There’s probably not a lot that I can say about Florence that you already don’t know (or is there?). We all know that it’s one of the most popular destinations in Europe and one of the main historical and cultural hubs of the old continent. However, there are some fun facts about Florence that many travelers don’t know. So, whether you’re planning to visit Florence or are just curious to learn more about the City of flowers, keep reading; here are some of the most interesting facts related to Florence!
General fun facts about Florence
Population: approximately 400,000 people, 1,500,000 if we include the metropolitan area.
Area: 102 square kilometers ( 40 square miles).
Average elevation: 50 meters (163 feet) above sea level.
Geographical location: surrounded by rolling hills, farms, and vineyards, located230 kilometers northwest of Rome. Florence is also the capital of the Tuscany region.
With that being said, let’s get into some more fun facts about Florence, starting from its earliest mentions in history.
Founded by Cesar
The city of Florence that we know today dates back to 59 B.C. when Julius Caesar founded the city and turned it into a settlement for veteran Roman soldiers. The city’s architecture resembled more a military camp than an actual city but this sure changed throughout the years. The city started flourishing at the beginning of the second millennium and by 1,100 AD, Florence was a powerful commune (city-state). During this era, one of Europe’s most iconic cathedrals was built in Florence.
A cathedral whose building process took 140 years
The construction of Santa Maria del Fiore (more famous as Il Duomo) began at 1296 and it was completed in 1436. This means it took 140 years to complete the construction process.
Hence, it’s not a surprise that Il Duomo is…
The third-largest cathedral in the world
Il Duomo is 153 meters long, 115 meters high, 90 meters wide, and covers a total area of 8,300 square meters. The only two cathedrals that are bigger than Il Duomo are St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and London’s St. Paul.
However, Il Duomo has…
The largest masonry dome in the world
It took over 4 million bricks to build this 40,000-ton dome. The dome alone is the size of an average football field! If that sounds impressive today, try to imagine how impressive it was back in the 1300s.
What’s even more impressive…
The man who designed the dome of Il Duomo had no previous architectural experience
Filippo Brunelleschi was a goldsmith who never built anything in his life until he lead the construction of the magnificent dome.
Speaking of major medieval accomplishments, do you know that…
Florence was the first city with paved streets in Europe
Florence was so wealthy and progressive that by 1339, most of the city’s streets were paved, making it the first city in Europe to have paved roads. This happened 400 years before the Macadam Road! No wonder, soon after, Florence became…
The Athens of the Middle Ages
We just can’t speak about fun facts about Florence without mentioning that it was the Renaissance capital of the world. During this era, Florence was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, one of the main medieval trading and finance hubs. Hence, Florence was often referred to as “the Athens of the Middle Ages”.
Hence, it’s no surprise that Florence was…
Home of the jet-set before it was cool
Can you imagine the world’s most famous artists, writers, and scientists living in one city? Well, that’s exactly what happened in Florence. The city was home to Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri, Galileo Galilei, Niccolo Machiavelli, Giovanni Boccaccio, Amerigo Vespucci, and of course, the noble Medici family that ruled the city for generations and are also were the main reason that Florence is…
The Birthplace of the famous gelato
The famous gelato was invented by Bernardo Buontalenti and the first time this delicious creamy dessert was served was on a 16th-century banquet organized for the Spanish King by the Medici family.
However, as you’ll see on this list of fun facts about Florence, this isn’t the only thing Florence gave birth to. In fact, Florence is also…
The Birthplace of the standard Italian language
In case you’re not familiar with the history of Medieval Italy, Italy wasn’t a country until the 19th century. Instead, Italy’s territory consisted of numerous different city-states. Florence was one of those city-states. And since most famous writers of that era were living and working in Florence, through their iconic novels and poems, the Florentine dialect became a standard and the foundation for the modern Italian language.
But, this is not all what Florence is famous for; in fact, we’re just starting. Did you know that a gallery in Florence houses…
The largest renaissance art collection in the world?
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is one of the most important and most visited museums in Italy and Europe. The gallery houses a precious collection of priceless renaissance art. Officially, this is the largest collection of Renaissance art in the world. To make things even more impressive, the entire collection belonged to the Medici family.
Hearing information like this, it’s not surprising that Florence is…
Home to one-third of the world’s art treasures
According to UNESCO, 60% of the world’s most important art pieces of all time are located in Italy. One half of them are in Florence’s museums. This means that roughly one-third of the world’s most important art can be seen in only one city!
