Historic cities that have been continuously inhabited through the current day, usually bear apparent evidence of their past in their urban grid. In large capital cities like Athens or Rome an observer can easily read the evolution of the city in discrete layers. The different historic realities coexist with the noisy modern everyday life.
Unlike this model, the modern face of Florence is entirely characterized by the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. The visitor is rarely aware that it existed on another historic time, and even less that it used to be an important strategic location, both during the roman and the byzantine eras. Instead, walking around the squares and the monumental buildings, one enjoys again and again the glory of the city under the rule of the Medici, during its greatest cultural and artistic flourish. Its Renaissance identity covers all other historic realities.
In fact, Florence, “Florentia” originally, was founded in 59 B.C, as an army camp of the Imperial Rome. The typology of the Roman camp distinguished by the two basic vertical axes is still visible in an aerial view of the city. The central Piazza della Republica was once their cross point, and the civic heart of the Roman city. Marks of this era can be discovered in all central squares of the city, but mostly underneath them, according to recent excavations.
In the Byzantine Era, Florence flourished as the head point for the communication between Rome and Po Valley and it was a disputable area between the Goths and the Byzantines. Traces of this period can be found more in the city’s architecture and art and less in its urban development. Characteristic artistic examples are the mosaics in the Battisterio and in the church of San Miniato Al Monte.
However, the remains of the pro-medieval eras are rather hard to be observed in the modern city. They are either integrated in the medieval grid, or altered in use and form so much that they are no longer recognizable – like the byzantine Torre della Pagliazza, originally, which serves as a restaurant today. For the attentive observer, the discovery of these traces can lead to a more profound understanding of the city’s urban development.
But why is the Renaissance spirit so intense in the city? It seems it is not only because of the artifacts and monuments that were created then, and still dominate its atmosphere. Moreover, the maximum exploitation of this era was a political decision that was taken in the time of the Medici, and continues to be valid up to today. The decision that Florence should be forever recognized as the city-symbol of the Renaissance, where culture, art, literature would lead the urban rhythms.
In what level do you think that the layers of the past should be apparent in the modern city?
Credits: Images by Marilena Mela. Data linked to sources.