The annexation of Tuscany to Unified Italy, and the decision made immediately thereafter to move the capital to Florence, was a great shock for both the city and the region. The functional needs deriving from this new role as capital had a profound impact on the city, but the ruling class assumed the burden well, managing capably the problems raised by the new political situation.
When it became the capital of Italy, Florence’s population was 150,000. The city, which already had a severe housing problem, had to accommodate the 15 to 20 thousand people who made up the new Italian government. Rents increased and the City built temporary prefabricated housing in steel and wood in the belt-area around the Viale, at Porta alla Croce and Pignone, and outside Porta S. Frediano to meet the needs of the poorest families.
The capital’s government offices found their headquarters in the great palazzi of the antique town centre, but this was not the end of it. According to the Law of 1866 on the expropriation of the Church’s assets, ecclesiastical institutions could no longer own real estate other than that which was needed to carry out the institution’s role and purposes: places of worship, bell towers, sacristies, and housing for the clergy.
An immediate solution needed to be found to cope with the population increase. In order to meet the needs of the new capital in just two months, the architect Giuseppe Poggi submitted his “outline plan for urban expansion.” This plan, containing the groundwork for the next fifty years of Florence’s history, largely consisted in knocking down the walls of the city to create the circular roads surrounding it currently. The demolition work on the walls began in 1865 and was completed in 1869. With the disappearance of the walls the city lost a fundamental element of its structural definition. The demolition of the walls made it necessary to build a new customs boundary that divided the city’s territory into two parts: open city and closed city. Of the 29 barriers, some remnants still remain in Piazza Vasari, near the Ponte al Pino, and in Piazza Alberti.
The main architectural layout of Poggi’s plans, to which he dedicated his greatest efforts, are the viali with the piazzas, and the ramps leading to Piazzale Michelangelo. The concept of a panorama was foreign to Florence and only developed after Piazzale Michelangelo was created. The Piazzale offers one of the most famous and wonderful city views in the world.
Poggi knew how to interpret and coordinate those in charge and was able to quickly carry out grandiose projects, specifically the viali, which, in spite of everything, are the only planned and completed works in the modern history of Florentine urban development.