquis Ugo di Toscana abandoned the seat of Lucca towards the end of the X century, and took up residency definitively in Firenze. Enlarged and beautified with monuments, some of which can still be admired today, Firenze saw great political and religious disruptions towards the middle of the XI century, when a Monarch of noble origins, Giovanni Gualberto, had the courage to accuse the Episcopal power of corruption and greed: Gualberto was forced to take refuge in the Mountains of Vallombrosa, but he managed finally to win, obliging the Bishop Mezzabarba to leave the city. This victorious revolt had as its protagonists not only Giovanni Gualberto but the whole population of Firenze who were ready to demonstrate their growing desire for independence and their political passion; in 1115 at the death of the Countess Matilde (of whom the Fiorentini were subjects but who criticised her fairly) the Municipality was already virtually constituted.

With the passing of the years, to the struggles against the country people’s feudal, which were nearly always victorious, were added the consolidation and development of their own republican institution : the governing was trusted to twelve Consuls, while a Council of one hundred “good men”, and a more ample Parliament were the Assembly who consulted and made decisions. Even though for some time Firenze had already managed to subjugate the surrounding countryside (the ancient Fiesole was defeated by the Fiorentino army in 1125, and Figline in 1162), the first acknowledgement came in 1197 when the Emperor Enrico IV recognised a kind of jurisdiction by the Fiorentini Consuls even outside the city walls. The appointment of Podesta appeared in 1193 for the firs time (he was a citizen, but later in 1207 an outsider), an official who during his appointment, which lasted one year, held executive power. The disruptions of the oligachy managers intensified with the growth in importance of the city and of private interests: according to legend, in 1215, the grand citizens divided themselves in two opposing groups, the Guelfi and the Ghibellini, taking as pretext an act of violence following a breach of promise. This did not slow down the development of the city, but created frequent confrontations and an interminable feud which involved all the traditionally powerful families, whose private fortunes finished with being rigorously linked to the alternating events of the political struggle. The up and coming commercial classes, who already in 1250 and 1260 achieved the right of citizens, profited with the government called the “Primo Popolo”. In 1260 Firenze suffered the grave defeat of Montaperti, by Siena and the upholders of the Svevi Toscani,  among whom there were also noted numerous exiles Captained by Farinata degli Uberti. This latest item allowed the city to not suffer great retaliations other than a massive exodus by the elite Guelfa. With the tragic end of the Sveva dynasty, Firenze again became Guelfa and pro-pontiff in 1267, and while on one side it acquired a great influence in the authority of the city with the Guelfa Party, who had regrouped not only with the ancient and aristocratic Guilfi elite but also with newly emerged rich families, on the other side the manager class citizens who had achieved deep social-political modification.

The progressive affirmation of the artisan corporation as institutional body, and the acquisition of sizeable patrimonies from several commercial class families in 1282 (after the peaceful intervention of the time honoured groups by Cardinal Latino two years earlier) brought to the institution the Priority of the Artisans, a form of government which lasted for centuries and which recognised the right to the government of the city only by those registered at the corporation gild. While the success of the project of dominance over the surrounding cities continued (Pisa was overwhelmed by the allied Genovesi at Meloria in 1284, Arezzo was beaten at Campaldino in1289) those ruling, who came from the artisan world, promulgated laws always more favourable to the population : in 1289 bondage to the land by the peasants was abolished, in 1293, the patron Giano della Bella, mobilised the populace at the side of the middle classes against the persistent arrogance of the Grand, and the Legal System was promulgated, a legislation of proud anti-magnate character, for whose inflexible application the appointment of Gonfaloniere di Guistizia (Standard Bearer of Justice) was instituted. The Democratic tone of this law provoked a reaction by both the aristocrats and the rich merchants ; and in 1295 they managed to expel Giano della Bella from the city and to quash some of the directives unfavourable to themselves. A revival phase followed and, instigated by Bonifacio VIII, the factions of the Bianchi and the Neri dominated the political scene. The new division was caused less by social character, therefore involving only the superior strata of the population, than by reasons of economic character.  In 1301 with the open support of Carlo di Valois, sent by Bonifacio VIII, the Neri had the upper hand and they again completed the usual urban ritual of banishment and exile, to damage the greater Bianchi (1302). From 1312 to 1328 the Firenze Guelfi risked being overpowered by the extraneous Ghibellini : firstly by the decease of the Emperor Arrigo VII (but they managed to resist with success, despite the hopes of Dante, acquiring favour to further the authority in the Italian political context), then perhaps with greater danger, for the fact of the war by Uguccione della Faggiola and Castruccio Castracani, who managed to inflict a scalding defeat on Firenze. It was then deemed necessary to invoke the protection of the d’Angiò family offering the Lordship of the town to Carlo Duca di Calabria (1325), but his avarice and that of his successors (nearly one million florins extorted in seventeen months) and the scarce military advantages made Firenze very fearful for its future : fortunately  the terrible Castruccio died in 1328 and shortly after so did the rapacious Carlo ; the city found itself free and was able to again take up its own political ruling in central Toscana, taking under its own sovereignty pro tem Pistoia, Cortona, Arezzo, and Colle Val d’Elsa between 1331 and 1338. Its government was a clear representation of the “popolo grasso” (rich people) which articulated itself, above all by the alternating role of power by around forty eminent families, by smothering with relative ease several insurrectionary attempts provoked by the magnate families.

