The city of Florence, capital of the Italian region of Tuscany in north-central Italy, is full of history, wonder, and beauty. It is one of the most-visited places in Europe, attracting over 1.7 million tourists a year. Florence is also a popular destination for students traveling abroad. As the birthplace and heart of the Rennaisance, Florence is bursting with art and culture and begets a great sense of wonder and awe. It is widely believed that Florence has the highest concentration of art in the world.
It is the birthplace of men whose names will live on throughout history – Michaelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Giotto, Dante Alighieri, Donatello, DaVinci, Raphael, Florence Nightingale, the Medici family, and our continent’s namesake, Amerigo Vespucci. Together, these people provided us with the foundation of western culture as we know it today. They also made Florence one of the greatest exporters of culture the world has ever seen. Fiorentinis are quite proud of this fact, and will tell you that their cultural heritage is continuing on in the names of designers such as Roberto Cavalli and Gucci, as well as Antonio Meucci, inventor of the telephone.
Florence is certainly one of the most amazing cities worldwide, and it has an incredible ability to turn out brilliant minds known the world over. Anyone who has been to Florence can attest that there is a certain aura about the city – you can feel it in the air that you are in a historic place. However, there is also something slightly unsettling about that aura too. This is because that history is quite sordid. While Sicily gets most of the attention for being home to the Italian mob culture, Florence has a gruesome history that includes two of the most infamous bloody ordeals in Italy in the last millennia. This is the first of those two.
The Pazzi Conspiracy – 1478
In the mid to late 15th Century, the Medici family was THE family of the world. They were the Kennedys of their time. The patriarch, Giovanni di Bicci de Medici, founded the Medici Bank around 1397 and used it to wield extensive political power in Florence.
The Medici Bank is generally credited with creating the modern banking system, including the invention of the letter of credit and developing the accounting system of using double-entry balance sheets for credits and debits. Giovanni passed it to his son, Cosimo the Elder, who in time grew the bank to be the second largest bank in Europe. Their influence caused the Florin, the local currency of Florence, to become the coin of Europe. He also used his position within the economy to exert considerable influence within the community, and the Medici family ran the city for the better part of a century under the steady watch of Cosimo and his son, Lorenzo.
As one might suspect, the success of the Medici Family planted a seed of jealousy among other noble families in Florence. No where was there more fertile ground than in the Pazzi Family. The Pazzi were noble bankers who were always looking up at the Medici, in fame, fortune, and influence. Looking for any leg up on the Medici, the Pazzi entered into a conspiracy with the King of Naples to assassinate the leaders of the Medici clan at the time, Lorenzo and Giuliano. The Medici were so reviled among the Italian nobility that even the Pope himself signed off on their murders! How there is not an HBO series about the Medici, I do not know…
The Pazzi murderers, acting apparently with the grace of God, assaulted the Medici brothers during the Elevation of the Host at Mass in the famous Duomo Cathedral pictured above. The Pazzi stabbed Giuliano 19 times and left him to die in a pool of blood on the Duomo floor. Lorenzo was stabbed several times as well, but he was able to escape and lock himself in the sacrisity. The Medici’s faithful Fiorentini subjects were in an uproar when the news spread, and they hunted down the Pazzi animals (Fun side note – Pazzi literally means “Madmen” in Italian). One of the leaders was hanged from a window of the Palazzo Vecchio, and his body was later stripped, dragged through the streets, and thrown in the river. The Pazzi family, partially because they botched the entire thing and the Pope was PISSED, was stripped of their wealth and Florentine possessions, and their family crest was banned in the city. The other conspirators were eventually sentenced to an identical fate as their leader. The famed Fiorentini painter, Sandro Boticelli, memorialized the event by painting a portrait of 8 Pazzis hanging at once from building walls. However, the Pope eventually had these paintings and most other artwork from the debacle destroyed.
Today, much to the chagrin of the Fiorentini, the Pazzi Conspiracy remains one of the most notorious moments in Italy’s history. The people of Florence are a supremely proud and high-minded bunch, and would rather not acknowledge that such a sordid public affair ever took place in their beloved city. However, it stands as a black spot on an otherwise (at least outwardly) pearly white era of Florence’s time at the top of the world.
Coming Soon: The Monster of Florence