Florence (city, Italy)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Florence (city, Italy)

Florence (flôr´əns, flŏr´–), Ital. Firenze, city (1991 pop. 403,294), capital of Tuscany and of Firenze prov., central Italy, on the Arno River, at the foot of the Apennines. Florence, the jewel of the Italian Renaissance, is one of the world's great historic cities. It is a commercial, industrial, and tourist center and a rail junction. Tourism is the main industry, which is supported by the manufacture of glassware, precious metalware, leatherwork, ceramics, clothing, shoes, and art reproductions. The Univ. of Florence is an international cultural center, and the National Library is in the city. Only one bridge, the Ponte Vecchio (14th cent.), survived World War II, and now several modern bridges span the Arno.

Points of Interest

It is impossible to mention here all of the city's monuments, most of which date from the 13th to 15th cent. The Gothic cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (begun 1296) has a dome (1420–34) by Brunelleschi; nearby are the slim campanile (269 ft/82 m high) designed by Giotto, and Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti created their famous bronze doors for the baptistery. The large Franciscan Church of Santa Croce is the Florentine pantheon and has frescoes by Giotto, a crucifix by Donatello, and fine works by the Della Robbia family, Rossellino, and others. The Church of Santa Maria Novella (1278–1350) has frescoes by Masaccio, Orcagna, and Ghirlandaio; fine cloisters; and a facade (1470) by Alberti. Some of the best works of Fra Angelico are in the museum of the Monastery of St. Mark. Important frescoes by Masolino, Masaccio, and Filippino Lippi adorn the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. The Church of San Lorenzo contains Michelangelo's tombs of the Medici; many works by Donatello; and the Laurentian Library, which holds approximately 10,000 manuscripts. The oratory of Orsanmichele (originally a wheat granary; rebuilt 1337–1404) has a tabernacle (14th cent.) by Orcagna. On a hill overlooking the city is the Romanesque basilica of San Miniato al Monte.

On the Piazza della Signoria are the Palazzo Vecchio, which contains frescoes by Vasari and sculptures by Michelangelo; the Loggia dei Lanzi (later 14th cent.), which has the Perseus (1533) of Cellini; and Ammanati's Fountain of Neptune (1576). The Uffizi Museum, housed in a Renaissance palace designed by Vasari, contains great collections of paintings, especially by Botticelli, Masaccio, and Piero della Francesca. The Pitti Palace (15th–17th cent.) also houses fine paintings, particularly by Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, and Titian. Behind the Pitti Palace are the terraced Boboli Gardens (1550), a good example of Italian landscaping architecture. Other important art museums include the Academy, with works by Michelangelo; the gallery in the Bargello palace, with works by Donatello; and the archaeological museum, with Etruscan, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman art. Among the other numerous medieval and Renaissance palaces, the Medici-Riccardi, Strozzi, and Rucellai deserve special mention.


Florence was the site of an Etruscan settlement and later became a Roman town on the Cassian Way (the modern Piazza della Republica is on the site of the Roman Forum). In the 5th and 6th cent. AD the city was controlled, in turn, by the Goths, Byzantines, and Lombards. It became an autonomous commune in the 12th cent.

In the 13th cent. the Guelphs (who were propapal) and the Ghibellines (who were proimperial) fought for control of the city. By the end of the 13th cent. the Guelphs held control, but they then split into warring factions, the Blacks and the Whites, best remembered because Dante, a Florentine, was banished (1302) as a White Guelph. Warfare raged, too, with other cities, notably Pisa, as the merchants and bankers of Florence made their own fortunes and that of the city; the sale of Florentine silks, tapestries, and jewelry brought great wealth. Florence grew as a result of war, absorbing Arezzo, Pistoia, Volterra, and Pisa. Growth was temporarily halted in 1348, when the Black Death killed approximately 60% of the city's population.

Florence became a city-state and in the 15th cent. came under the control of Cosimo de' Medici, a wealthy merchant and patron of the arts. Although republican forms were kept until the 16th cent., the Medici family ruled, and Lorenzo de' Medici, who held power from 1469 to 1492, was able to put down the Pazzi conspiracy (1478), instigated by Pope Sixtus IV.

Under Lorenzo and his successors, Florence was for two centuries the golden city, with an incredible flowering of intellectual and artistic life. The list of artists working in the city was headed by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Donatello. There were also numerous poets and scholars active in Florence, and the Accademia della Crusca was established (1582). A school of music flourished in the city during the Renaissance, and the earliest operas, Peri's Dafne (1594) and Euridice (1600), were performed there.

Political life continued to be turbulent. The Medici were expelled by a revolution in 1494, the fiery religious reformer Savonarola briefly held power (1494–98), and Machiavelli was a diplomatic representative of the republic. The revolt against the Medici was over by 1512, but another revolution (1527–30) established a new republic, which, however, was forced to surrender to Emperor Charles V after a heroic defense.

Under the restored Medici, Florence went on expanding and controlled most of Tuscany. In 1569, Cosimo I de' Medici was made grand duke, and Florence became the capital of the grand duchy of Tuscany. The grand duchy, ruled by the house of Hapsburg-Lorraine after the extinction (1737) of the Medici line, was annexed to the kingdom of Sardinia in 1860. Florence was the capital of the newly founded kingdom of Italy from 1865 to 1871. Relatively few of the art treasures of Florence were harmed in World War II; the flooding of the Arno in Nov., 1966, however, caused extensive damage, which art experts sought, with considerable success, to repair.

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