ITALY'S GOLDEN CITIES
IT is only in our day that Venice is seen in a romantic light. In the days of the Doges it was as cruel as any city of antiquity or the Middle Ages.
The Italian cities developed on a much more grandiose scale and in a far more violent manner than the cities north of the Alps. Moreover, in the early Middle Ages, city culture had not yet completely disappeared. The Germanic king Odoacer, for instance, established his headquarters in Ravenna after having deposed the last Roman emperor; Theodoric, the king of the Ostrogoths, maintained his residence in Ravenna, where he eventually was buried; Dante too was buried in Ravenna. Yet, by the time the Italian cities reached their greatest flowering Ravenna was not among them. About the end of the first millennium, the harbour silted up and the city wasted away -- sharing the fate of Eridu, Miletus, Ephesus, and Bruges.
In the ninth century, under its Arab rulers, Palermo became the capital of Sicily and grew into one of the most glamorous cities of the Islamic world. Frederick II, the Hohenstaufen ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1215 to 1250, spent his youth there and, as king of Sicily from 1198 to 1212, helped the city attain its second great period. In 1500 Palermo was still the third largest city in Italy, preceded only by Naples and Venice.
Naples too, the old Greek colonial city and during the Middle Ages the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, saw its most glamorous days in the thirteenth century under Frederick II. Boccaccio, in his Decameron, declared Naples "the ancient city which is perhaps as agreeable as, or even more agreeable than, any other city in Italy". For centuries it was also the largest city in Italy; it had about 400,000 inhabitants in 1800 and became outranked only after the First World War, first by Milan and then by Rome.
But Naples was far from being one of those grandiose cities which, bristling with vitality, gave birth to the modern era, and where the visual arts as well as intrigue and murder were developed to the highest perfection. All these cities were located in the northern third of Italy: there was Bologna, which boasted one of Europe's first and finest universities ( Dante, Petrarch, and Copernicus studied