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Florence (in Italian, "Firenze") is one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in Europe. It lies on the River Arno in northern Italy, in the heart of the beautiful Tuscany region. Florence was founded in 59 BC by Julius Caesar as a settlement for former Roman soldiers, at the strategic location where the Via Cassia (the main route north from Rome) crosses the Arno. It was laid out in a checkerboard pattern, in the style of a military encampment. Its position allowed Florence to greatly prosper from the trade between Rome and the north, and by 300 AD the city was made the capital of the province of Tuscia (Tuscany). For the next several hundred years the city was under attack from both Ostrogoths and Byzantines, and ownership changed hands repeatedly until 774 AD, when Charlemagne took and held the city, fending off further foreign attack.
Florence regained its wealth and prominence during the subsequent centuries, growing to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful city-states anywhere in Europe. In 1252 the Republic of Florence introduced its own currency, the gold florin. Florins were accepted across much of the Mediterranean and into Europe, and Florentine merchants and bankers rapidly spread across the known world.
During the Renaissance Florence was controlled by several extremely wealthy and ruthless families, including the Medici. When not engaged in deadly power struggles with each other the Florentine nobility were great patrons of the arts, Lorenzo de' Medici alone commissioning works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci, to name just three of the brilliant men he supported. By the mid fifteenth century the Medici's were made the hereditary Grand Dukes of Tuscany, ruling the province and Florence for several centuries. In 1737 Florence became part of the territories of Austria, in 1859 it was transferred to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont, and in 1861 it became part of the newly united Kingdom of Italy.
Modern Florence is a thriving tourist center of some 500,000 citizens, a city that relishes its Roman, Medieval and Renaissance histories. It remains one of the most beautiful and evocative places in Europe, and indeed in the entire world.