A BRIEF HISTORY OF FLORENCE, ITALY
By Tim Lambert
Florence in the Middle Ages
The great city of Florence was founded by the Romans in 59 BC. It was a colonia, a settlement for retired soldiers and it was called Florentia. The new town flourished and grew under Roman rule. However, in the 4th century, the Roman Empire split into two, East and West. In the 5th century, Germanic peoples overthrew the Western Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire survived as the Byzantine Empire. In the 6th century, the Byzantine Emperor attempted to reconquer Italy and there was a struggle between the Byzantines and a Germanic people called the Goths. During the fighting, Florence changed hands several times. However late in the 6th century, a people called the Lombards captured Florence and there was a long period of peace. Then in 774, Charlemagne captured Florence.
By the 11th century Florence was once again a flourishing town and in 1115 the Count of Tuscany made it self governing commune. Florence became a large and rich city and in 1252 a gold coin called the florin was minted. However, in 1348 Florence was devastated by the Black Death. Yet the city soon recovered and in the 15th century, it became a center of the arts. Meanwhile, from 1434 until 1737 the Medicis were the leading family in Florence.
In 1494 Florence surrendered to a French army. Then in 1527, it was captured by an army from the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. However, Florence continued to flourish although in 1737 the rule of the Medicis came to an end. Afterward, Tuscany, including Florence came under Austrian rule.
In 1820 the famous nurse Florence Nightingale was born in the city.
In 1861 Tuscany became part of the newly united kingdom of Italy. In 1865 it became the capital but in 1871 it was replaced by Rome. During the late 19th century and the early 20th century, the population of Florence rose rapidly and the city prospered. However, during the Second World War Florence was occupied by Germans in the period 1943-1944. When they retreated the Germans destroyed the bridges in Florence except for the Ponte Vecchio. Yet after the war, Florence soon recovered. However, on 4 November 1966 Florence suffered a severe flood. The River Arno burst its banks and at least 35 people were killed. Once again Florence recovered. In 1982 UNESCO declared Florence a World Heritage Site. Today Florence is flourishing. Many tourists are drawn to the city by its art and architecture. Today the population of Florence is 374,000.
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