« PreviousContinue »
The City of Lilies-Influence, Riches, Memories-View from the Boboli Gardens-Fiesole-Early Struggles-Guelphs and Ghibellines, Parties and Factions-Epitome of History-The Lung' Arno-Bridges-Streets-Piazza della Signoria -The Loggia dei Lanzi-Palazzo Vecchio--The Uffizi Gallery and its Treasures-The Tribune-The Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore)-Brunelleschi's Dome-Giotto's Campanile-Church of San Lorenzo-Baptistery of St. John-The Gates of Paradise-Santa Croce-Dante-Galileo Galilei-Machiavelli-Church of the Carmine-Santa Maria Maggiore-SS. Annunziata-Santo Spirito-Monasteries-San Marco-Fra Angelico-Savonarola and his Times-Church of San Marco-The Pitti Palace and the Medici Family-The Story of Bianca Capello-Palaces, and Houses of Celebrated Men-Hospitals-The Misericordia-Markets-Campo Santo- Old Protestant Cemetery-Schools, Libraries, Theatres, and Manufactories-Environs-San Miniato-Vallombrosa.
LL things bright and beautiful find a home in Florence, and with the renowned City of Lilies-"Firenze la Gentile"-the Athens of Italy, we may fitly close our survey of great Cities of the World, for of few, if of any, can it be said that they do not owe to fair Florence a lasting debt of gratitude. The wise policy of her Medicean lords, in connection with the revival of art and letters, and the marvellous achievements of her gifted sons, have exercised a vast influence over all modern enlightenment and culture; but to trace out the workings of that influence would of course be foreign to our present purpose. Of memories of great men and of priceless heirlooms from a glorious past, Florence possesses enough to make the fame of half a dozen cities. Beneath the bright blue sky of Italy, her peerless domes and towers rise in stately grandeur; her princely halls and galleries show long vistas of pictured loveliness, and sculptured forms that almost seem to breathe, including many a rescued treasure from the older world. Here Dante sang his deathless song and made his Beatrice immortal. Here Galileo nightly scanned the heavens, and revealed to science the secrets of distant orbs. Endowed with such riches, linked with such memories, it is no marvel that Florence attracts, as to a hallowed shrine, pilgrims of art, and worshippers of the beautiful, from every land. Nor is "Firenze la Gentile" content only to dream
over her ancient laurels; her pulses are beating with the vigorous life of new Italy, and a bright triumphant future seems to lie before her.
From the heights of San Miniato, or from the Boboli Gardens, there is a fine general view of the city. The Boboli Gardens were laid out by Tribolo, in the year 1550. The Florentines are justly proud of this charming retreat, with its groves of ilex and laurel, of larch and sycamore, and its fountains and statues adorning the spacious avenues and lawns and terraces. Very lovely is the view of Florence from this spot when her churches and palaces are bathed in golden splendour from the setting sun, and the Arno is seen gliding along a fair valley, beyond which are the mountain slopes, clad with vineyards and orange groves and studded with villas. The greater part of the city itself is, like most cities of Italy, a mixed assemblage of chimney-pots and red-tiled roofs, terraces and balconies, sky-lights and dormer windows, flag-staffs, crosses, and belfries. But from all these details the eye is attracted by the numerous grand structures that rise above the sea of houses. The medieval tower and frowning battlements of the Palazzo Vecchio are directly in front; the thin spire of the Badia rises a little to the right; beyond these the wondrous Cathedral dome of Brunelleschi swells high in air; and close beside it
ARMS OF FLORENCE.
To the left of the Cathedral is seen the octagonal dome of the Baptistery of St. John, beyond which San Lorenzo proudly towers; whilst farther to the left the campanile of Santa Maria Novella gracefully rises above the spacious cloisters and beatiful façade of the church. The irregular polygon of the city is divided by the Arno, which is bordered on each side by spacious handsome quays, forming the noted promenade of the Lung' Arno. Six bridges unite the two river-banks. On the south side of the Arno, the dome of Santo Spirito attracts the eye, and then the beautiful heights of Bello Squardo. Near at hand is the famous Pitti Palace, with the celebrated covered corridor running over the Arno to the Uffizi. Turning to the extreme right, we notice the sombre and massive Santa Croce, beyond which are seen the cypresses of the Protestant Cemetery, where reposes all that is mortal of Elizabeth Barrett Browning; and farther still, in the same direction, the eye ranges the heights of Fiesole, where fragments of Cyclopean walls and a convent mark the site of the parent city of Florence.
