Florence, Italy

Florence (Italy) (Italian Firenze; ancient Florentia), city, central Italy, in Tuscany Region, capital of Florence Province, on the Arno River. Located at the foot of the Apennines Mountains, Florence was originally the site of an Etruscan settlement. The city is world famous for Gothic and Renaissance buildings, art galleries and museums, and parks. In addition, it is an important commercial, transportation, and manufacturing center. It is a market for wine, olive oil, vegetables, fruits, and flowers, and it lies on the railroad and main highway linking northern Italy and Rome. Manufactures include motorcycles, automotive parts, agricultural machinery, chemicals, fertilizers, plastics, and precision instruments. Florentine handicraft industries are traditional and famous, producing silverwork, jewelry (especially gold and cameos), straw work, leather goods, glass, pottery, wood carvings, furniture, and embroidery.

Architectural Treasures

The city of Florence is dominated by the towers of its many palaces and churches and by the huge dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. A Gothic structure with an exterior ornately decorated with red, green, and white marble, the cathedral was begun in 1296 by the Florentine architect Arnolfo di Cambio, continued on a somewhat different plan by his successors, and crowned with the great dome (1420-61), designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The facade, although not built until late in the 19th century, is faithful in style to the rest of the edifice. The cathedral is the most imposing structure on the right bank of the Arno. Beside the cathedral stands the 14th-century campanile, or bell tower, which was begun by Giotto and continued by Andrea Pisano. Adorned with exquisite bas- reliefs, the campanile (82 m/269 ft high) is perhaps the most beautiful in Italy. The octagonal baptistery of San Giovanni, facing the cathedral, dates mainly from the 11th to the 15th century, although some parts were built as early as the 5th century; it is noted for doors of gilded bronze, especially the east door, called the Gate to Paradise, which was executed by the Florentine goldsmith Lorenzo Ghiberti and depicts sculpted scenes from the Old Testament.

Medieval and Renaissance Palaces and Sculpture

Near the cathedral is the Bargello, or Palazzo del Podestà, a fortresslike building of the 13th and 14th centuries, which houses a National Museum. The latter has collections of enameled terra-cottas by the della Robbia family and sculpture by Donatello. The Piazza della Signoria, containing the Fountain of Neptune (completed 1576), is dominated by the majestic Palazzo Vecchio,for Palazzo della Signoria, a rough and sturdy but pleasingly harmonious building surmounted by a crenellated 94-m (308-ft) bell tower. Built between 1299 and 1314, this palace became the seat of the town council in 1550; later the Italian Chamber of Deputies met there from 1865 to 1871. The vast halls and state apartments are ornately decorated in the style of the late Renaissance. Opposite is the Loggia dell 'Orcagna (late 14th century), also called Loggia dei Lanzi, a roofed structure open at the sides, which houses a number of statues, among them the bronze Perseus (completed 1554) by Benvenuto Cellini and the Rape of the Sabines (1579-1583) by Giambologna.

Art Galleries, Bridges, and Churches
Between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Arno stands the Palazzo degli Uffizi, built late in the 16th century to house government offices and law courts. It is famous for its art gallery, the Uffizi Gallery, one of the finest in Europe, which contains an unsurpassed collection of works by the greatest painters of Italy and a rich sampling of works by Flemish and French masters. The nearby Ponte Vecchio, which is lined with goldsmiths' and jewelers' shops, was built about 1350; it is the only bridge in Florence spared during World War II and leads across the Arno to the Palazzo Pitti on the left bank. This building, begun in 1458 and subsequently much enlarged, was the residence of the grand dukes of Tuscany from 1550 to 1859. It contains another famous art collection, particularly rich in works by Andrea del Sarto, Raphael, Il Perugino, Titian, and Tintoretto. Behind the Pitti are the vast Boboli Gardens, used for outdoor concerts during the music festival held each year in May. On the right bank of the Arno, in a kind of half-circle around the cathedral and the Palazzo Vecchio, are many famous churches and palaces. Noteworthy are the 13th- century Gothic Church of Santa Trinità, possessing a fine, luminous interior and a 16th- century baroque facade; and Santa Maria Novella (13th-15th century), with a colored marble facade and richly decorated cloisters, one of the most beautiful churches in the city. Eastward are the 15th-century church and cloisters of San Lorenzo, designed by Brunelleschi. The adjoining structure is the Medici Chapel, private chapel and burial place of the famous Medici family. Above the crypt of the Medici Chapel is the New Sacristy, for which Michelangelo was both architect and sculptor; the sacristy contains the tombs of Lorenzo II de' Medici, duke of Urbino, with figures of Dawn and Twilight; and of Giuliano de' Medici, duke of Nemours, with figures of Day and Night (1520-34). The Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, built by Michelozzo for Cosimo de' Medici in the mid-15th century, faces San Lorenzo across a large piazza. Typical of the residences built by prominent families in this period, the ground floor is a private fort with a graceful courtyard, and handsome chambers occupy the upper stories. It houses the Medici Museum. A few streets to the northeast is the former Dominican monastery of San Marco, also largely the work of Michelozzo. It is now a museum in which are preserved the works of the two monks and painters Fra Angelico and Fra Bartolommeo, as well as the cell once occupied by the preacher and reformer Girolamo Savonarola. Nearby are the Spedale degli Innocenti (foundling home), with Brunelleschi's graceful portico decorated with ten of Andrea della Robbia's best-known blue and white terra-cotta medallions; the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, housing many works of Michelangelo, including his David (1501-1504); and the Archaeological Museum, with an outstanding Etruscan collection.
Southward, near the Arno, stands the handsome Franciscan Church of Santa Croce, built, except for a modern facade, in the 13th and 14th centuries. This church, with an interior of classic Franciscan simplicity and decorated with frescoes by Giotto and other masters, is called the Pantheon of Florence because it contains the tombs of Michelangelo, the statesman and political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, the poet and dramatist Conte Vittorio Alfieri, and the operatic composer Gioacchino Antonio Rossini, as well as monuments to many other noted Italians.

