Essential Question

Why did the Renaissance start in cities like Florence and how did they help spread Renaissance ideas?

Trade Cities in Italy

By the 1300s trade goods from Asia poured into Europe. Many of those items came through Italian ports. Four Italian cities had become major trading centers—Florence, Genoa, Milan, and Venice. Venice and Genoa were port cities. Huge ships brought spices and other luxuries from Asia into the cities’ harbors. These cities were also manufacturing centers. Different cities specialized in certain products. Venice produced glass. In Milan workers made weapons and silk. Florence was a center for weaving wool into cloth.

Italian cities were not unified under one ruler. Rich families, usually made wealthy by trade, controlled the government of each city. As the families grew rich and powerful, they wanted everyone to see what their money could buy. Although these factors affected most big Italian cities, one city-Florence-stands out as an example oftrade and wealth at this time.


Florence developed a banking system that was used by merchants all over Europe. The richest of the bankers were the Medici family. By 1434 Cosimo dé Medici ruled Florence. Cosimo dé Medici wanted Florence to be the most beautiful city in the world. He spent a great deal of money to make Florence a center of art, literature, and culture. Even after the death of Cosimo, the Medici family continued to sponsor artists, writers, architects, scholars, and more to make Florence the artistic and intellectual center of Europe. The Medici Family is sometimes called the Godfathers of the Renaissance.

The love of art and education created an explosion of new knowledge and artistic techniques that completely changed how European thought. The time became known as the Renaissance, which means “rebirth” or "reborn." Many of the intellectual and artistic developments came from Europeans rediscovering what the Greeks and Romans had learned and written. The Greek and Roman knowledge were reborn in Italy. There was also a new emphasis on people as individuals called humanism.

In other trade cities like Florence, rich families tried to outdo the Medicis in support of the arts and learning. They sponsored artists, writers, architects, scholars, and more to make their cities the most beautiful and learned. Also, by extension that would make their families more famous and prestigious.

Cosimo dé Medici

The Florence Cathedral designed by Brunelleschi is an example of how the principles of Roman architecture was revived by Filippo Brunelleschi. His achievement set the course of Italian Renaissance art, placing Florence at the heart of a new cultural age.

Discussion Questions

  • Who usually controlled the Italian cities during this time period?

  • What historical period is best known for the love of art and education that began in Europe?

  • Why do you think beauty and education were so important to the Medici family of Florence?

Activity 1: What were the causes of the Renaissance's start in Florence?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities