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Florence (Italian: Firenze) is the capital city of the region of Tuscany, Italy and also capital of the province of Florence. From 1865 to 1870 the city was also the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. Florence lies on the Arno River and has a population of around 400,000 people, plus a suburban population in excess of 200,000 persons. A centre of medieval European trade and finance, the city is often considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and was long ruled by the Medici family. Florence is also famous for its fine art and architecture. It is said that, of the 1,000 most important European artists of the second millennium, 350 lived or worked in Florence.
|Florence's recorded history began with the establishment in 59 BCE of a settlement for Roman former soldiers, with the name Florentia. The seat of a bishopric from around the beginning of the 4th century CE, the city experienced subsequent periods of Byzantine, Ostrogothic, Lombard, and Frankish rule, during which the population may have fallen to as few as 1,000 persons.|
Reviving from the 10th century and governed from 1115 by an autonomous commune, the city was plunged into internal strife by the 13th-century struggle between the Ghibellines, supporters of the German emperor, and the pro-Papal Guelphs, who after their victory split in turn into feuding "White" and "Black" factions led respectively by Vieri de Cerchi and Corso Donati. (See Guelphs and Ghibellines.) These struggles eventually led to the exile of the White Guelphs, one of whom was Dante Alighieri. This factional strife was later recorded by Dino Compagni, a White Guelph, in his Chronicles of Florence.
Political conflict did not, however, prevent the city's rise to become one of the most powerful and prosperous in Europe, assisted by her own strong gold currency, the florin (introduced in 1252), the eclipse of her formerly powerful rival Pisa (defeated by Genoa in 1284 and subjugated by Florence in 1406), and the exercise of power by the mercantile elite following an anti-aristocratic movement, led by Giano della Bella, that resulted in a set of laws called the Ordinances of Justice (1293).
Of a population estimated at 80,000 before the Black Death of 1348, about 25,000 are said to have been supported by the city's woollen industry: in 1345 Florence was the scene of an attempted strike by wool combers (ciompi), who in 1378 rose up in a brief revolt against oligarchic rule in the Revolt of the Ciompi. After their suppression, the city came under the sway (1382-1434) of the Albizzi family, bitter rivals of the Medici. Cosimo de' Medici was the first Medici family member to essentially control the city from behind the scenes, his power coming from a vast patronage network and his alliance to the new immigrants, the gente nuova. The fact that the Medici were bankers to the pope also contributed to their rise. Cosimo was succeeded by his son Piero, who was shortly thereafter succeeded by Cosimo's grandson, Lorenzo in 1469. Lorenzo was a great patron of the arts, commissioning works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli.
After Lorenzo's death in 1492 and his son Piero's exile in 1494, the first period of Medici rule ended with the restoration of a republican government, influenced until his execution (1498) by the teachings of the radical Dominican prior Girolamo Savonarola, whose monomaniacal persecution of the widespread Florentine sodomy and of other worldly pleasures foreshadowed many of the wider religious controversies of the following centuries.
A second individual of unusual insight was Niccolò Machiavelli, whose prescriptions for Florence's regeneration under strong leadership have often been seen as a legitimisation of political expediency and even malpractice. Commissioned by the Medici, Machiavelli also wrote the Florentine Histories, the history of the city. Florentines drove out the Medici for a second time and re-established a republic on May 16, 1527. Restored twice with the support of both Emperor and Pope, the Medici in 1537 became hereditary dukes of Florence, and in 1569 Grand Dukes of Tuscany, ruling for two centuries. Only Republic of Lucca (later a Duchy) was independent from Florence in all Tuscany.
The extinction of the Medici line and the accession in 1737 of Francis Stephen, duke of Lorraine and husband of Maria Theresa of Austria, led to Tuscany's inclusion in the territories of the Austrian crown. Austrian rule was to end in defeat at the hands of France and the kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont in 1859, and Tuscany became a province of the united kingdom of Italy in 1861.
Florence replaced Turin as Italy's capital in 1865, hosting the country's first parliament, but was superseded by Rome six years later following the latter's addition to the kingdom. After doubling during the 19th century, Florence's population tripled in the 20th with the growth of tourism, trade, financial services and industry. During World War II the city experienced a year-long German occupation (1943-1944). The Allied soldiers who died driving the Germans from Tuscany are buried in cemeteries outside the city (Americans about 9 kilometers (6 miles) south of the city, British and Commonwealth soldiers a few kilometers east of the center on the north bank of the Arno)
In November 1966 the Arno flooded parts of the centre, damaging many art treasures. There was no warning from the authorities who knew the flood was coming, except a phone call to the jewellers on the Ponte Vecchio.
By planeThe airport is Amerigo Vespucci (http://www.safnet.it/) (code FLR). It has good connections to the center of the city, which can be reached in about fifteen minutes by taxi. The Ataf-Sita Vol in Bus ("Fly by bus") service costs €4 one way, and makes the circuit between the airport and the central train station about every half an hour from 5:30AM to 8:30PM, then once an hour afterwards.
Much cheaper flights to destinations throughout Europe can be found at Pisa airport (only a €5 train journey from the center of Florence). Low-cost airlines which fly to Pisa include Easyjet, Ryanair, Transavia and HLX.
By trainLocal trains from other parts of Italy and express trains from around Europe arrive in Florence. The main station is Firenze Santa Maria Novella (http://www.firenzesantamarianovella.it/), on the edge of the historic old town. Other small stations are Firenze Campo Marte (near Florence Stadium) and Firenze Rifredi.
By carFlorence is connected by good highways to the rest of Italy. Cars aren't allowed in the small old town center, so plan on parking your car and leaving it for a while.
By busBus stops have clear labeling of the routes, and some stops are shared with trams. They do not always give an indication of bus times, however, so they can be a bit disconcerting to use. Tickets must be bought in advance from Tabaconists, and are usually valid for one hour over the whole network, so that you can just hop on and off at will. They are cheap, and 1 day, and 3 day tourist tickets are also available.
http://www.ataf.net/ is the official website. It has maps and timetables. Click on "English" if you don't speak Italian. You may need the help of an online translator like http://babelfish.altavista.com/ to get the most out of the pages that aren't all in English.
|Much of the town center is blocked off to automobiles; motor-bikes and bicycles are common. Some of the hotels actually provide their guest with free bicycles as well. |
You can easily travel on foot, by motor-bike or in the small electric busses which are available in the city center. There is decent bus service in other parts of town as well.
Taxis are available, but it's best if you have your hotel or the restaurant you are eating at call ahead. There is apparently a waiting list, so Taxis can't just be hailed on the street. There is however a system of Taxi call boxes where you will receive a ticket to present when you get in the cab.