The city of Florence has proudly carried the Giglio of Florence on her coat of arms for almost a thousand years. The origin of the lily symbol however is even more ancient and can be traced back to the ruling class of the Roman Empire. It is possible that the Florentine version was derived from that symbol, but there are also other legends surrounding the origin.
One of the stories tells that Florence was founded in 59 BC by the Romans in the period of the flower celebrations in honor of the goddess Flora and another that the city was named after its founder Florinus da Cellino: Florentia (Latin for flowering).
The simplest explanation for the symbol of Florence is that it was derived from the flower that traditionally grows in the area around the city: Iris Fiorentina.
One thing is certain: the Giglio of Florence (Florentine lily) is not a lily, but a stylized iris.
This beautiful white flower was first applied to the city’s coat of arms in the 11th century; it was white on a red background. After the bloody battle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, which ended in 1250 with a victory for the Guelphs, they switched the colors as a sign of their power, thus creating the famous symbol of the red giglio on a white background.
In the Divine Comedy Dante Alighieri describes the eve of this event as follows: ‘The lily of the flagpole was not yet reversed and not colored red by division…’
The new arm was so important to Florence that in 1252 it graced the first Florin that was ever created.
In 1811, Napoleon tried to banish the giglio from Florence, but this led to such violent protests that he soon decided to give the Florentines their beloved symbol back.
Il Giglio Fiorentino can be found on countless places in the city. On old coats of arms on historic buildings, but also on the numerous (company) logos like that of the municipality of Florence, the Fiorentina football club and the ice cream parlor around the corner from my home.
Florence and her giglio have been inseparable for 10 centuries and that is not going to change any time soon.