Scaling the heights

It had never occurred to me to think of Florence as a walled city, so it came as something of a surprise to find that the city walls had been rebuilt as many as six times.  Florentia, as a Roman garrison, came into being around 59BC.  The first wall would have encompassed the area of the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio, with Piazza della Repubblica at its centre.

With the rise and fall of the city’s fortunes, in a chequered history, the walls were redrawn a number of times.  The second wall covered a smaller area than the first.  The third extended to the River Arno- previously considered unstable marshy ground.  In the 9th century Florence was increasingly prosperous and the walls were extended again.  As new villages mushroomed south of the Arno, the defence system needed to include them, and in 1172 work was begun on a fifth wall.  By 1333, Oltrarno finally received complete protection and the walls were 8.5 kilometres long, with gates 35 metres tall.

In sweeps the Black Death in 1348 and the city’s population, in common with most of Europe, was decimated.  In the 16th century additional fortifications were added to face the army of the German Emperor Charles V, and the Fortress of Belvedere was commissioned.  All of the city gates were pollarded to make them less vulnerable to artillery, save for San Niccolo.

The tower that marks Porta San Niccolo

Looking down on the walls from the cemetery at San Miniato al Monte

Florence became the provisional capital of Italy between 1865 and 1871.  And after all that building?  The walls were demolished in order to establish a new ring road.  Today, only the walls in Oltrarno have survived.  For a more complete history, this is an interesting site.

Still in Italy, you absolutely must see the magnificence of Mantua in Paula’s Traces of the Past.


  1. I’ve been to Florence 4 times but I’m ashamed to say I have never gone much outside the city – apart from a little walk up the hill. I get too engrossed in all the history around me that I forget to look outside the area. Although come to think of it, we did once go out to see the quarry from which Michaelangelo got his marble (we had an Italian friend at that time whose driving we trusted!) I shall go again one day, I hope, and will try to duplicate your photos – a hard task.

  2. Fascinating. I too would never imagined Florence being walled, but when one considers the desire/need to prtoect one’s wealth it stands to reason that a great many such cities would have had walls for protection.
    Even my old stomping ground, Chester, still has a Roman wall.
    Lovely post , Jo.

    1. It was! 🙂 But you can get the bus some of the way, Vivi. Quite funny but on our last evening we discovered that there are trams in Florence! I had no idea, but you know I love them! Haven’t had time yet to check out where they go 🙂 🙂 Hugs, darlin!

      1. I will check all the public transport before I take off … you know me. But I will look back on the places you went. I would love to spend a day in Siena too. A day trip maybe. TV hug …

      2. Okay, I checked the trains and it told me direct, but I don’t have a problem with going with bus. What ever is easiest. Have a good friend that did some of his education to be an architecture in Siena and he have told me so much about the town.

      3. I was using a Lonely Planet guide book, Vivi, and it was a few years old so your information will be more accurate. The bus and trains were both very close to our hotel so it wouldn’t have mattered. We nearly caught the bus to Lucca but it was very early so we got a train instead. 🙂

  3. Wonderful post, there’s is definitely a love story between you and Florence, Jo. ❤ Grand overviews from the top, I feel refreshed. 🙂
    I'll ignore the ring road 😦 for the moment as I read your comment about the three cities Florence, Venice and Naples. Klausbernd, Siri, Selma and myself are currently happy reading the four Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. Have you read them? If not, we can highly recommend them.
    Wishing you a wonderful Thursday. x

    1. Yes, definitely a love affair, and thank you for the recommend. I’ll seek them out. 🙂 We’re in Anglesey today but traveling home later. Hugs to you, Klaus and the pretty ones 🙂 🙂

  4. So beautiful Jo and you’ve shown me a side to Florence that I haven’t seen, we didn’t explore Oltrarno much at all but we did stroll through the lovely Boboli gardens. Your photos make me want to return 🙂

    1. We spent a lot of time huffing and puffing up and down those streets, Sam! It didn’t go to plan because Boboli were closed on the Monday so we had to return the following afternoon for the gardens. The Monday was lovely weather though so we did get some perfect views. 🙂

      1. For a reasonably small city there is much to explore, lots of huffing and puffing required Jo and it helps build an appetite for delicious treats. Monday closing times are a tad annoying, however it is a forced break from museums and galleries. Glad you had lovely weather too, makes Florence glow 🙂

  5. Such a pity most of the old walls were demolished Jo – the views from the remaining parts are stunning!! May send you the link to my little stroll in Potsdam this week – no hurry to include but it fits with the walking theme. Hope you have a lovely weekend 🙂

    1. Yes please, Rosemay 🙂 I’ll include it when I’m setting up Monday’s walks. Our son is on a flying visit home so today will be chores (and zumba 🙂 ) but tomorrow more relaxed. Anything planned? Have a good one!

      1. Will send post over your way tomorrow Jo! We have our 2 granddaughters this weekend so it’s rather hectic – our son in law is away for work and our daughter is out at a friend’s dinner tonight. Just got little one to bed – her big sister is still wide awake! Have a wonderful time with your son! 😃

  6. It looks as if Florence gave you (and us) many gifts.magnificent photos, especially the clarity of the tower one, and eminently readable history. Is there more Florence? I feel as if I don’t need to visit now.

    Hugs from a sunny day in Potato Point, where my house has been topsy-turveyed. A pleasant trip home – or at least as pleasant as 40 hours in transit can be.

    1. You don’t need to visit at all, Meg! I’m only about halfway through my Florence extravaganza 🙂 🙂 Now I have to adjust to you being upside down again! It’s lovely to have you here, throwing the sunshine around. I missed you! Indulge yourself, darlin, and take time to settle back in. Oooh- beaches again! 🙂 🙂 Super hugs!

  7. You’ve shown me views I’ve never seen before. Some lovely shots in this blog and, of course as always, it’s so interesting. I liked the link to Mantua as well, another gorgeous city. Did you spend much time in Pisa? After using it as a stop-off hub for many years, we decided a few years ago to spend a few days there. It was one of the best things we ever did. So much to see and do.

    1. Thanks, Mari 🙂 I do kind of like to see things top to bottom, to my husband’s great regret. Just a half day in Pisa to cover the basics. Paula is a superb photographer I’ve been following for ages. She’s off to Venice for a few days and there will be some inspiration from that, I’m sure. I really would have liked to make it to Siena. Maybe someday…

      1. Yes we traveled by train as well but in all honesty Florence was a stop along the way. You are convincing me a return trip is in order.

    1. I would love you to, Gabe! I’m just busy playing with photos for tomorrow’s post that include more of the same tower. The panorama was stunning! Thank you so much 🙂 🙂

      1. Sweet, Its easier to have several views to work with, especially when it comes to playing with light and shadow. As always Jo, I really enjoy your work. Thanks so much for sharing!

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