Florence (Firenze) became the capital and main cultural centre of Italy’s Tuscany region in the 11th century, and grew into an internationally important commercial hub. In 1252 it introduced its own gold coins, ‘fiorini d’oro’ or ‘florins’, which spread throughout western Europe as the principal trading currency. Control of the city was fought over by numerous rich banking families, most notably the Ghibellines, the Guelphs (who themselves split into ‘white’ and ‘black’ factions) the Medicis, and the Albizzis. Despite its fractious politics, and notwithstanding an outbreak of the plague in 1348, the city’s prosperity grew and grew, along with its dominance over the surrounding territories. In 1406 the Florentines subjugated Pisa, the city’s nearest rival. The most famous of the competing dynasties, the Medicis, ruled continuously from 1389 to 1494, and it was during this period that Florence enjoyed its greatest literary and artistic flowering, later to be known as ‘the Renaissance’. It was the era of Dante Alligheri, Francesco Petraca (Petrarch), Giovanni Boccaccio, Niccolò Machiavelli, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo Buonarotti and Leonardo da Vinci. The construction of the city’s greatest glory, its Cathedral of Santa Maria (the Duomo), was begun in 1334 and was completed with its crowning by Brunelleschi’s spectacular dome, in 1436. In 1494, with Florentine power and prestige at its height, the French King Charles VIII invaded Italy, humiliated Piero II, and interrupted the Medicis’ rule, which was not restored until 1512.
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