The successful period was interrupted by the failed conquest of Lucca, snatched, with an act of strength, by Pisa. Forgetful of their recent past the Fiorentini, in September 1342, offered the Lordship of the city for life to an adventurer vassal of the King of Napoli, Gualtieri di Brienne Duke d’Atene, engaged as commander of the Fiorentine troops. Those who had high hopes of him were soon disillusioned : the conflict with Pisa ended with an arbitrary peace, but Lucca remain in the hands of the adversaries ; his demagogic and overpowering internal political initiative, soon became insupportable, and by the population’s fury, in July 1343, he was expelled. The event had notable consequences in the struggle for power of the city, and the artisan classes took up arms, managing in the end to safeguard the constitution against the attacks by the great plebeian and magnate families . At almost the same time (and without doubt also consequential) Firenze, who could rightly be considered the richest city in Europe, was overcome by an economic crisis : the failure of the banks of Acciaioli, Bardi, Peruzzi and numerous other companies (1342-45) was determined by the insolvency of their Grand European clients ; to which was added shortly after the demographic catastrophe of the plague (1348), which according to sources reduced the population by two thirds. The city came out of these dramatic events re-dimensioned but still powerful, only the names of the city’s protagonist families changed and the elite were confirmed as the Alberti, the Ricci, the Albizi, the Strozzi and the Medici. Validly defending herself against the invasion attempts by Giovanni Visconti, in the second half of the XIV century, Firenze battled in the war of the “Otto Santi” (Eight Saints) against the aim of Pontiff supremacy in Central Italy. The battle provoked lengthy and notable social tension internally. Under the guidance of a wool worker Michele di Lando, the proletariat city rebelled and occupied the centres of power : it was the so called “tumolto dei Ciompi” (The Ciompi disturbance) (1378). The revolt was an immediate success ; Michele was proclaimed Gonfalonier (Governor) three new artisan classes were created (the Tintori, the Farsettai, the Ciompi : small time artisans and salaried workers), and obtained the allotment of one third of the appointments in every office to the three new artisan classes, starting with the Priory, they were even elected as “cavalieri del popolo” (Knights of the People). 

The old Manager Classes, at first appalled, replied by retiring into the countryside and paralysing, with a sort of closure of shops and factories ; it was easy for them, after less than two months they were overwhelmed by the Ciompi who re-conquered the city and, in February 1382, eliminated every rule established as a result of the revolution and reaffirmed the ancient constitution, in fact moulding it even more towards a form of tight Oligarcy. The ancient Municipality was however, drawing towards the end of its historical cycle. In 1393, after a hard struggle between the Alberti and the Albizi, the latter having the upper hand politically and, with a tight band of other eminent citizens allied to them, solidly held the reigns of government for several decades. In 1427 arrived the Land Register, that is the tax assessment based on the individual declaration of possessions ; the hundreds of lists of assets which are conserved even today are one of the major testimonies to the rank of civilisation reached by Firenze and the Fiorentina population. In 1433 the Oligarch Rinaldo degli Albizzi had a decisive confrontation with Cosimo dei Medici, extremely rich merchant and discerning head of the opposition ; Rinaldo managed at first to banish him but the following year was forced to abandon the city, while Cosimo returned to a triumphant welcome by the people. It was then easy for the Medici to establish a Lordship in order to formally leave intact the ancient institution of the republic. Under the protection of Cosimo, Firenze lost its freedom, but apparently it was compensated with great prestige politically which it acquired in the Italian echelon (the support given by Firenze to the force to take over by the Duchy of Milano was decisive) and with the extraordinary cultural boom which the astute Mediceo patronage encouraged wholeheartedly. Cosimo died in 1464, the succession was taken for five years by his son Piero il Gottoso and then again by his son Lorenzo il Magnifico who, escaping in 1478 from the ferocious attempt engineered by Pope Sisto IV, Francesco Salviati and the Pazzi, renewed the cultural splendour of his ancestor (however he did not possessed his commercial genius) and continued the cautious policy of moderator in Italian political life. After the death of Lorenzo (1492) the submissive behaviour of his successor Piero towards Carlo VIII King of France who had descended in Italy to occupy the realm of Napoli, and the ever more obvious bankruptcy of their commercial undertakings determined the expulsion of the Medici from Firenze (9 November 1494). The Dominican Monk Girolamo Savonarola then became the driving force of the Fiorentina politics.

