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. 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. 🙂

  2. 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 🙂 🙂

  3. 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 🙂

  4. 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! 😃

  5. 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!

  6. 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. 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!

    1. Just the other day, Susan 🙂 🙂 Now 95BC- that’s pretty old! Teasing 🙂 I think you might have got Gilly’s answer last night by mysterious techno quirk? I was using my phone rather than switch the laptop on and that often spells trouble.

  7. I’m trying hard to not think about the hills! Is the section of the wall up the hill, beside the tower, the place where the photos of the river at night that you see everywhere are taken? Yo really loved Florence didn’t you?
    Both you and Jude are so good at all the historical details, you should write guide books. Where I’d put ‘a hill’, ‘a tree’, you share so much, thank you honey. I’ve been out to eat straight from work and i saw this post on my phone earlier and couldn’t wait to get home to see it properly. Thursday hugs and love x:-)x

    1. Truthfully Gilly you don’t have to climb hills if you don’t want to or can’t. The walls wouldn’t be accessible to you but you can catch a bus to Piazzale Michelangelo where the panoramic shots you mean are taken. The centre of Florence is flat- it’s just south of the river that gets steep. 🙂 🙂 Thanks darlin! I’m pretty sure you’ll love it. I did all the climbing because I can’t help myself. Mick is not so enthused xx

      1. Poor Mick, he’s very patient 😉 to be honest my asthma meds are much better than the ones I used to use – when we met last year, so I’ll probably be okay.

  8. stai scoprendo la grande soria della mia Patria, che ad ogni angolo racconta di un passato glorioso, grandi le tue foto panoramiche!
    grazie per quanto l’hai amata
    Un abbraccio affettuoso
    ciao bella

  9. Thought I’d better write a less grumpy comment as I did actually feel full of cheer when I read the first part of your post and look at all your stunning photographs – wonderful Jo 🙂

    1. It’s ok- I don’t mind you sharing a grump with Andrew. 🙂 I found it hard enough to believe myself. I think this was possibly as high as I got, Becky. All downhill from here 🙂 🙂 (and up again). It’s a wonderful panorama!

      1. Absolutely. Like any place, we can only get the real story when we see it for ourselves. But your pictures definitely take us there. Lovely 😊

      1. It’s said it’s the birthplace of the renaissance, it’s seems so true. Even it’s a couple of years since my last visit, so I prefere Flærence rather than Rome. Have an old danish friend who was footballer in the city for years, visited him and his wife several times. Amazing city… 🙂

      2. I’ve never been to Rome. Never quite made up my mind if I’d like it. Naples, Venice, Florence… yes. Maybe a treat somewhere down the line but it will struggle to beat Firenze. 🙂

  10. Thank you for taking me up to these walls, Jo. I have never came this close to them. Every image you posted reveals me something new along with your valuable information. Sorry if I don’t get to see your other post before my trip. (still lots of work to finish). Talk soon.xx

  11. Sounds like Birmingham and the Bullring in terms of demolition. Or my home town, where they demolished a C12 moot hall to build a new road. Gotta love 60s town planners. We still have our walls in Gib which is surprising as town planning/heritage preservation here is zilch.

  12. Amazing history and absolutely fascinating. Alexander Armstrong has recently done an amazing TV programme on some Italian cities including Florence showing it in a whole new light.

      1. I’d cry! As much as I love the benefits of modern life I do despair at the same time at the destruction it seems to bring. In my English hometown they knocked down so much to make way for roads . . . grrrr!

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