This post follows on from the very beginnings of Florence as we take a look into how Florence came to what it is today.
Although the Florence is known for the Renaissance, the city does have Roman foundations, but unlike Rome you have to delve a little more for the proof.
The city of Florence was founded as a permanent settlement in 59 BC, when soldiers of Julius Caesar were allocated land on the rich farming valley of the Arno. Back then it was named Fiorentia, with the city being built in the style of a military camp, with the main streets intersecting at the present Piazza della Repubblica. Back then, Florence’s position was pretty strong; situated at the Via Cassia, the main route between Rome and the North, the city was able to rapidly expand as a commercial centre, with excellent trade routes to the sea.
The original city occupied the area from todays Piazza del Duomo to Piazza Santa Trinita. Going into the 2nd century Florence was booming and had a population of 10,000 people, but with the fall of the Western Roman empire, the city diminished to 1000 in the 6th century. With the turn of the 10th century, the city began to flourish once again and the city was expanding at a rapid rate.
Traces of the Roman beginnings of Florence can mainly be seen in the street names which are still in use today. Via delle Terme (road of the baths) was where the Roman bath house was located and Via delle Burious (linked to the Italian word buio meaning dark) was where tall medieval houses were built above the network of dark passages that characterized the Roman city. Also look out for the curving road of Via De’ Bentaccordi in the Santa Croce neighbourhood, which marks the foundations of where the Roman amphitheatre was.
Also to note in this period of history was Florence’s first martyr – Saint Minias. Beheaded around 250 AD during the antiChristian persecutions by the Emperor Decius. The Basilica di San Miniato al Monte is dedicated to him, and also marks the spot where the Saint (after being beheaded) picked up his own head, crossed the Arno and returned to his hermitage on the hill overlooking Florence.
Next we enter the early Middle Ages…