Great cities: Venice, Genoa and Florence
Most of the significant achievements that came out of Renaissance Italy have been attributed to the northern cities of Genoa (Genoa), Florence (Firenze), and Venice (Venezia). It was in these northern cities that the environment of imagination and creativity and the generous spirit of patronage blossomed.
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Genoa is located on Italy's north-western coastline. It was considered one of Italy's greatest mercantile (commercial) powers during the Middle Ages. Genoa was also an important sea port during the time of the Roman Empire, due to its position at the crossroads of Italy and Northern Europe and its natural harbour, which is located in the deepest gulf of the Mediterranean Sea.
During the Middle Ages, Genoa was a rival power to the eastern Italian trading ports of Venice and Pisa. By the late 15th century, Genoa began looking to the west for trading opportunities, establishing commercial relations with Spain and Portugal. Genoa was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who 'discovered' the Americas in 1492 after being commissioned by the Spanish Royals, Isabella and Ferdinand of Castile, to find an alternate route to India.
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Venice, a city built on a group of islands located just off Italy's north-eastern coastline, was another one of Italy's major mercantile powers during the Middle Ages. For much of this period, Venice was known as the 'Queen of the Adriatic' (the sea which lies between Italy and the Dalmatian Coast of present-day Croatia) because of its strength in trade and commerce. It was also an important link between Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire to the east.
A famous Venetian merchant was Marco Polo. Owing to his many journeys to the Near East, Marco Polo spread word of foreign lands and peoples and imported 'exotic' merchandise into Italy. The knowledge sea traders like Marco Polo brought to Italy increased commercial activity there and in other parts of Europe.
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Just as Italy is considered the heart of Renaissance Europe, Florence is considered the birthplace of Renaissance Italy. The name Florence is derived from the Latin word Florentia, which means 'flourishing town'. This describes perfectly what was happening in Florence during the Renaissance period.
Located in the Arno Valley in Italy's central-north, Florence was the centre of the European wool industry during the late Middle Ages. The city's strength in textiles attracted many merchants, who came to Florence to invest their money the thriving wool industry. This greatly boosted the Florentine economy, as did investment in the banking sector. The Florin, Florence's currency, was a gold coin. It was such a valuable currency that it was used throughout many parts of Europe during the Renaissance.
By the late 14th century, textile merchants held a great deal of political power and social influence in Florence. Many of these merchants became patrons of budding Florentine artists and scholars.
Most of the art and architecture which came out of Renaissance Florence has survived the test of time intact. Florence's extensive collection of Renaissance relics, combined with its long list of famous Renaissance figures, attests to the city's status as one of the major contributors to Western European culture since the late Middle Ages.
The Medicis (refer to chapter three) were the most powerful and famous of all the Florentine merchant families. The Medicis were patrons of many great renaissance figures such as Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci (refer to Topic two, Chapter three), Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and Botticelli.
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