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One of the most densely populated (and popular) regions in Italy, Tuscany is located in the heart of Italy, stretching from the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the western border of the Apennine Mountains. Its major cities include Florence, Siena, Pistoia, Prato, and Pisa, and it is divided into ten provinces: Arezzo, Firenze, Pisa, Siena, Lucca, Pistoia, Grosseto, Massa Carrara, Livorno, and Prato. Tuscany's population of 3.5 million (a 2004 estimate) is not evenly distributed, however; the Tyrrhenian coastline and the Florence-Pisa area have the hightest concentrations of people, while the more mountainous and agricultural areas are sparser.
And yet, Tuscany is an area where the smallest towns are as historically rewarding and charming as its larger ones. As previously mentioned, Tuscany is an incredibly popular draw for people around the world, and every year sees roughly a million tourists from the United States alone. In a way, Tuscany is a microcosm of Italy, and brings the best of that country to the forefront: its beauty, history, culture, cuisine, and people are indeed remarkable, and few leave behind Tuscany unsatisfied. From the cultural significance of Florence, the Renaissance stronghold of the powerful Medici family, to the Elsa Valley area between Florence and Siena where one finds dozens of towns teeming with artistic treasures, to the serene northern beauty of the hill towns and the valleys along the Apennine ridge, Tuscany has something for everyone. It is a large region of 9000 square miles, and there is much to be explored.
Tuscany is the ancient homeland of the Etruscans, a ancient group about which very little is known (although many scholars suspect that these people migrated from Asia Minor); in fact, the very name of Tuscany originates from the Romans' name for the Etruscans: Etuschi. In 351 B.C., the region was annexed to the Roman Empire. The fall of the Empire saw Tuscany's descent into chaos--like much of Europe, the area was prey to attacks and pillages from Visigoths and other barbarian tribes. As stability entered the region, it prospered. In the Renaissance, Florence emerged as the seat of power in Tuscany due to its wealth in the textile trade and the emergence of the Medicis, a Florentine banking family whose name became synonymous with the Renaissance, as seen in the impressive list of artists who worked in the city and saw patronage by the Medicis (and the Pope): Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, and Leonardo da Vinci.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Tuscany entered a period of wealth and stability. In 1737 the Medicis' reign of power finally ended, and in the period that follows we find Tuscany in flux, annexed by Napoleon to his empire and partitioned into smaller regions by him (at one point he gave Tuscany as a whole to his sister as a gift), until 1860, when the area became part of a unified Italy. (Florence briefly served as capital of the new country from 1865 to 1870.)
Turmoil found Tuscany in the early part of the 20th century, as social unrest was heightened by clashes among workers and peasants with landowners and industrialists. Because of this, Tuscany was easy prey for the emerging Fascism movement. However, Tuscany survived being at the forefront of World War II, emerging once again to claim worldwide attention as an area rich in history, beauty, and cultural significance.