Re-established in fact, the republican government reformed by two councils, that Generally and that of the Eighty, the city lived for years in an artificial climate of  asceticism imposed on all the citizens of the apocalyptic preachings of the Monk. All too soon the rivalry which put the supporters of Savonarola (the so called Piagnoni [sniveller]) against the Arrabbiati, partisans of the oligarchic government, the excommunication by Alessandro VI against the Monk, the intrigues of the Medici and the less forthcoming favour of the population marked the fall of Savonarola, who finished his days on 23 May 1498, on the funeral pile. The republican regime survived for fourteen years after Savonarola, following constitutional orders via the institution of the gonfaloniership for life with Pier Soderini (1502). With Piero dei Medici’s death in 1503, the family exiled from the city were not inactive ; Cardinal Giovanni, brother of Piero, managed in fact to involve Pope Giulio II in a politics favourable to the return of the dynasty to the government of Firenze and in 1512 a Pontiff-Spanish army after having plundered Prato forced Firenze to surrender. Shortly after Cardinal Giovanni ascended to the Papacy with the name of Leone X and until 1527 Firenze was practically governed by the Pontiff court, represented in 1518 by Archbishop Giulio, illegitimate son of Giuliano dei Medici, who became Pope in 1523 with the title of Clemente VII. In May 1527 the plunder of Roma by the Imperial troops offered the occasion to the anti-Medicee faction to expel the two youths Ippolito and Alessandro dei Medici, Clemente VII’s representatives in the city. The rebellion gave life to the last very brief Fiorentina republic, but, in 1529, the reconciliation between Clemente VII and the Emperor Carlo V opened the road to the return of the dynasty. The 12 August 1530, after an heroic resistance of eleven months the Fiorentina republic had to surrender to the Imperial troops. The following year Alessandro dei Medici, on the designation of Carlo V, took possession of the city, over which he would have governed with the new title of Duke. The constitutional reform which followed marked the end of the ancient community and republican order and the start of a regime of Monarchic character. Alessandro was killed by Lorenzino dei Medici (1537) a relative, Cosimo son of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere came into power recommended by Francesco Guicciardini. With the government of Cosimo I the history of the city-state of Firenze was confused with that of Toscana, to whom Cosimo managed to give political and administrative unity (with the war of Siena from 1553 to 1559, the Medici also acquired the Siena and Grosseto territories). He did not however manage to re-establish the role of extreme cultural and commercial importance to Firenze which the city had achieved in the past, and it fell progressively into decline until the 1700s.

The dynasty of the Medici having died away with Giangastone (1737), the succession was taken up by the house of Asburgo-Lorena and, after nearly thirty years of regency (Francesco Stefano, legitimate sovereign preferring to reside in Vienna), Firenze again accepted, in 1765, a ruling court with Pietro Leopoldo ; he raised Firenze and the entire State from a long period of decadence, with his political reforms and the actioning of a land reclamation plan for vast zones of the Grand Duchy. Pietro Leopoldo became Emperor in 1790 and was succeeded by Ferdinando I who could not impede the French occupation of the Grand Duchy in 1799. This occupation lasted, with many institutional changes until 1814 : from 1801 to 1807 Firenze was capital of the realm of Etruria under the Borboni di Parma, then capital of the district of Arno annexed to the French Emperor and from 1809 to 1814 capital of the Grand Duchy of Toscana under Elisa Baciocchi sister of Napoleon. In 1814 Ferdinando III di Lorena recouped Firenze and his son Leopoldo II succeeded him in 1824. In this period the city lived in tranquillity, except for a brief time when it was disturbed by the fierce revolutions in Toscana in ’48 led by Guerazzi with the small but gifted entourage of intellectuals, until in 1859 without any uprising Leopoldo II abandoned Firenze and Toscana. Annexed to the Realm of Italia Firenze became capital from 1865 to 1870. The introduction of the court of Vittorio Emanuele II and of the ministries gave a new impulse to the cities activities : for the works of architect Giuseppe Poggi completing an impressive urbanistic systemisation with the demolition of the Medieval walls and the substitution of these with large avenues cut by symmetrical squares placed at the ancient gateways.

