• Matt Berrigan

The City-States of the Italian Renaissance

The Middle Ages… the Dark Ages… Medieval Times… 1000 years without a bath. These are all terms used, sometimes erroneously, to describe the period in European history that separated the Fall of Rome from the beginning of the Renaissance.

The word “Renaissance” literally means rebirth. This name is given to the period because it was a time of rediscovery of the learnings of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as that of the Chinese and Muslims who enjoyed a Golden Age during the European Middle Ages.

As we studied in class, the Renaissance began because of a confluence of factors. The Black Death wiped out much of the old world order; contact with Asia brought in new ideas and luxury items that helped remove others from the old feudal hierarchy; and the growth of cities began to create demand for specialized tradespeople who could live outside of the feudal system.

During this area of study, we will examine five different Italian cities that helped develop Western Worldview as we know it. In Venice, the city of canals, gondolas and a naval fleet of 3,000 ships, the ruling elite experimented with democracy by electing a Doge to run the city. They gained wealth through mastering the techniques of early printing and through creating fine glassware. Milan, Italy’s gateway to the North, gained prominence as a manufacturing hub, which it remains today (as well as a soccer hub, hosting two of the world’s great teams, AC Milan and Internazionale). Genoa was a major trading port on the peninsula’s west coast, generating some of history’s greatest sailors, including a young man named Cristoforo Colombo. Rome was home to the Catholic Church and the power of the Renaissance popes. Michelangelo created great works of art in Rome, including the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Greatest of all however, is beautiful Firenze. Florence, located on the banks of the Arno river, was home to the powerful Medici family. A person who lived in the city from 1430 to the early 1500s would have lived to see Filippo Brunelleschi complete the Duomo atop the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the reign of Cosimo de Medici and Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Bonfire of the Vanities (followed by the bonfire of Savanarola… see next month’s edition!), and the lives and works of local residents Niccolo Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. What an incredible time and place it must have been to be alive!

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