Forte di Belvedere

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.