The history of Florence starts with the Etruscans, who were the first to inhabit the territory. After the Etruscans, the Romans founded the trading town of Florentia. In the early Middle Ages, the city was conquered by several peoples. Florence‘s greatest period of prosperity began in the 15th century, under the Medici. Even among their successors, the house of Lorraine, the city enjoyed great economic and political prosperity. After the unification of Italy, Florence became the first capital of the new country.
Antiquity to the early Middle Ages
Even before the Romans settled there, there were Etruscan settlements on the hills of present-day Florence. The Etruscans had arrived in Italy from Asia Minor and settled in what are now Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. The reason they stayed was the abundance of minerals for the prodction of weapons and utensils.
In Roman times it was a flourishing trading city, which was called Florentia. The Romans kept many of the Etruscan customs after having conquered them.
In the Byzantine period it was a stronghold against the Gothic invasions. Later it was occupied by the Lombards and the Franks.
In the 7th century Charlemagne beat the Lombards and was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. This led to a prolonged conflict between church and emperor.
Until the 8th century the famous Cathedral was outside the side walls. The new walls were constructed, in order to include the Duomo.
Late Middle Ages and Renaissance
In 1115 Florence became an independent city. In the 13th century there were great disputes between the Ghibellines and the Guelphs, the first of which were supporters of the Holy Roman Empire. The Guelphs, who supported the Papal State, would eventually gain the upper hand.
From the 15th century onwards, the Medici were in charge in Florence (and much of Tuscany today). It was at this time that the guilder was introduced in the Netherlands. This coin was named after the Florentine currency fiorino d’oro (“Golden Florine”).
Wealthy bankers supplied artists and architects with money to build palaces and produce masterpieces. This period became known as the Renaissance and is the most important period in the history of Florence.
After the last Medici died childless, the Habsburg House of Lorraine took over power in the city. They ruled there from 1734 to 1859, with an interval during the French rule (1799-1814).
Modern history Florence
After the unification of Italy, Florence became the capital of the new state, a situation which only lasted for a few years (1864-1870).
During the Second World War the city was heavily bombed. All of the city’s bridges were destroyed by the Germans, except for the Ponte Vecchio. In 1966 a flood of the Arno river caused a lot of damage.
Lately business and industry have moved to the suburbs, to an area called Firenze Nuova. The historical center is now a cultural an tourist haven.