Scholars, musicians, historians and Italian aficionados gathered at the Italian Embassy last week to celebrate the 150th anniversary marking the start of Florence’s reign as the country’s capital city. Florence, which remains the capital of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence, is the most populous city in Tuscany.
The event was sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute.
Florence (Italian: Firenze) was the birthplace or chosen home of some of the most legendary names in world history — Michelangelo, Raffaello, Caravaggio, Tiziano, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, Cellini, Giambologna, Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Donatello, Leonardo, Dante, Boccaccio, Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolò Machiavelli, Galileo, Galilei, Catherine de’ Medici, Luigi Cherubini, Antonio Meucci, Guccio Gucci, Salvator Ferragamo, Franco Zeffirelli, Leonardo Bruni, Roberto Cavalli, Coluccio Salutati, Amerigo Vespucci, just to name a few!
Initially a small city of moneylenders and textile merchants, with little political or military power, Florence became a bustling center of European trade and finance. Even the Italian language stems from the Florentine dialect.
As Georgetown University Prof. Tommaso Astarita explained, Florence was one of the most important cities in Europe from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance. During the 14th to 16th centuries, Florence became one of the most important cities in Europe when it was ruled by the Medici family, which controlled the city for generations.
Lorenzo de’ Medici, one of Florence’s greatest patrons, transformed the city into the cradle of the Renaissance by attracting legendary artists, architects, philosophers and writers such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli to whom he commissioned various works.
When Tuscany became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860, Florence was the temporary capital of Italy for five years, from 1865 to 1871. During those years the city was modernized to contemporary standards. The historical center remained largely unchanged through the centuries. Large sections of this medieval city, including the old market and the Jewish ghetto, were replaced with a new district with wider streets and the imposing square of Piazza della Repubblica. The modernization led to increased taxes and rents, Dr. Astarita explained, but also to a more grandeur city.
Also attending the anniversary event was Jon Guido Bertelli, an internationally renowned photographer, who originally hails from Florence. His photography of the city is as amazing as its masterpieces. He walked the streets of Florence in good company surrounded by the city’s legendary past.
New views of Florence through photography are hard to find, Bertelli explains, because it has been so well photographed. He walked the streets thousands of times, often getting up at 4 a.m. to avoid the tourists. Although Florence has been written about, painted and photographed thousands, even millions of times, Bertelli says, it remains a city to discover with an “inner beauty and energy” that transcends time.
“To walk the streets of Florence is to walk where Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Raffaello, Brunelleschi and so many others walked before, to be surrounded by history, art and where the Renaissance was born,” he observes. “It’s a city with a soul and a beating heart, with different moods and looks, continuously inspiring you.”
Bertelli, who now lives in Texas, says each trip back to Florence “awakens my senses of exploring, discovering and learning more about the city, looking for new angles on how to portray her and the uniqueness within the obvious.”
Bertelli’s photography exhibition of Florence will remain at the embassy through Jan. 8, 2016. It is open to the public but please contact the embassy to sechedule an appointment. The next stop for the exhibition is Chicago during the spring of 2016 as well as Florence.
Performing at the event was classical pianist Dr. Francesca Hurst, an adjunct faculty at the Catholic University of America. Dr. Hurst played pieces visitors may have experienced in Florence between 1865 and 1870. The music of Florence often included classical composers such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, along with works by Mendelssohn and Liszt among others. Listen to her many performances on YouTube.
Italian journalist Oscar Bartoli edited this video report from the event along with his blog.
Florence attracts millions of tourists each year and was selected by UNESCO in 1982 as a World Heritage Site for its “600 years of extraordinary artistic activity.” Modern Florence is a testimony to its past. Its buildings are works of art, housing yet more works of art, reflecting the personalities and passions of those who helped create them.