On this day, May 23, 1498 Savanarola was hanged and burned in Florence on the orders of Pope Alexander VI. This Dominican reformer and zealot instituted strict rules in Florence. In many ways the counterpoint to Lorenzo the Magnificent, his rise mirrored the fall of the Medici family. He enforced strict rules and sumptuary laws Savonarola collected symbols of luxury and riches, and threw them into The Bonfires of the Vanities. His confrontation with Pope Alexander VI (whose children were Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia) tortured and hung Savonarola, and burned his body in his own bonfire. No surprise that it played out in Florence: the city that invented the modern world. From "The Monster of Florence", by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi "Florence has always been a city of opposites, the sublime and the terrible go hand in hand: Savonarolas Bonfire of the Vanities and Botticellis Birth of Venus, Leonardo da Vincis notebooks and Niccolo Macciavelli The Prince, Dnates Inferno and Boccaccios Decameron. The Piazza della Signoria, the main square, contains an open-air display of Roman and Renaissance sculpture, exhibiting some of the most famous sculptures in Florence, and a true gallery of horrors: killing, rape, mutilation. We see Cellinis 'Perseus holding the severed head of Medusa', and such mayhem as 'The Rape of the Sabine Women' by Giambologna. Florence was originally established by Julius Caesar in 59 BC as a settlement for his veteran soldiers. It was named Florentia ('the flourishing'), and is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany and has a population of 367,569 (1,500,000 metropolitan area). The city lies on the River Arno and is known for its history and its importance in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, especially for its art and architecture. This landlocked city on an unnavigable river produce the brilliant navigators who explored and mapped the New World, and one even gave America its name. A centre of medieval European trade and finance, the city is often considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance; in fact, it has been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. In 1302, Florence expelled Dante, an act it has never lived down. In return, Dante populated hell with prominent Florentines and reserved some of the most exquisite tortures for them. During the 14th century, Florence grew rich in the woolen cloth trade and banking, and by the end of the century it was one of the five largest cities in Europe. As the 15th century dawned, Florence hosted one of those inexplicable flowerings of genius that have occurred fewer than half a dozen time in human history, later called the Renaissance, the rebirth, following the long darkness of the Middle Ages. Between the birth of Masaccio in 1401 and the death of Galileo in 1642, Florentines largely invented the modern world. They revolutionized art, architecture, music, astronomy, mathematics, and navigation. They created the modern banking system with the invention of the letter of credit. The gold florin, with the Florentine lily on one side and John the Baptist on the other, became the coin of Europe. (The Italian florin was a coin struck from 1252 to 1523 with no significant change in its design or metal content standard. It had 54 grains of gold (3.5g). The "fiorino d'oro" of the Republic of Florence was the first European gold coin struck in sufficient quantities to play a significant commercial role since the seventh century. As many Florentine banks were international supercompanies with branches across Europe, the florin quickly became the dominant trade coin of Western Europe.) More, Florence invented the very idea of the modern world. With the Renaissance, Florentines threw off the yoke of medievalism, in which God stood at the center of the universe and human existence on earth was but a dark fleeting passage to the glorious life to come. The Renaissance placed humanity at the center of the universe and declared this life as the main event. The course of Western civilization was changed forever. The Florentine Renaissance was largely financed by a single family, the Medicis. Founded by Giovanni di Bicci de Medici, then Cosimo the Elder, whose grandson was Lorenzo the Magnificent was the epitome of the Renaissance man, who gathered around him such men as Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, Michelangelo and the philosopher Pico della Mirandola. But following the golden age of Lorenzo, a Dominican monk named Savonarola preached fire and brimstone, railing against the decadence and wealth of the Renaissance, instigating his famous Bonfires of the Vanities, in which his minions collected items he thought were sinful- mirrors, books, cosmetics, musical instruments, chessboards, fine clothes and secular paintings. Italy was created as a unified country in 1871, from various duchies and fiefdoms, with inhabitants who spoke some six hundred languages and dialects. The new state chose the Florentine dialect to be the official Italian, although only 2% of the population could speak it, because it was the language of Dante. What would come to be thought of as Italian was first formalized in the first years of the 14th century through the works of Dante Alighieri, who mixed southern Italian languages, especially Sicilian, with his native Tuscan in his epic poems known collectively as the Commedia, to which Giovanni Boccaccio later affixed the title Divina. Dante's much-loved works were read throughout Italy and his written dialect became the "canonical standard" that all educated Italians could understand. Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language and, thus, the dialect of Tuscany became the basis for what would become the official language of Italy. Even by 1960, it is thought that fewer than half of the citizens could speak the standard Italian." This city should be on your bucket list.