Florence

Il Duomo. August 7, 1420.

By the beginning of the 15th century, after a hundred years of construction, the structure was still missing its dome. The basic features of the dome had been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. His brick model, 4.6 metres high, 9.2 metres long, was standing in a side aisle of the unfinished building, and had long been sacrosanct. It called for an octagonal dome higher and wider than any that had ever been built, with no external buttresses to keep it from spreading and falling under its own weight. The commitment to reject traditional Gothic buttresses had been made when Neri di Fioravanti‘s model was chosen over a competing one by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini. That architectural choice, in 1367, was one of the first events of the Italian Renaissance, marking a break with the Medieval ...

The Battle of Cascina. July 28, 1364.

On 28 July 1364, the Florentine army under the command of Galeotto Malatesta advanced to Cascina, a few miles from Pisa. The road was open, but the temperature was unbearable. The armor of the warriors were burning hot in the blazing sun; many removed their armor to take a bath in the Arno River. The elderly Malatesta, convalescing from fever, fell asleep, leaving the camp unguarded and the defense disorganized. Pisan spies reported the situation to their commander, John Hawkwood (Giovanni l’Acuto). Hawkwood‘s forces were outnumbered three to one, so he decided his best chance of victory was to launch a surprise attack while the enemy was unprepared. However, Manno Donati and his friend Bonifacio Lupi, Marquis of Soragna had organized the Florentine defences by the time the Pis...

Sacco di Roma. May 6, 1527.

The growing power of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V alarmed Pope Clement VII, who perceived Charles as attempting to dominate the Catholic Church and Italy. In effort to free both from Imperial domination, Clement VII formed an alliance with Charles V’s arch-enemy, King Francis I of France, which came to be known as the League of Cognac (including France, Milan, Venice, Florence and the Papacy). The imperial troops were 14,000 Germans, 6,000 Spanish, and an uncertain number of Italian infantry. The troops defending Rome were not at all numerous, consisting of 5,000 militiamen led by Renzo da Ceri and 189 Papal Swiss Guard. The city’s fortifications included the massive walls, and it possessed a good artillery force, which the Imperial army lacked. Charles III, Duke of Bourbon nee...

The Egg of Columbus. October 12, 1492.

An egg of Columbus refers to a brilliant idea or discovery that seems simple or easy after the fact. The expression refers to an apocryphal story in which Christopher Columbus, having been told that discovering the Americas was inevitable and no great accomplishment, challenges his critics to make an egg stand on its tip. After his challengers give up, Columbus does it himself by tapping the egg on the table to flatten its tip. The Columbus story may have originated with Italian historian and traveler Girolamo Benzoni. In his book History of the New World, published in 1565, he wrote: Columbus being at a party with many noble Spaniards, where, as was customary, the subject of conversation was the Indies: one of them undertook to say: —”Mr. Christopher, even if you had not found the I...

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