The Ciompi revolt, 1378

Almost every day I walk by this unassuming doorway on Via della Ruote, but I have never before stopped to read the sign beside it. I was shocked to learn that it marks the location of a large church and was the site where a major Florentine event, the Ciompi Conspiracy or Revolt, was fomented. It was the church of Santa Maria dei Battalani.

The Revolt of the Ciompi was a rebellion among unrepresented laborers which occurred in Florence, Italy from 1378 to 1382. Those who revolted consisted of artisans, laborers, and craftsmen who did not belong to any of the essential guilds that managed political life, and were therefore unable to participate in the Florentine government. These laborers grew increasingly resentful over the established patrician oligarchy. In addition, they were expected to pay heavy taxes which they could not afford, forcing some to abandon their homes. The resulting insurrection over such tensions led to the creation of a government composed of wool workers and other disenfranchised workers which lasted for three and a half years.

In June 1378 the city’s fourteen minor guilds demanded greater representation in civic office from elites – the Signoria. These guildsmen still wanted to keep the Sotto posti, who were low wage textile workers with no guild representation, from forming their own guilds and being able to gain increased political power. To prevent this, the Signoria quadrupled the fee for admittance to the system. This action sparked indignation and turned the Sotto posti into opponents of the Signoria aligning them with the lower class, the so-called Ciompi. In the summer of 1378, the Ciompi took up arms for the first time, and they violently took over the city’s government and forced the Signoria to create three new guilds and grant them political office.

Above, Il tumulto dei ciompi by Giuseppe Lorenzo Gatteri (1829-1844)

Although the Ciompi Rebellion was brief, it left an impact on future generations. The three and a half year revolt not only affected Florentine society throughout the 15th century, but was a flashpoint in Florentine history, which continued to intrigue historians.

As the sign by the doorway says, this church was the headquarters of the Ciompi, who were the wool carders in Florence’s Medieval urban life. And, also as the sign says, they formed one of Florence’s minor guilds-for a short time-3 years.

“It was in this church that the Battalani or Ciompi gathered on 20 July 1378, under the leadership of Michele di Lando, who incited the famous revolt known as the “Tumult of the Ciompi.” At one time filled with works of art, the church was later closed to the public and turned into a workshop.”

Also, as the sign explains, you can still see emblems of the wool carders on the doorway. Just below the broken pediment above the door, are 2 stone blocks, each carved with an image. One shows the carding comb and the other, the rack; these were the insignia of the guild.

Keep your eyes open in Florence and you will always be repaid with learning something new about something really old. Crazy as it seems, I have Covid restrictions to thank for allowing me the time and space to notice these interesting things in Florence.

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