“Florence is not as delicate or demure as most travel brochures and coffee-table books might lead us to think.
“The city has a vivid, volatile history—Christian martyrs thrown to lions, neighborhood clans engaged in bloody vendettas in the streets, poorly paid wool-workers rioting in the marketplaces until their voices were heard in the powerful guild halls.
“Florence is a dollhouse setting for much of the theater of Italian social history—in fact, for much of the social history of the Western World.
“Money-making, church-building, and nobility-feuding were the activities of primary importance in the newly cosmopolitan Florence of the thirteenth century. Frescoes, paintings, statues, murals, and tapestries were the artistic accessories to a world that was waking up to self-expression, creativity, vanity, materialism, and physical adornment. The great artworks, the churches, the palaces, the commercial life, and the very shape and pattern of the city were all products of an extraordinary group of men and women who have lived and earned a living here.
“In the first two centuries before Christ, Florence (or Florentia) was little more than a factory town and Roman port. Iron making was probably the chief industry. Ore that was extracted on the island of Elba and shipped up to Pisa was brought down along the wide stretch of the Arno to Florentia.
“Overlooking the port and its activities was the Etruscan town of Fiesole. The Etruscans were a proud group of people who traced their ancestors back to Asian nomads and Sandon, the king of Babylonia.
“When and how they settled in Italy are unresolved matters, but at some time a delegation from southern Lydia in AsiaMinor may have been responsible for introducing Greek art and culture into their lives. Depictions of Hercules, equipped with his bow and metal mace, have been found in Etruscan tombs, and his lion is still part of the emblem of Florence today.
“Fiesole was captured by Roman armies in the second century B.C. Three concentric walls were built around the hilltop, and a fourth wall extended down to Florentia and the Arno.
“The entrances to this enormous citadel were along the river’s edge. Three gates, spaced a mile apart, were the only access to the occupied town.
“The Roman general Sulla parceled out tracts of Florentia to members of his twenty-three legions. The soldiers, in turn, showed their allegiance to the mother city, Rome, by building a miniature copy complete with a Field of Mars, a Forum, a Temple of Mars, baths, a theater, an amphitheater, and an aqueduct.
“Fiesole, meanwhile, played a very different role. The town became the center of soothsaying in the Roman world. Long known for its skilled body of priests trained in the rites of sacrifice and divination, Fiesole annually welcomed twelve Roman youths who were sent to the hillside temples to study augury. In the first century A.D., Pliny remembers the auspicious sight of a Fiesolan entering the gates of Rome accompanied by his seventy-four sons and grandsons and a commission to carry out some serious soothsaying.”
Source: Holler, Anne. Florencewalks: Four Intimate Walking Tours of Florence’s Most Historic and Enchanting Neighborhoods (Kindle Locations 65-68). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.