The Florentine Iris

History of a symbol

Iris, Firenze, Giardino dell'iris

The Red Lily is the symbol, the emblem that represents Florence and is inspired by the white iris, very common around the city. The best way to see  the beautiful Florentine iris is to visit the Iris garden, off Piazzale Michelangelo in May. The coat of arms of Florence has remained constant passing down through the centuries, the history and the successive city governments. It seems that it became the symbol of the city in the second half of the twelfth century; it was natural that the emblem suitable to represent Florence should be a flower. Even during the first crusade, the Florentines carried into battle their Giglio.

There are several hypotheses to explain the origins of this symbol. One refers to a Roman praetor named Fiorino, who died when Fiesole was attacked; one connects it to the celebration of the goddess Flora, in early spring, when the Romans founded the city; or, it is tied to the main meaning of the lily: purity. According to mythology, in fact, the lily is associated with chastity and originated from a drop of milk which fell from the breast of Juno.

But the colors of the symbol of Florence at the beginning were just the opposite: white on red background. It seems that the red lily on white background dates back to 1266, at the time of  the war between the Guelphs and Ghibellines.  In Florence the Guelph party won, while the latter were sent away from the city: the symbol of Florence was modified by the Guelphs, as a sign of their victory over the Ghibellines.

It seems that in 1811 Napoleon tried to replace the symbol, proposing another to the citizens of Florence by a decree. The Florentines did not like the idea and protested until the Emperor “gave back” their Giglio.

The May 22, 1928, a resolution of the mayor called for the recognition of the emblem and banner by the government that was granted by government decree: “simple shield oval silver lily open and flowered red”.

And we conclude with a quote from Dante Alighieri:
”I saw Florence in such calm repose, with these men and others like them, that she had no reason for grief. I saw her people, so glorious and just, with these men to serve them, that her arms of the white lily were never reversed on the standard, nor the lily dyed red by division.” (S. B)

Giglio comune Firenze


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