Empoli in the Middle Ages

At the time when the Etruscans inhabited the area, the town was already well known for its splendid crystal handcrafts production used by artists and goldsmiths and silversmiths in this amazing manufacture of works of art and jewels. When the Romans conquered this territory, Empoli, at that time called Emporium, the city not only continued producing its famous glass, but being located between the Via Quinctia and the Via Salaiola, which connected the city with the most important Roman cities of the time such as Florence, Fiesole, Pisa and Volterra, it also tuned into a commercial city, strategically situated among other fundamental production centers, thing which made barter and the transportation of goods necessarily pass through the already highly prosperous Emporium.

At the beginning of the XII century the city turned into a feud of the Counts of Guidi, who surrounded it with walls and defensive constructions and turned it into practically an impregnable fortress. Due to its crucial strategic position, it was the object of greediness of the Republic of Florence for many decades. After various attemps of capturing it, in 1182, it forced the Counts of Guidi to swear loyalty to Florence. In this way, by mid XIII century, the Florentines obliged the Counts of Guidi to sell them the feud for the price that Florence had established.

Empoli, of long Ghibelline tradition, contrary to Florence, at that moment ruled by the Guelphs, was the venue of the famous Ghibelline Council of Empoli, which was held on Septiembre, 1260, soon after the defeat of Florence at the famous Batalla de Monteaperti, fought in the territorial area of Empoli. The person who lead the defeat was Manente degli Uberti, better known as “Farinata”, who was in charge of the Ghibelline troops of Siena and Pisa (loyal to the Emperor) against the extremely powerful forces of Florence(the Pope followers). Manente degli Uberti, regarded as one of the best military men of the Tuscan territory in those times and a very well educated person of an impeccable loyalty towards the Ghibeline faction, belonged to one of the most notable families of the Ghibeline aristocracy in Florence, who had suffered a terrible persecution by the Guelphs.

The Council, now an assembly composed of the main Ghibeline representatives, unanimously voted in favor of the destruction of Florence, not only as a revenge against the traditional Guelphs’ attacks on the Ghibelines’ property or on their lives, but to make sure that by nipping their huge power in the bud those atrocities would no longer happen in the future.

But, Manente o Farinata degli Uberti, as you prefer to call him, pronounced himself against this decision, and unsheathing his sword he swore that, as long as he was alive, he would continue defending Florence (which he had seen in its origins and was now defeated) from such a vile resolution with the same courage and loyalty with which he had defended the Ghibeline cause, as long as he was alive.

And that’s how Florence was saved from being burnt to the ground.

As it was to be expected, once established the Guelph rule, Florence not only forgot it owed Farinata its life and its resurgence, but it snatched away all his family’s properties, who had to go into exile and leave the city without complaining.

Besides, the Florentine authorities accused “Farinata” of heresy, basing themselves on the fact that he had manifested that the Pope should not interfere in the power of the Emperor. Manente degli Uberti had to ask Siena for asylum, which was immediately granted to him in order to save his wife and daughter.
“Farinata” lived and died as the gentleman he had always been, giving a colossal example of generosity and coherence with his high sense of ethics.

However, not only the citizens of Empoli, but historians too keep on asking themselves how different Empoli would’ve been if the historical decision of the Ghibeline Council had been kept because if Florence had vanished from the face of the world, which would have been the capital of the future Tuscany?
The same hypothetical question goes to you after visiting the emblematic Empoli and plunging a bit into its fascinating story, which of course does not finish in the Middle Ages and continues and continues with episodes of fights and resistance, each time more significant and impressive.

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