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La Galleria dell'Accademia, Firenze

The Renaissance and history of homosexuality

Florence: A liberal city full of charm

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The cradle of the Renaissance, Florence is the largest place in the world of sculpture, churches, squares, palaces, frescoes and monuments. Over the centuries the city was the birthplace of artists, writers, and travellers. However, one can't consider Florence just a city of art; this would mean ignoring that basic mix that brought it to become the liberal, tolerant, charming, dynamic city that it is today.

Florentines have always been adventurers: Dante made the Florence vernacular the national language in Italy; Leonardo Da Vinci created the perfect proportions; Brunelleschi and Giotto gave the art world perspective; Brunelleschi built a dome that still no one knows how it is still standing without collapsing; and Antonio Meucci invented the telephone. Florence is a city of experimentation and courage. As soon as you arrive at the bustling Santa Maria Novella train station, you will immediately notice the multicultural character of the city. Languages from around the world, people all religions and colours, clothing of all kinds will tempt you to be yourself. The Florence "melting pot" will make you feel right at home.

History - A city not only of artists but also of merchants and bankers, Florence has always been very liberal and tolerant of the world's many diversities. Suffice it to say that it was the Grand Duke Peter Leopold Hapsburg, Leopoldo II, the highest political authority in Tuscany, who, in 1789, abolished the death penalty. In doing so, Tuscany became the first of all the small states of Italy pre-unification (the anniversary has become an occasion to celebrate every November 30 for the "Festa della Regione Toscana"). In 1853, Leopoldo II then abolished the punishment for homosexuality; becoming the first, again, in Italy to do so.

Even before the period of Leopoldo, the Medici dynasty, who ruled the city from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, promoted tolerance in art, culture and science. Three of the Medici were certainly homosexuals: Pope Leo X (Giovanni die Medici, 1475-1521), Ferdinand II (1610-1670) and his grandson, the last of the dynasty, Giovanni Gastone de' Medici (1671-1737).

To give a measure of how homosexuality was lived in the city at the time of the Renaissance, we think the Oscar winner Roberto Benigni, who in his book "My Dante" writes: "[In Florence] homosexuality was widespread, so much so that 'the world said 'florenzen,' Florence, when they referred to  'homosexual.' So it was a sign of a great civilization and open-mindedness."

Turning to more recent days, the city hosted, in 2007, a rather controversial art exhibition that focused on art and homosexuality. The show was originally originally planned in Milan, but the local administration said suspended it because of the presence, among other things, of a statue of the Pope wearing women's clothes. In 2010, the current mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, issued a call for social housing for all couples: whether married or de facto, including homosexuals couples.