History of Florence

The site occupied during the Etruscan period was Fiesole, better situated on high ground than on the banks of the Arno.

Caesar is said to have created the colony Florentina to give land to the veterans of his armies. The city developed rapidly thanks to the trade facilitated by its river port and its position on the via Cassia Nova.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Tuscany passed into the hands of the Goths, the Byzantines, the Lombards and the French of Charlemagne. Charlemagne confirmed Constantine's pseudo-donation, giving the entire former Western Roman Empire to the Popes.


The Holy Roman Empire succeeded the Carolingians and Florence became the residence of the margraves who governed the region in the name of the empire but with very weakened ties. Countess Matilda, granddaughter of Frederick II, bequeathed her domains to the papacy, which was forbidden by the laws of the empire. The struggle between the supporters of the Emperor (Ghibellines) and the Popes (Guelphs) allowed the emergence of autonomous city-states in the region. Florence had to wait for the death of Countess Matilda to become an independent commune, but after bloody struggles between Ghibellines and Guelphs and then between white and black Guelphs. The latter, separating the temporal power from the spiritual, won. Merchants grouped in guilds (Arts) directed the city which experienced an extraordinary prosperity thanks to the wool and dye trade. Banking gradually replaced the textile industry and the gold florin became the main currency of the Middle Ages in Europe.

Florence inaugurated an original system of government managed by the Major (7) and Minor (14) Arts. But power was gradually concentrated within the same families. Popular discontent brought the Medici and their leader Cosimo the Elder to power in 1434. This one was clever enough to govern as he pleased while preserving the appearances of the republic. He was an enlightened patron of the arts and built many public buildings. His son Pierre le Goutteux was succeeded by Laurent, known as the Magnificent. This one abandoning the bank becomes the true Lord of Florence. After the bloody Pazzi conspiracy, he governed a city at its peak until his death in 1492. In 1494, his son Peter II the Unfortunate abandoned Florence to Charles VIII of France. The theocratic government of Savonarola, an exalted monk and bitter enemy of the arts, did not resist the intrigues of the papacy. Popes Leo X, then Clement VII (of the Medici) unofficially governed the city delegating members of the family to enforce their orders. Taking advantage of the sack of Rome by the Imperials, the Florentines chased away the Pope's representative to re-found a republic. But the reconciliation between Clement VII and Charles V brought the Medici back to Florence in 1531 with the title of duke. The first duke Alexander de Medici, who led a debauched life, was assassinated by his cousin Lorenzino (see Musset's play). Cosimo I, another branch of the Medici family, was called to power by the Florentine oligarchy who found in him a master they did not expect. He strengthened the economic and military power of the duchy.


His son Francis, who died without a male heir, was succeeded by his brother Ferdinand I, often cited as the last of the Medici. His successors heralded the decline of the dynasty, and upon the death of John Gaston the great powers gave the duchy to Francis II of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. The Grand Duchy experienced a new era of prosperity, but the government was in Vienna. After the Napoleonic episode the Lorraine returned to Florence. Leopold II had to abdicate in 1859 and Ferdinand IV, the last sovereign duke, was stripped of his title in 1860 when Tuscany became part of the Kingdom of Italy. Florence became the capital from 1865 to 1871.


In the 19th century, Florence attracted foreign visitors who made what was called "the grand tour", but lived essentially on its artistic reputation.
After the Second World War, when it narrowly escaped destruction, tourism, mechanical industries, banking and insurance services, fashion and textiles allowed the city to grow again.



The monuments of Florence