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Florence in the Days Before the Tourist Invasion
on 9 July 2010
It is almost impossible for the modern visitor to Florence, with its churches, buildings, museums and art galleries located alongside the river Arno in the Tuscan countryside, to imagine the bloody scenes it has witnessed over the centuries. The streets and squares now invaded by tourists were previously invaded by Venetians, Lombards, Neapolitans, Romans, French, Austrians, Germans, Swiss and Turks and have been awash with oceans of blood as the Florentines fought off the foreigners or slaughtered each other in civil conflicts or public executions.
Renaissance Italy was a constant battleground yet literature and the arts flourished and capitalism and banking developed amidst the chaos and carnage. The debt modern Europe owes to Italy is incalculable.
What is now a major tourist attraction was once one of the wealthiest and most powerful of the states which ruled Italy before unification. The Medici family was one of the mercantile dynasties which shaped the state's history for 300 years from the 1430 to 1737 when the last of the line died out.
Christopher Hibbert was once aptly described as "perhaps the most gifted popular historian we have" and this is the kind of book one expects. Hibbert's history is never dry - boring dates and dusty old treaties are cast aside in favour of colour, characters, love affairs, treachery, intrigue and adventure.
The story of the Medici family provides ample ammunition for his pen. However, enjoyable as the book is, Hibbert might have been better concentrating on one or two of the more prominent members of the family, such as Cosimo or Lorenzo.
His comprehensive coverage asks too much of the reader who can become a bit confused and tired as chapter after chapter repeats the same formula of a new head of the Medici appears, his (successful or failed) marriage and how he ran his administration.
Otherwise, this book is highly recommended.