The city of Florence is located in the Tuscany Region of central Italy. It stands at the foot of the Apennine mountains, on the River Arno. The city is home to about 365,966 Florentines (the name given to people who live in Florence). In Italian, Florence is called Firenze.
Florence was founded as a military settlement during the rule of Julius Caesar in the 1st century bc. In Roman times, Florence was known as Florentia, which means “the flourishing town”. Florentia developed into an important trading centre that grew during the 2nd and 3rd centuries ad.
BIRTH OF THE RENAISSANCE
Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance (a period that began around 1300 and lasted for 300 years). During this time Florence produced some of the greatest artists, writers and sculptors in history. By the 1450s Florence had become rich, thanks to trade and banking. The powerful Medici (pronounced “Meh-dee-chee”) family ruled Florence from the mid-15th century to 1737. The Medici and other wealthy traders paid large amounts of money for new buildings, paintings and sculptures to make their city more impressive. This attracted many of the world’s greatest artists and architects to Florence.
Among these were Filippo Brunelleschi, who designed the city’s magnificent cathedral dome (the Duomo), and Donatello, who created fine sculptures and statues from bronze, marble and wood. Artist Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, one of the best-known works of art in the world, in Florence. Michelangelo Buonarroti, probably the greatest sculptor in history, completed his massive statue of David in Florence in 1504.
GALLERIES, MUSEUMS AND LIBRARIES
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the finest art galleries in Europe. The collection of artwork on display there includes paintings by Raphael, Titian and Botticelli. One of the most famous of these is the Birth of Venus, by Sandro Botticelli, which was commissioned by the Medici family in 1482. The Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts features many works by Michelangelo, including his sculpture David. Many copies of this statue can be seen around the city. The Bargello is a fortress-like building, which houses a national museum of sculpture and decorative arts. Among its many treasures is Donatello’s bronze sculpture of David.
Next to the Uffizi Gallery is the Institute and Museum of the History of Science. Items on display there include early telescopes, clocks, watches, compasses and other important instruments invented by the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei during the Renaissance. La Specola, part of the Natural History Museum of Florence, has a large exhibition of extinct animals and birds, including the Tasmanian wolf and the great auk. The museum also has a collection of extremely lifelike human wax figures that were once used by professors at the University of Florence to teach medical students about human anatomy.
One of the greatest libraries of Italy—the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale—is in Florence. It contains about 4 million books and pamphlets and many thousands of manuscripts, maps and letters.
PALACES AND CHURCHES
Florence is world famous for its many palaces and churches. The city’s skyline is dominated by the huge dome of the Florence Cathedral. The cathedral is decorated with red, green and white marble, and was begun in 1296. Next to the cathedral stands a 14th-century bell tower. Nearby is the Palazzo Vecchio, which was once a town hall but was later converted into a royal palace. When a new residence was built for the king, this one became known as Palazzo Vecchio, or Old Palace.
To the south, near the River Arno, is the Franciscan church of Santa Croce, most of which was built in the 13th and 14th centuries. The church is decorated with frescoes by Giotto and other well-known painters. It contains the tombs of important Renaissance figures including Michelangelo, Galileo and Niccolò Machiavelli (a famous statesman and philosopher), as well as monuments to many other famous Italians.