Florentia, “the prosperous”, was the name given by the Romans to the small settlement founded in the 1st century BC at the foot of the ancient Etruscan settlement of Fiesole. The Etruscans had settled on the hills surrounding the valley of the River Arno from the 7th-6th century BC, Initially constructed as a Roman “castrum”, Florentia soon took on the appearance of a genuine city with its forum (today Piazza della Repubblica), baths and amphitheatre. Then came the era of the decline of the Empire and political fragmentation, out of which the feudal system developed. The city, established as a Commune at the beginning of the 12th century, began to expand, eventually taking over the whole of the central valley of the Arno and the surrounding hills. Despite internal conflict, first between rival families and then between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, from the 13th century the city began to flourish as a centre of art, culture and international trade, reaching its peak in the 15th century under the Signoria of Cosimo and Lorenzo de’ Medici. After the death of Lorenzo in 1492, Florence lived through a long period of wars, which led to the end of the Florentine Republic and then to the birth of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, ruled by a branch first of the Medicis and then of the Hapsburg-Lorraine family. The Grand Duchy survived, with alternating fortunes, up to the time of the political unification of Italy, of which Florence was capital from 1865 to 1871.
The city and its monuments
The first destination for those visiting Florence is the Uffizi Gallery. The palazzo which houses the gallery was constructed in the middle of the 16th century by the architect Giorgio Vasari, in the period in which the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was consolidating its rule: originally it was indeed intended to house the “Uffici” (offices) of the judiciary. However, from the beginning the Medici family, great collectors and patrons, set aside certain rooms to contain the best of their various collections; then, thanks to the generosity of Anna Maria Luisa, the last of the dynasty, the whole building became inalienably public property, with works by the most important artists in history, such as Leonardo, Giotto, Cimabue and many others. Palazzo Vecchio, built at the end of the 13th century and in the first decades of the 14th century as the residence of the Priors, was the first headquarters of the Signoria and then temporarily housed the family of the Grand Duchy before their definitive transfer to the new palace in Palazzo Pitti. We should also mention Giotto’s bell tower, planned by the great painter and architect, although at the time of his death only the lower level had been completed. Work continued under the direction first of Andrea Pisano and then of Francesco Talenti, who completed the tower. Then there is the cathedral of Santa Maria in Fiore, finished in the 15th century, another great work characterising the city throughout the world, and finally the Brancacci chapel, which owes its fame to the cycle of frescoes painted in different eras on three of its walls and which recent restoration has done its best to recover after time and a fire had caused their deterioration.
The geographical area
There are many towns in the province of Florence worth visiting, situated in the gentle hills, which on occasions become mountainous and where agriculture is still considered one of the main activities. Among these towns we recall the village of Barberino Val d’Elsa, in a typical area for the production of famous Chianti wine; Certaldo, of Etruscan and Roman origin and divided into two parts, one medieval and the other modern; Cerreto Guidi, characterised by its unusual circular town lay-out; Fiesole, of Etruscan origin, a famous holiday location in the renaissance period, many villas such as the Albizi, Medici, Salviati and Rondinelli Vitelli villas dating back to this era. The agriculture and tourism sectors are well-developed and we also find the headquarters of numerous cultural institutes such as the European University Institute and the University of Harvard. Finally, it is worth mentioning Vinci, the birthplace of the genius Leonardo, famous painter, sculptor and artist.