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Populated by the highly cultured Etruscans centuries before the Romans rose to power, this is an area where rural and urban beauty blend harmoniously. While the landscape seems almost to have been sculpted by the Renaissance artists whose works are everywhere, the little hill towns appear to have grown naturally out of the rock on which they are perched.
Travellers have been flocking to central Italy for centuries to enjoy the way of life that comes with a pleasant climate, excellent food and wines and an unequalled quantity and quality of art and architecture. For many this is quintessential Italy and, although you will have to share its spectacular sights with many others, the quiet confidence that comes from a long and prosperous history imbues even the busiest piazza with a soothing calm and a sense of continuity.
Read more on this destination in the AA Essential Guide to Florence & Tuscany.
The history of Florence
Originally a Roman city known as Fluentia it was an important commercial centre between Rome and the north, then came a period of Ostrogothic rule, followed by the Lombards in the 6th century. In 774 Florence was under the control of Charlemagne and become part of the Duchy of Tuscany and in 854 it was united with Fiesole as one county after which Florence began to flourish. There was a period of successful banking and trading that led to a substantial growth in the city both in population and construction.
The string of great names that worked in Florence is well known, Giotto, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and Donatello, Michelangelo, da Vinci and dozens of others. All were bought here by the commissions and money of Florence’s thriving and well-heeled bankers and merchants, men who surrounded themselves with beautiful things and fine minds, and were as interested in philosophy as the price of commodities. No family more perfectly symbolises these Renaissance patrons than the Medici, Florence’s leading money men, whose power and wealth gave them control of the city by the 14th century and kept them at the top of the heap until the 1700’s. Their money and that of the associates, financed the building of the palazzo, the decoration of the churches and the sculptures and paintings they wanted for their town houses and country villas. The miracle is that it’s all still here, endowed to the city by the last Medici.
For a short period after 1737, Tuscany was part of Austria and then linked to France in 1807 until Napoleon was defeated in 1814, again restoring Austria to power until 1859, finally joining the province of Italy in 1861.
Florence’s population has more than doubled during the 20th century and continues to grow due to a large student population, a successful tourism trade and a commercial centre that has a big focus on financial services.
Today people are still attracted to experience the Renaissance beauty of the city that has been carefully and sympathetically intermingled with new modern buildings, a wonderful blending of old versus new.
While many travel to enjoy the exciting shopping arena that is growing in the city. Nowadays Florence is as well-renowned as a fashion centre as it is for its more traditional products including ceramics, leather goods and intricate jewellery.