King Victor Emmanuel II moved Italy’s capital from Turin to this Tuscan city in 1865, and for the next five years, until the occupation of Rome, Florence remained the capital. Florence is one of the most architecturally beautiful and historically important cities in the world. The artistic heritage accumulated by the leading Florentine families during the Renaissance and displayed ever since in its museums—the Uffizi, the Bargello, the hidden gallery over the Ponte Vecchio—are testimony to the city’s central place in European cultural history. Filippo Brunelleschi, Dante Alighieri, Galileo Galilei, Niccolo Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Giorgio Vasari are all part of the city’s history. During its prime, little trade between Europe and the East took place that was not financed by Florentine bankers and insured by Florentine entrepreneurs. The city was ruled by the Medici family for most of the 300-year period between 1434 and 1737, when the city became the capital of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany under the rule of Francis Stephen of Lorraine, the future emperor of Austria (1745). In 1786, the city abolished the death penalty long before most of Europe. During the Napoleonic period, the French gave the Duchy first to the family of the Duke of Parma (the so-called kingdom of Etruria) and then annexed it directly. The Lorraine family was restored after the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) but ruled only until 1860, when Florence became part first of Piedmont-Sardinia and then of Italy. Florence was a center of Fascist activity but also of resistance to the dictator during World War II. After the fall of Benito Mussolini and the beginning of the civil war of 1943–1945, Tuscan partisans harassed the German garrison so that the resistance might be in control of their city when Allied forces entered. The city was divided among four commands to avoid conflicts among the partisans of the main political parties. Repressive measures ordered by German General Albert Kesselring reflected his conviction that irregular, hence illegal, belligerence by those who should be noncombatants could be stopped by preventive hostage-taking, reprisals, public hangings, and home burnings. These measures, however, served to draw Tuscans closer together despite class, political, and social differences. Florence was the first, but not the last, Italian city to have been brought under partisan control prior to the arrival of Allied armies. When Allied political teams arrived on 13 August 1944, equipped with lists of Italian liberal notables, aristocrats, and Catholics to fill administrative jobs, they found that the local Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale/Committee of National Liberation (CLN) had effectively organized city government to perform municipal chores ranging from garbage collection to water supply. The Allies saw the wisdom of treating the CLN delegates as legitimate interlocutors rather than risking the city’s entire population turning against the liberators. The partisans had made clear that they would not accept being treated as mere auxiliaries. Since the war’s end, Florentine political life has been no less interesting than its wealth has been impressive. Between 1960 and 1962, Florence was one of those cities that “opened to the left,” and its municipal government has since then more frequently been in the hands of left majorities than not. In November 1966, the city’s art treasures were badly damaged by the flooding of the Arno River, which runs through the city. In 1993, the treasures of the Uffizi galleries were again put at risk after a random bomb attack, attributed to the mafia, caused widespread damage.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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