I’m sometimes delayed while traveling, as I was today because of an Italian rail strike. The upside to being stranded is I could wander around Florence, capital of Tuscany and one of the most historic cities in the world.
Long before it became the center of the Renaissance it was an Etruscan settlement called Fiesole. Julius Caesar ordered city built atop it in 59 BCE as a soldiers’ retirement home, which explains why streets are laid out like an encampment. When Roman control weakened Florence was besieged by Ostrogoths and Byzantines. Charlemagne conquered it in 774 so Florence enjoyed a few centuries of stability.
In 1339 Florence became the first to pave its streets but that did not stop the Black Death of 1348. The city rebounded to become the wealthiest in Europe, especially the Medici Family, who commissioned works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli. They even funded a local writer to study how power is exercised: Niccolò Machiavelli. The extinction of the Medici dynasty led to Florence absorption by the Austrian crown and later, thanks to Napoleon, by France. Tuscany joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
Florence is home to many, but perhaps none better known than Pinocchio, the wooden boy whose nose grows when he lies (Le Avventure di Pinocchio was published in 1883).
My Stateside friends might be surprised that America was named for Amerigo Vespucci, the famous explorer and navigator, who was born in Florence in 1454.
The city was occupied by German forces until late in WW II and many Allied soldiers died in fierce fighting to capture it: several hundred are buried in cemeteries outside the city.
“The men who rest in the American cemetery at Florence left their distant homes to fight in the cause of liberty and that peace might reign again in the world. These Tuscan acres are forever hallowed by the sacrifice of our fellow countrymen in that great crusade. The people of the United States join with me in paying humble and grateful tribute to those who rest here forever in the friendly soil of Italy. Their memory will always reaffirm the bonds of friendship between our countries. Let all of us keep faith with the ideals for which they died.”