A bird's eye view of Florence about the year 1391

A Tour of Florence

At the height of the Renaissance, the city of Florence housed 70,000 to 100,000 people. Florence was divided into four quarters: San Spirito, San Croce, San Maria Novella, and San Giovanni. Each quarter was further divided into 4 gonfalons. The gonfalons served as the administrative units of the city, and each citizen belonged to one.

During the middle ages, the city outgrew two sets of wall. The third wall, which is seen in this picture, was built in 1284. Throughout the Renaissance, the towers were broken down, and the stones used for housing. There were six fortified gates that were the entrances to the city. There were four bridges which crossed the Arno: the Rubaconte, the Ponte Vecchio, the Ponte Santa Trinita, and the Ponte alla Carraja. The last of these collapsed in 1304 while it was crowded with spectators. They were watching a "Representation of Hell" which was being performed on boats in the water.

Most of the streets were paved with flagstone. There were gutters throughout the city to carry water down to the Arno, preventing the streets from getting muddy.

Mercato VecchioFlorence grew as a result of it's business and trade. The main business center of the city was the Mercato Vecchio (now called the Piazza della Republica). This is where the daily trading when on, and where people bartered and barbers cut hair. The more dignified business of the cloth merchants and money changers took place in the Mercato Nuovo.
The Mercato Vecchio

Religion had a key role in daily life. Some of the famous churches included Santa Maria del Fiore (which is the large dome on the map) and Santa Maria Novella. The churches were crowded with sepulchers. It was not until much later that there was concern for the fact that dead bodies spread disease. Otherwise, Florence did very well on public health. All hospitals were free, and supported by wealthy families and the guilds. They were reported to be clean, comfortable and to have good food. In general, the people like cleanliness. There were several public bathes.

Many people in Florence enjoyed the outdoors. Distinguished families in Florence would have garden frescos painted in their homes and would often own a garden inside of the city, called a loggia. It was fashionable to have a deer living in these gardens and courtyards. There were a total of 50 squares and 138 gardens in the city. People would gather in the squares for social events. In piazza, like the Piazza San Martino, one might see a fable singer. He would ask the audience to chose a subject, then play his lute or violin while reciting a story about that subject. Afterward, he would take a collection.

Festivals were a large part of life. On May Day, girls would dance with branches in the Piazza Santa Trinita. For the Feast of Saint John, all of the guilds would decorate their shops with silk and gold cloth. The clergy would form a procession through the city carrying the holy relics. The citizens would march under the banners of their quarters and offer candles. This was also a day to release prisoners from the Stinche, the state prison. Another big event was the a horse race through the city. The prize was a Palio, a role of cloth trimmed with fur and gold and silk fringes. These were given by the other cities of the Tuscan region.

Horse Racing through Florence

The Lion was the symbol of Florentine independence. There was a lion den in the city. Bulls, boars, bears, leopards, stags and bulls were also used in public festivals.

The rich also owned villas outside of Florence. These villas served as places of escape, in a figurative as well as a literal sense. They were a place to relax and have parties. They were also a place to go to get away from debts and tax collection, or from the plague.

A hypermap tour of Florence is available