class="i1">fortezze alte e merlate,
mio fedel fosse ciaschedun Latino."
But is not the reality even more beautiful than the dreamland Florence of Lapo Gianni's fancy? We stand on the heights of San Miniato, either in front of the Basilica itself or lower down in the Piazzale Michelangelo. Below us, on either bank of the silvery Arno, lies outstretched Dante's "most famous and most beauteous daughter of Rome," once the Queen of Etruria and centre of the most wonderful culture that the world has known since Athens, later the first capital of United Italy, and still, though shorn of much of her former splendour and beauty, one of the loveliest cities of Christendom. Opposite to us, to the north, rises the hill upon which stands Etruscan Fiesole, from which the people of Florence originally came: "that ungrateful and malignant people," Dante once called them, "who of old came down from Fiesole." Behind us stand the fortifications which mark the death of the Republic, thrown up or at least strengthened by Michelangelo in the city's last agony, when she barred her gates and defied the united power of Pope and Emperor to take the State that had once chosen Christ for her king.
"O foster-nurse of man's abandoned glory
Since Athens, its great mother, sunk in splendour;
Thou shadowest forth that mighty shape in story,
As ocean its wrecked fanes, severe yet tender:
The light-invested angel Poesy
Was drawn from the dim world to welcome thee.
"And thou in painting didst transcribe all taught
By loftiest meditations; marble knew
The sculptor's fearless soul–and as he wrought,
The grace of his own power and freedom grew."
Between Fiesole and San Miniato, then, the story of the Florentine Republic may be said to be written.
The beginnings of Florence are lost in cloudy legend, and her early chroniclers on the slenderest foundations have reared for her an unsubstantial, if imposing, fabric of fables–the tales which the women of old Florence, in the Paradiso, told to their house-holds–
"dei Troiani, di Fiesole, e di Roma."
Setting aside the Trojans ("Priam" was mediæval for "Adam," as a modern novelist has remarked), there is no doubt that both Etruscan Fiesole and Imperial Rome united to found the "great city on the banks of the Arno." Fiesole or Faesulae upon its hill was an important Etruscan city, and a place of consequence in the days of the Roman Republic; fallen though it now is, traces of its old greatness remain. Behind the Romanesque cathedral are considerable remains of Etruscan walls and of a Roman theatre. Opposite it to the west we may ascend to enjoy the glorious view from the Convent of the Franciscans, where once the old citadel of Faesulae stood. Faesulae was ever the centre of Italian and democratic discontent against Rome and her Senate (sempre ribelli di Roma, says Villani of its inhabitants); and it was here, in October b.c. 62, that Caius Manlius planted the Eagle of revolt–an eagle which Marius had borne in the war against the Cimbri–and thus commenced the Catilinarian war, which resulted in the annihilation of Catiline's army near Pistoia.
This, according to Villani, was the origin of Florence. According to him, Fiesole, after enduring the stupendous siege, was forced to surrender to the Romans under Julius Cæsar, and utterly razed to the ground. In the second sphere of Paradise, Justinian reminds Dante of how the Roman Eagle "seemed bitter to that hill beneath which thou wast born." Then, in order that Fiesole might never raise its head again, the Senate ordained that the greatest lords of Rome, who had been at the siege, should join with Cæsar in building a new city on the banks of the Arno. Florence, thus founded by Cæsar, was populated by the noblest citizens of Rome, who received into their number those of the inhabitants of fallen Fiesole who wished to live there. "Note then," says the old chronicler, "that it is not wonderful that the Florentines are always at war and in dissensions among themselves, being drawn and born from two peoples, so contrary and hostile and diverse in habits, as were the noble and virtuous Romans, and the savage and contentious folk of Fiesole." Dante similarly, in Canto XV. of the Inferno, ascribes the injustice of the Florentines towards himself to this mingling of the people of Fiesole with the true Roman nobility (with special reference, however, to the union of Florence with conquered Fiesole in the twelfth century):–
"che tra li lazzi sorbi
si disconvien fruttare al dolce fico."
And Brunetto Latini bids him keep himself free from their pollution:–
"Faccian le bestie Fiesolane strame
di lor medesme, e non tocchin la pianta,
s'alcuna surge ancor nel lor letame,
in cui riviva la semente santa
di quei Roman che vi rimaser quando
fu fatto il nido di malizia tanta."
The truth appears to be that Florence was originally founded by Etruscans from Fiesole, who came down from their mountain to the plain by the Arno for commercial purposes. This Etruscan colony was probably destroyed during the wars between Marius and Sulla, and a Roman military colony established here–probably in the time of Sulla, and augmented later by Cæsar and by Augustus. It has, indeed, been urged of late that the old Florentine story has some truth in it, and that Cæsar, not only in legend but in fact, may be regarded as the true first founder of Florence. Thus the Roman colony of Florentia gradually grew into a little city–come una altra piccola Roma, declares her patriotic chronicler. It had its capitol and its forum in the centre of the city, where the Mercato Vecchio once stood; it had an amphitheatre outside the walls, somewhere near where the Borgo dei Greci and the Piazza Peruzzi are to-day. It had baths and temples, though doubtless on a small scale. It had the shape and form of a Roman camp, which (together with the Roman walls in which it was inclosed) it may be said to have retained down to the middle of the twelfth century, in spite of legendary demolitions by Attila and Totila, and equally legendary reconstructions by Charlemagne. Above all, it had a grand temple to Mars, which almost certainly occupied the site of the present Baptistery, if not actually identical with it. Giovanni Villani tells us–and we shall have to return to his statement–that the wonderful octagonal building, now known as the Baptistery or the Church of St John, was consecrated