FLORENCE, “Florentia”, the fl orid, was the name given by the Romans to this small settlement located at the foot of the ancient Etruscan Fiesole and founded in the fi rst century BC. The Etruscans, an ancient and mysterious race, of whom we know very little, but who left numerous testimonies around Florence, had settled on the hills surrounding the plain of the river Arno as far back as the VII-VI centuries BC.
First erected as a Roman “castrum”, Florentia soon assumed the appearance of a real town with a forum (now Piazza della Repubblica), thermal baths (via delle Terme), and amphitheater (via Tòrta). Then the period of the decline of the Empire arrived, with the political fragmentation from which the feudal system arose. The town, constituted as a commune at the beginning of the twelfth century, began to expand until it spread over half of the Arno valley and the surrounding hillsides.
Despite the internal struggles, fi rst between rival families and then between the Guelfs (loyal to the Pope) and the Ghibellines (loyal to the Emperor), from the 13th century onwards it began to fl ourish as a city of art, culture and international trading, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under the Signoria of Cosimo and Lorenzo de’ Medici. After Lorenzo’s death in 1492, Florence witnessed a long period of wars that led to the end of the Florentine Republic and saw the birth of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, ruled fi rst by a younger branch of the Medici family and followed by the Habsburg-Lorena family. Despite alternating events, the Grand Duchy survived until the political unifi cation of Italy, of which Florence was capital from 1865 to 1871. This marked the beginning of a profound restructuring of the city that led to the knocking down of the walls and the erasing of several ancient quarters in the center that endowed Florence with its presentday appearance.
The capital of the region called Tuscany has a population of around half a million inhabitants, and spreads on the banks of the Arno, between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian seas, almost in the middle of the Italian peninsula. It is a city which bustles with industry and craft, commerce and culture, art and science. The climate is temperate but rather variable, with breezy winters and hot summers. The Chianti area, between Florence and Siena, is one of the most beautiful countrysides in Italy and a famous wine production area.