Of all the regions of Italy, Tuscany is the most lauded, the most photographed and the most written about. And, certainly, it is the most visited, because, of course, in Tuscany one finds the fabled city of Florence, and Pisa with its leaning tower, and the fabled region of Chianti, over-flowing with wine, and Siena with its raucous medieval festivals, and Vinci, the birth place of Leonardo, and a dozen - no two dozen - other storied places, all set in a gorgeous, rolling, verdant landscape, through which flows the Arno River and a myriad of other streams that send their waters westward into to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
In Tuscany, the attractions of the physical landscape are matched by an intensely compelling human history, and of course, by the profound architectural and artistic works that one finds everywhere in the Region. And then, there is Tuscan cuisine, and Tuscan music, and Tuscan writing, and Tuscan language - the ancient, evolving dialect - the language of Dante Alighieri - that is the font of modern Italian.
Tuscany was settled by pre-historic tribal groups, perhaps as long ago as 3000 BC. However, the first organized civilization that established itself in the region, between 800 and 700 BC, was that of the Etruscans. Their lands, known as Etruria, covered most of modern day Tuscany, and stretched north toward Liguria, Piemonte and Emilia Romagna and south over Umbria
on the west side of the Tiber River down into Lazio Roma. The Etruscans established a federation of twelve self-governing cities known as the Dodecapolis, and of those several remain vibrant Tuscan cities today: Arezzo, Chiusi, Cortona and Volterra.
Etruscan ruins dot the landscape and innumerable Etruscan artifacts have found their way, of course, into greater and lesser museums all over Tuscany, where they are on view to modern eyes.
By 200 BC, the Etruscans, after continuous defeats on the battlefield, were completely absorbed by an emerging Roman Empire. The Romans, during their time, founded Lucca, Pisa, Siena, Pistoia and Florence, and, with their roads, forts, ports, spas and other monuments left an indelible cultural, social, economic, and architectural mark on Tuscany. Like the Etruscans before them, the physical remains of the Romans also lie scattered around Tuscany, either in the form of ruins, or as museum artifacts.
Roman power had dramatically declined by AD 300, leaving their Empire weak and vulnerable. New forces began overwhelming all that had been Roman, including Tuscany. Much death and destruction was wrought, though not as much as elsewhere in Italy, but new ideas and cultural influences also flowed in. Peace was restored, at least for a time, when, during the 6th to 8th centuries AD, the Longobards, a Germanic people, established their 200 year long hegemony over northern and central Italy. Longobard Tuscany was administered as a Duchy, whose overlords lived in Lucca.
After the Longobards, Tuscan history is an intricate dance, involving a wide variety of local and foreign secular powers and the Roman Catholic Church, whose influence grew increasingly from late Roman times. In time, many Tuscan towns and cities became powerful city states, sometimes under the control of the Pope and his Bishops, and sometimes under the control of kings, princes and others lower down the aristocratic ladder.
In this political cauldron, Tuscan cities and towns, usually aided and abetted by mercenary forces, vied with one another, often in destructive and bloody conflict, over land, resources and influence. Alliances among and between them, and outside powers, were changeable, giving Tuscan "politics" a well-deserved reputation for deviousness and treachery. It is no wonder that Machiavelli, author of The Prince, a handbook for the exercise of power, was a native son.
Ultimately, Florence became the dominant Tuscan city, and it's history reflects in many ways, the history of the entire Region and the other important towns and cities within it. By the 13th century, Florence had evolved into a self-governing, oligarchical comune with banking as its most important industry. Powerful banking families emerged, and foremost among them were the Medici. By the 15th century, the "Age of the Comune" had passed, and governance rested with the Medici, or, from time to time, with other dominant families. This is the so-called "Age of the Signories".
During this extended period, from the early 14th to the late 15th centuries, Tuscany, and particularly Florence under the knowing patronage of the Medici, gives birth to a humanistic movement we now call the Renaissance which manifested itself in art, writing, architecture, science, and of course, fashion. The names associated with the Renaissance are legion: Galileo, Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Dante and a host of others. The long term impact of their work on the rest of Europe and the world simply can not be underestimated.
Ultimately, through various and sundry machinations, and through the shedding of considerable blood and the expenditure of much treasure, Florentine power overwhelmed that of the other cities in the Region. All of Tuscany was melded into a Grand Duchy, at first under despotic Medici dukes, some benign, some cruel. But, by the 16th century, the Medici line had burned out and others assumed power. The Duchy remained intact, except for a brief period when it fell under Napoleonic rule in the late 1790s, until 1860, when it was absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy, which, by 1948, was transformed into the modern Republic of Italy.
Now, Tuscany is crowded with tourists, especially during the sweltering months of July and August. They literally swarm over Florence, Pisa, Siena, Chianti, Cortona and other justifiably famous towns and cities within the Region. But, there are other industries of note: the Carrara marble that Michelangelo used for his David and other sculptures is mined and exported all over the world. There is wine from grapes (Chianti), and oil from olives (Lucca), and the production and distribution of a wide variety of other agricultural and food products from other parts of the Region.
One also finds light industry in the northern parts of Tuscany, machinery manufacturing, metal working, plastics molding and production and the manufacture of specialized electronic goods. Engineering work, industrial design, graphics design, and clothing fashion are also mainstays of the Tuscan economy.
Tuscany, when all is said and done, is a rich, sensual, three dimensional tapestry woven of time and space, with sights, sounds, aromas, flavors, and touches that penetrate the human mind and soul, evoking memory and desire.