And with so much of art in this city, it’s reasonable to expect that Florence would leave a mark on music history too. Did you know that Florence is…
Birthplace of Opera
One of the most fun facts about Florence a lot of people don’t know is that Florence is the birthplace of the opera. The first music composition that by modern standards can be considered to be an opera was written in Florence in 1598 by Jacopo Peri. The opera’s name was Dafne and unfortunately, most of it has been lost throughout the years. This new music genre took Europe by storm and dominated the old continent’s music scene for the next two centuries.
A century later, another great invention for music happened in Florence.
Birthplace of the Piano
The piano was created by Bartolomeo Cristofori around the year 1700 even though the exact year and date are not certain. The original name of the pianoforte (piano meaning soft and forte meaning loud, strong). This paved the path for classical music and music evolution in general. But they weren’t all about art and music in Medieval Florence. They also liked sports. In fact, did you know that Florence is also home to…
The first version of rugby
The “football” Americans love today doesn’t actually originate from England even though this is where rugby became an official sport. However, this happened in the 1800s but a more brutal version of this sport was played more than 100 years prior to this in Florence. The game’s name was Giuoco Calcio Fiorentino (Florence kick game).
I don’t know if it was because Florentines thought they could sort out all of their differences on the field, but shortly afterward, Florence became…
The first city to abolish the death penalty
On November 30th, 1786, the Grand Duke of Florence, Pietro Leopoldo abolished death penalty and torture from Tuscany’s legal code. This is a special day in European history because this was the first government in Europe to outlaw capital punishment.
And it’s no surprise that such a humanitarian city that was always ahead of its time, was home to…
The world’s most famous nurse
Florence Nightingale, arguably the world’s most famous nurse was born in Florence on the 12th of May, 1820. In case you’re not familiar with the name, let’s just say she’s the founder of modern nursing; a woman that changed the way nurses are perceived, introduced professional standards, and turned nursing into a reputable profession with nothing but her dedication.
Fun facts about Florence – Home to Pinocchio
Do you know that one of the world’s most famous children’s books (and subsequently plays and movies) originates from Florence? Florentine writer Carlo Collodi wrote Le avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio) between 1881 and 1883.
With such a rich history of art, music, literature, and humanitarianism, it’s not surprising that…
Florence was one of the First Capitals of Italy
One of the most interesting fun facts about Florence people forget is that for a brief time, it was the capital of Italy. Italy as we know it today, was united for the first time in 1861 and the first capital of Italy was Turin (1861). The main reason for this was because Rome was still under Papal control at the time. However, in 1865, Florence became the capital due to Turin’s proximity to the French border and the fear of Napoleon’s invasion. As a result, Florence was the capital of Italy from 1865 to 1871. However, once the Italian Kingdom took control of Rome again, because of its historical importance, the city became the Kingdom’s Capital and this hasn’t changed until today.
A bridge too beautiful to destroy
The medieval bridge of Ponte Vecchio is one of Florence’s most iconic landmarks. It’s the first segmental arch bridge in Europe and one of the most outstanding engineering achievements of the Middle Ages. However, there’s one story about the bridge that many people don’t know and deserves a special mention in this list of fun facts about Florence.
During WWII, for a brief period, Florence was under German siege. As a part of their strategy, the Germans blew up all of the city’s bridges but when the time came for the Ponte Vecchio to be destroyed, the German consul, Gerhard Wolf canceled the destruction orders because he thought the Ponte Vecchio is “too beautiful to be destroyed.” As an award for his efforts, the city of Florence posthumously granted him honorary citizenship.
However, Wolf wasn’t the only German to fall in love with Florence…
Fun facts about Florence –A city that even Hitler admired
Right before WWII, Hitler was the honorary guest of Mussolini on a trip around Italy. The point of the trip was to show the naval power of Naples, the military power of Rome, and the culture of Florence. And according to several historic sources, Hitler was quite impressed by Florence’s charm. He spent hours admiring the paintings at the Uffizi Gallery and he absolutely loved the Ponte Vecchio. In fact, according to some sources, when all other bridges in Florence were being destroyed, he made an emergency call to one of his general to give direct orders for canceling the bombing of the Ponte Vecchio.
Perhaps, he fell victim to the Florence Syndrome.
The city that created the “Florence Syndrome”
The Florence Syndrome refers to a physically overwhelming condition that people experience when seeing objects of great beauty. This condition can involve increased heart beating, confusion, fainting, and even hallucinations. The term was created in the 19th century when French author Henri-Marie Beyle visited Florence and was overwhelmed by the contemplation of the sublime beauty of Florence.
Birthplace of Gucci
Milan might be one of the worlds’ four fashion capitals but Florence is no slouch when it comes to fashion either. In fact, the city is the birthplace of Guccio Gucci who founded the now world-famous luxury brand in 1921 in Florence. Their high-quality leather goods crafted by skilled craftsmen quickly took over the world and built a reputation that’s still intact even today, 100 years later.
