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.

96 comments

    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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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. 🙂

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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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