But the departure of the governor and the court to Roma left Firenze with onerous debts and financial difficulties which brought to a halt the urban project already underway. In 1887 one last drastic intervention destroyed, with the demolition of the antique city centre, the precious memory of Medieval ambient. The city again saw a rich season of intellectual unrest between the end of 1800 and the 30s of the 1900s with illustrious university professoriate, literary cafés and reviews, innovative urbanistic interventions (the station, the stadium) or those more dignified (like the new districts built up immediately after the Avenues). During the second world war it suffered huge damage, first for the English American aerial bombardments, then because the retreating Germans destroyed, between 3 and 4 August 1944, all the bridges of the Arno with the exception of the Ponte Vecchio, the access to which however was barred by the demolition of the surrounding Medieval buildings. Firenze was the first big Italian city to liberate itself on 11 August 1944 and assumed for itself, via the Toscana Committee of National Liberation. the administration of the city's life, giving an example for the liberation of the great centres of northern Italy. The first postwar years were characterised by the work of reconstruction, which, completed in about 10 years, was then followed by new construction activities, justified by a strong urban population growth, but difficult to justify in certain cases was the quality and livability of the new districts. The community administration in the last fifty years was characterised by alternate central and left councils. In the first two decades sometimes assuming National and International importance for their political workshop profile, (particularly with Mayors Fabiani and La Pira). On 4 November 1966 a disastrous flooding of the Arno swept the city causing grave damage to people, the economic activity and the cultural heritage. In 1970 with the constitution of the Regione Toscana, Firenze became its natural capital and the seat of its principal administration offices, from then on the city's vocation has proven itself essentially in a role of commercial tourism which, has guaranteed it various private benefits, and has eventually partly redimensioned the myth of city symbol while many of its problems of livability in a modern metropolis remain unsolved.

Above all in the Medieval era until the end of the 1500s Firenze saw the births of a huge number of personalities. With regard the chronisters the economists and the lettered men among others we will note: Brunetto Latini (1220 -1295); Dino Compagni (1225 -1324); Guido Cavalcanti (1225 -1300); Dante Alighieri (1265 -1321); Giovanni Villani (1280 -1348); Luigi Pulci (1432-1484); Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540); the historian and economist Bernardo Davanzati Bostichi (1529-1606); the man of letters Giovan Battista Zannoni (1774-1832); the historian and educationalist Gino Capponi (1792-1876); the 1800s writers Pietro Thouar (1809-1861), Carlo Lorenzini alias Collodi (1826-1890) and Augusto Novelli (1867-1927); Giovanni Papini (1881-1956); Emilio Cecchi (1884-1966); Aldo Palazzeschi (1885-1977) and Vasco Pratolini (1913-1991) the historian and politician Giovanni Spadolini (1925-1994). In plastics and figurative arts and in architecture: Maso di Banco (first half XIV sec.); Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446); Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455); Donatello (Donato di Betto dei Bardi, 1386-1466); Luca (1400-1482), Andrea (1435-1525) and Giovanni Della Robbia (1496-1529); Filippo Lippi (1406-1469); Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497); Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510); Benvenuto Cellini (15001571); Bernardo Buontalenti (1536-1608); Telemaco Signorini (1835-1901); Ottone Rosai (1895-1957).Among the musicians Ottavio Rinuccini (1564-1621); Giovan Battista Lulli (1632-1687); Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842). Numerous scientists, invertors and explorers: Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512); The botonist Pier Antonio Micheli (1679-1737); the agriculturist Cosimo Ridolfi (1794-1895); Antonio Meucci (1808-1889), who laid claim to the invention of the telephone.

Historical info reproduced upon authorization of Regione Toscana - Dipartimento della Presidenza E Affari Legislativi e Giuridici
Translated by Ann Mountford

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