Fun facts about Florence – Curious repetition of history
Throughout its entire history, the city of Florence had two major floods. The first one took place in 133 and the second in 1966. One of the most bizarre, yet fun facts about Florence is that both floods occurred on the same date; November 4th.
Galileo’s remains or shall we say, remnants
Because of its unique relationship with the Catholic Church, Galileo didn’t get a proper burial until 100 years after his death. His remains had to be dug out and taken to Florence’s Santa Croce Basilica for the funeral. During the transfer of Galileo’s remains, one of the antiquarians, Anton Francesco Gori decided to take a small souvenir and cut Galileo’s middle finger. The finger was eventually retrieved and today, it’s one of the most bizarre artifacts in the Galileo Museum, where it has been reunited with a couple of other fingers and teeth purchased on an illegal auction by art collector Alberto Bruschi.
Do you know why Florentines eat bread without salt?
If you like fun, bizarre historic facts, you’ll surely love this interesting fact about Florence.
According to several different historic sources, during the brief war conflict between Florence and Pisa in the mid-14th century, the Pisans thought that if they cut the supply of salt to Florence, they’ll eventually make their enemy surrender because, at the time, salt was the main ingredient for the famous Tuscan bread, the basic staple food of Florence at the time. However, defeating Florence was not that easy. Instead of surrendering, Florentines just started making their bread without salt and the conflict continued and later resulted in Florence’s victory at the Battle of Cascina. More than 700 years have passed but Florentines still bake their bread without salt.
Fun facts about Florence – Dual-name streets
If you were ever in Florence, you know how confusing their street numeration system is. You might see one street name at the beginning of the street and a different name at the end. For example, if you take a walk along the famous Via Martelli, you’ll inevitably see the Via Martelli board at the beginning of the street. However, if you walk down the street, a couple of intersections later, you’ll see a board saying Via Cavour.
Do you know that the famous David is a replica?
The iconic David statue that you can see at the Plazza de la Senoria is actually a replica. The reason for that is one of the most fun and interesting facts about Florence most people don’t know about. The original David was moved to the Florentine Academia Gallery because its hand was broken during the 1527 riots against the Medici family when a chair was thrown at the statue. The statue’s left hand was broken into three pieces as a result. Later, the statue was repaired and moved to the gallery and a replica was set in its place.
However, this isn’t the only secret about Michelangelo’s work that Florence hides…
Michelangelo’s Prison Graffiti
One thing I didn’t mention is that one of the main supporters of the riots that were the reason for David’s broken hand was Michelangelo himself. However, since the protests did not succeed, he had no choice but to hide in a secret room under the Medici Chapel until the situation calms down. He was there for more than three months and during that time, I guess he was really bored because the walls of the underground passage had a lot of (let’s call them) prison graffiti.
Even more interestingly, no one even knew about this room until 1976 when the passage was accidentally discovered.
The world’s oldest scientific museum
La Specola or The Museum of Zoology and Natural History features an impressive collection of wax anatomical animal models from the 18th century and is the oldest scientific museum of Europe. Just like many other collections in Florence, this one can also be traced to (surprise, surprise) the Medici family. The museum was opened on 21 February 1775. At the time, it was the world’s first and only scientific museum.
Fun facts about Florence – The city with the biggest number of towers
The medieval appearance of Florence that was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1282 and 1284 featured 63 towers and 12 city gates. Most of these towers were either destroyed or faded away throughout the years but 11 historic towers still stand proudly today which makes Florence the city with most historic (not modern) towers in the world. The 11 towers that still stand today are as follows
- Amidei Tower (home to the powerful Amidei Family);
- Giotto’s Campanile (The Tower of Il Duomo);
- Rossi-Cerchi Tower (today part of the Hotel Pitti Palace al Ponte Vecchio);
- Alberti Tower (once residence of the powerful Alberti family);
- Della Bella Tower (once residence of the Della Bella family);
- Gianfigliazzi Tower (today hosts a hostel);
- Mannelli Tower (the last remaining of four towers that were built to protect the Ponte Vecchio);
- Pulci Tower(what was once the seat of the famous Accademia dei Georgofili);
- Gallo Tower (that offers arguably the best view of Florence);
- San Nicolo Tower ( a part of one of the 12 ancient gates of Florence);
- Della Zecca Tower (closing the city from the Arno River, also known as Torre Terminale or the Last Tower).
How many of these fun facts about Florence did you know? Did you learn some new interesting information about Florence? Have some more fun facts about Florence? Feel free to share them in the comments!
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