History (1A)

Roman Florence began to gain importance around the year 59 BC, when it became an emerging military and commercial centre. The barbarian invasions and the fall of the Roman Empire, however, plunged Europe into a period of chaos. 

Later, in the late 11th century, Florence once again enjoyed a period of significant political and commercial developments, which led to the creation of important merchants' and craftsmen's guilds. Also worth noting is that by the year 1138 the city was already an autonomous republic and an independent power in its own right.

However, this period of peace and progress was interrupted by the endless struggles that arose between different factions from the moment the interests of traders began to clash with those of the aristocracy. The situation only got worse with the emergence of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The first of these defended the power of the Pope, while the Ghibellines were ardent supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor. All of which meant that the region of Tuscany experienced a period of constant turmoil that lasted more than two centuries. 

In spite of all this Florentine economy and society prospered, so much so that the first gold florin was coined in this city in the mid-13th century and gradually adopted as the accepted currency throughout Europe. 

Over time the Guelphs were able to oust the Ghibellines from power and the merchants' and bankers' guilds became the true leaders of the Florentine Republic. Early in the 15th century, then, Florence was experiencing one of its periods of maximum power, despite having recently suffered severe flooding and plagues. This was the period in which the Medici appeared; wealthy bankers and wool merchants who seized power and ruled Florence during the most prosperous time in the city's history, when social and cultural life attained an unprecedented level. 

The Medici family controlled the destinies of the city during the time when Florence became both the birthplace of the Renaissance and the world capital of culture, art and finance. 

Cosimo the Elder, who later earned the title "father of the nation", in conjunction with his son Piero the Gouty and his grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent, ruled the city and proved to be expert politicians who knew how to curry favour with the masses. On his death Lorenzo was succeeded by his son Piero, who lasted only two years in power as he quickly surrendered to the French as soon as Charles VIII invaded Italy. Disgusted, the Florentines expelled Piero from the city and established a republic. 

The maximum leader and representative of this republic was the Dominican Girolamo Savonarola.  Savonarola, however, had many enemies, both in Florence and in Rome, and was eventually arrested, hanged and burned. After these events, Florence experienced more than three centuries of apathy under the rule of the Medici (again) and the Habsburgs. 

It wasn't until after the Italian Unification, a national movement that came about in an effort to expel the Austrians and unify the country that the city once again enjoyed a brief moment of glory when it was proclaimed the provisional capital of the new Kingdom of Italy. This only lasted from 1865 to 1871, however, and Rome was soon appointed the permanent capital. 

During the First World War Italy fought on the side of Britain and France against Germany and Austria, but it wasn't long before the Italians began to feel they had not been sufficiently well compensated for their efforts. This led to the disintegration of parliamentary democracy and the rise to power of the dictator Benito Mussolini in 1922. Mussolini later allied with Hitler and dragged Italy to defeat in World War II. While some WWII battles took place in the vicinity of Florence, fortunately almost all the city's treasures on display today survived. 

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