Florence owes much of its art and architectural legacies to the peccadilloes* of the Medici clan. These were a bunch of wealthy and often loony bankers that dominated the political and social life of Florence from the twelfth-century onwards. Not that our world’s present day fortunes are in the hands of a bunch of mad bankers, heaven forbid.

By the fifteenth century, after all that banking, the Medici’s had managed to save up quite a few Euros (It was Lira back then, so they had trillions of them). The main man was Cosimo de Medici and it was him who really got things going in the cultural world of Florence.

Never a man to just sit in his counting house, counting out his money, he decided he wanted to be King of Florence. His first tactic was to out-debate all his political opponents by using a very sharp sword. Thus he rose to the top of the tree and established the Medici fortune as Italy’s biggest pile of gold, trinkets and gewgaws**.

Despite being a bit of a fascist in the early days he became a great patron of the arts and eventually set up a fairly democratic system of government. However, there was an underlying problem with all of the Medicis. This was a genetic glitch that meant the smart genes always leapfrogged a generation. Consequently Cosimo’s son was a bit of a wet fish that didn’t really do much and the story only gets exciting again when Cosimo’s grandsons turned up. These were Giuliano and Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Giuliano got himself murdered fairly early on and so Lorenzo became the top dog in Florence. Your average Italian goes all misty-eyed at the mention of Lorenzo as they think he was, er, magnificent. He expanded Florence dramatically and was a patron to such artists as Botticelli and Verrochio, the latter being the teacher of that all-round smart-alec, Leonardo da Vinci.

It wasn’t until Mussolini turned up, and got the trains running on time, that Lorenzo’s achievements had any real competition in the eyes of the Italians.

When Lorenzo died he was replaced by his son, Piero de Lorenzo. Again the genetic disaster of ‘good Medici, bad Medici’ kicked in and Piero proved himself to be a bit of an arse. He managed to bugger up three centuries of skilful Medici conniving by getting the family expelled from Florence. To manage this he’d made the unwise move of unlocking the gates and letting the French in through the tradesman’s entrance (no euphemism intended). This didn’t go down too well with the Florentines when the French army started pillaging the city.

The Medicis were eventually restored to power, but their genetic heritage kept letting them down. Things came to a head when all this twisted Medici DNA finally produced Gian Gastone de’Medici in 1671. Prior to him there had been an unbroken line of male Medicis going right back to Cosimo. However, Gian Gastone didn’t fancy the plump and wealthy wife that had been arranged for him, as his peccadilloes* revolved much more around young boys. Consequently an heir was never produced by Gian Gastone. Thus the Medici gravy train hit the buffers with him as the last of the Medicis.

Despite all their failings the Medicis were good enough to leave their buildings and artworks to the City of Florence. The Uffizi art gallery was built by the Medicis, and most of the artworks in it were owned by them at some stage.

I’m not sure if they had anything to do with the Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge across the river but here are some words of wisdom for you anyway. Don’t cross it with your girlfriend. This is because it is lined with nothing else but jeweller’s shops and by the time you get to the other side of the river you’ll either be skint, or getting married, or probably both. Which will put an end to any peccadilloes* you may have previously enjoyed.

*‘Peccadilloes’ is a very jolly word. It sounds like a combination of pecker and dildos, both of which are rude words. It has made my day.

** ‘Gewgaws’ is another good word, and sounds as though it should be rude. Unfortunately it isn’t. My day is now ruined.

See my other Italy travel guides on Rome , The Vatican and Naples