Florence contains one of the greatest libraries in Italy, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, with approximately 4 million books and pamphlets and many thousands of manuscripts, maps, and letters. Other libraries are the Laurentian Library, containing a priceless collection of books and manuscripts assembled by Cosimo, Piero, and Lorenzo de' Medici; the Marucelliana and Riccadiana libraries, which are rich in old letters, manuscripts, and prints; and the Moreniana, which is particularly important for local history. Thousands of documents pertaining to the history of Florence and Tuscany are preserved in the State Archives. The University of Florence, established in 1923, is the successor of an institution chartered in 1321. Florence is the seat also of a noted conservatory of music and of the Istituto Geografico Militare, which is world famous for fine mapmaking.

Although Florence (Latin. Florentia) was founded in ancient times, it was of little importance before the 11th century. By the second half of that century it was governed by a council composed of nobles and learned men that nominally functioned in the name of the people, thus making the city a republic.

Struggles and Fortunes
In the 12th century the Florentines captured the nearby town of Fiesole and began their attempt to conquer all the broad, fertile plain drained by the Arno. Internally the republic was divided by the struggle of its leading families for power, and in 1300 civil war broke out in Florence between two Guelph factions, the Neri (Blacks) and Bianchi (Whites).
Dante, one of the defeated Bianchi, was exiled from the city in 1302. Despite its internal strife, the city prospered. Industry—especially woolen-cloth manufacturing—and banking, through which many Florentines later amassed great fortunes, were added to an ever- expanding commerce. In addition, the organization of merchants and artisans into
powerful guilds gave the city an unexpected measure of stability. The wood guild, the richest of all, employed some 30,000 workers and owned 200 shops at the beginning of the 14th century. Merchants and bankers thus took a commanding lead in civic affairs and began to beautify the city. The republic warred repeatedly with Milan in the 14th and 15th centuries; in 1406 it finally acquired Pisa, downstream on the Arno, thus winning a long- coveted outlet to the sea.

Flourishing Commerce, Flowering Art

Considerable friction had developed meanwhile between the workers, who felt themselves exploited, and the wealthy classes. The conflict came to a head in 1433, when the aristocratic party exiled Cosimo de' Medici, a wealthy merchant-banker and the leader of the popular party. Cosimo returned in 1434, exiled his opponents, and in alliance with the poorer classes became the real ruler of the republic, although remaining nominally a private citizen. The Medici dominated the city, except for brief periods of exile, during the next three centuries. Cosimo was succeeded by his son Piero and his grandson Lorenzo de' Medici, called Lorenzo the Magnificent, a great patron of learning and the arts. Lorenzo reduced the republican government to a shadow and by an ambitious foreign policy succeeded for a time in making Florence the balance of power among Italian states. The Florentine gold coin, the florin, became the standard of trade throughout Europe, and the commerce of Florence embraced the known world. The great flowering of Renaissance art in architecture, painting, and sculpture took place within little more than the span of the 15th century.
Lorenzo's son and successor, Piero, made humiliating concessions to King Charles VIII of France, who invaded Italy in 1494; in that year the outraged populace drove Piero and his family from the city. Girolamo Savonarola, prior of the Dominican monastery of San Marco, emerged as the leading personality in Florence after Piero's downfall. Savonarola, however, who had long inveighed against the luxury of Lorenzo's court, came into conflict with the pope and gradually lost popular favor. In 1498 he was seized by a mob, tried, and executed. The Medici, returned to power by a Spanish army in 1512, were again exiled in 1527, and permanently restored in 1531. The title grand duke of Tuscany was bestowed on the head of the Medici family by the pope in 1569.

Florence Since the Medici
The Medici ruled Tuscany until their line died out in 1737. They were succeeded by members of the imperial Austrian house of Habsburg-Lorraine. Grand Duke Ferdinand III was driven from his throne by the French in 1799 and restored in 1814. His successor, Leopold II, expelled in 1849, returned with Austrian troops, but he was finally deposed in 1859, during the struggle for Italian independence. Florence was the capital of Italy under King Victor Emmanuel from 1865 to 1871, when Rome became the capital. In World War II most of Florence's monuments were not damaged, but all its bridges (except the Ponte Vecchio) were destroyed in 1944. In 1966 a major flood damaged numerous art treasures in Florence, but many were restored in succeeding years by the use of sophisticated techniques. Population (1990 estimate) 408,403.


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