Fiesole was an Etruscan city, and a small trading-village belonging to it stood beside the Arno, where Florence now stands. Florentia (as the Romans called it) was founded by the soldiers of Sulla in 80 B.C., but was long in attaining to any importance. Christianity made its way here in the time of Nero, introduced by converts who fled hither from the Roman persecution, and in the fourth century the town had a Christian bishop. In A.D. 406 a great army of Burgundians and Vandals besieged the city, under the command of Radagaisus. The siege was raised on October 8th, by Stilicho, and Radagaisus was captured and slain. The inhabitants considered that this deliverance
took place in answer to the prayers of their good bishop Zanobius. It was said that in the height of the conflict St. Reparata appeared, bearing a blood-red banner, with the device of a white lily upon it, and that her presence and aid assured victory to the Romans. In memory of this event a Church of St. Reparata rose upon the site of the primitive Church of St. Salvador, and in its turn gave place to the present Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower (Santa Maria del Fiore).
But the barbarians again mustered at intervals round the walls of Florence, and in the middle of the sixth century Totila, King of the Ostrogoths, destroyed the city. It was rebuilt, nearly two centuries afterwards, by Charlemagne, and in the tenth century was important enough to choose its own magistrates; four consuls and a hundred senators composed the Government. Commerce was now in a flourishing condition, and the Florentines made their power felt over a large district. Feudal robber-chieftains were conquered, and their castles destroyed; but as they were allowed to settle in the city, many feuds and factions arose in consequence. During the long struggle between the Guelphs, or National party, and the Ghibellines, or Imperialists, Florence was a strong partisan of the former. The Paterini, a sect of reformers, were massacred in Florence, as associates of the Ghibellines, in 1240. A few years later the Ghibellines were brought back in triumph by the Emperor's son, Manfred, who would have levelled the city with the ground but for the strong opposition of a Ghibelline, whom Dante has immortalised, Farinati degli Uberti. Manfred and the Imperialists were defeated at Benevento, by Charles of Anjou, who became Lord of Florence at the request of the Guelphs in the city. But in 1282 the powerful city guilds constructed the form of Government which long existed in Florence, by entrusting the direction of affairs to their Priori, or Presidents. Their Ghibelline rivals were banished, and defeated with great slaughter when they mustered at Campaldino. In 1293, to keep in order the turbulent nobles, their civic rights were taken from them, and a Gonfaloniere della Giustizia (Standard Bearer of Justice) was appointed, and made President of the Priors. Seventy-two great families were declared incapable of holding office, and this decree itself led to fresh combinations and struggles. But in spite of civic feud, Florence during the thirteenth century rose to a great height of fame and prosperity, nor did the old struggle under a new name-Bianchi against Neri-hinder the wealth and aggrandisement of the Republic. The Bianchi were the remnants of the old Ghibelline faction, now the popular party, whilst the Neri, or Guelphs, represented the nobles of the city. We need not linger over the record of fights and banishments and executions. Amidst it all, great poets and artists and sculptors appeared, of whom we shall have presently to speak. The population rose to 150,000, and 25,000 armed militia gathered at the tolling of a bell. The merchants carried on an immense trade; and Florence, the financial capital of Europe, issued her golden florins, which became a standard of value in all lands. The Republic flourished through all its stormy history of faction and rebellions, and wars with neighbouring States, till the great Medici family obtained, in the fifteenth century, a controlling influence in its affairs, resulting, soon afterwards, in the final overthrow of Republican institutions in the Under the Grand Dukes, Florence still achieved fame in literature and science, in commerce and art, although no longer free. In April, 1859, the last of the Grand Dukes drove from his capital amidst the sardonic smiles of his assembled subjects. Tuscany joined its fortunes to those of Piedmont, and in December, 1864, Florence was proclaimed capital of the