The Symbols of Florence and Their Meaning

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Florence is among the most famous cities in the world, therefore you may have been one of the many visitors that each year walk the city streets to relax and take in all the beauty and sense of history that the city conveys.
If you have already been in Florence (this will help you even if you are still planning to go there) you surely must have noticed several symbols that you could not interpret. Lions with their paw on a sphere, columns with sculptures on their top, sculpted corner stones, strange coat of arms in unexpected places, just to name a few. What are they? Why are they there? What is their meaning and the story behind them? None of them are there purely out of aesthetics. Florence has thousands of these symbols and landmarks, here we will trace down the meaning of the most significant ones, so when you encounter them you will have a story to tell about it!

The Lions
All over Florence there are many statues of lions with a raised paw holding a shield with the lily flower, symbol of Florence. This is called the Marzocco and is a reproduction of a creation by Raphael. It is a symbol of the power and independence of the city that in 12502 freed itself from the German empire and constituted the first democratic constitution of the western civilization. The lion is also represented with a paw over a sphere. Why the lion? Florence has always been a Guelph city (partisan of the Pope and against the German emperor) and the heraldic symbol of the emperor was the eagle, whose opposite was the lion, thus explaining the choice.

The Miracle Column
When you walk by the Baptistery of Saint John in the Duomo square of Florence, you will likely notice a stone column with a cross on top of it, and a wrought-iron tree along its body. The column is in memoir of a miracle that happened here around the year 400. After the death of Saint Zenobi, who definitively established the Christian faith in Florence, his coffin was being carried along the way to the cathedral when it touched a dead oak tree that stood where the column stands nowadays. The story (or legend) tells that the tree suddenly produced green leaves all over its branches, and the event was immediately hailed as a miracle.

Florence Lily
It is the Giglio of Florence the symbol representing a stylized red lily flower over a white canvas. It used to be the opposite, but it changed when the city freed itself from German rule in 1252. The symbol is in use almost since Florence’s inception. Some theorize it came in use due to the name of the first Etruscan founder emperor Fiorino (little flower) from Fiesole, who was defeated by Rome. Other theories have the Roman foundation of Florence in 52 (after the Etruscan settlement had been razed) during the spring celebrations dedicated to goddess Flora (flower), hence the flower. Other simply trace the use of the symbol to the abundance of spontaneous white lilies in the area (giaggioli). Purity and devotion to the Virgin Mary have always been attributed to this flower, therefore the devotion to the mother of Christ that has always distinguished Florence may also be a valid reason for adopting it as a symbol.

Tomorrow there will be other symbols and landmarks of Florence interpreted for you. If you are passionate about Tuscany make sure you do not miss it.