Forlì is the capital of the province of Forlì-Cesena.
According to legend, the city of Forlì was founded in 188 BC by the consul Gaius Livius Salinator, who confronted Hasdrubal Barca and vanquished him at the banks of the Metaurus River (207 BC). The old city was destroyed in 88 BC during the civil wars of Gaius Marius and Sulla and rebuilt by the praetor Livius Clodius afterwards. Presumably, Forum Livii was a middle-sized city producing agricultural products, which reached market via the Via Aemilia.
Saint Mercurialis (San Mercuriale) (d. 406) was a bishop of the city, after whom one of its main churches is dedicated.
In the time of the Lombards, the city was contested and was repeatedly retaken by Lombard forces, in 665, 728, 742. It was finally incorporated with the Papal States in 757, as part of the Donation of Pepin.
By the 9th century, but perhaps a century earlier, the comune had wrested control from its bishops and was established as one of the independent Italian city-states, the communes that signalled the first revival of urban life in Italy. Forlì became a republic for the first time in 889.
In the medieval struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines, Forlì sided with the Ghibelline factions, partly as a means of preserving its independence. It supported all the Holy Roman Emperors in their adventures in Italy. Their fiercest rivals were Faenza and Bologna. During these centuries, popes many times tried to resume the control of Forlì, sometimes by violence sometimes by allurements.
More essentially local competition was involved in loyalties: in 1241, during Frederick II's struggles with Pope Gregory IX the people of Forlì offered their loyal support to Frederick II during the capture of the rival city, Faenza, and, as a sign of gratitude, they were granted an augmentation of the communal coat-of-arms with the Hohenstaufen eagle, together with other privileges. With the collapse of Hohenstaufen power in 1257, Guido I da Montefeltro the staunchest imperial lieutenant, was forced to take refuge in Forlì, the only remaining Ghibelline stronghold in Italy. He accepted the position of capitano del popolo and gained for Forlì some notable victories: against the Bolognesi at the Ponte di San Procolo, on June 15, 1275; against a Guelph allied force, including Florentine troops, at Civitella on November 14, 1276; and at Forlì itself against a powerful French contingent sent by Pope Martin IV, on May 15, 1282, in a battle cited by Dante Alighieri (who was hosted in the city in 1303 by Scarpetta Ordelaffi III). In 1282, Forlì's forces were led by Guido da Montefeltro. The famous astrologer Guido Bonatti (advisor of Emperor Frederick II, too) was one of his advisors.
The following year the exhausted city's Senate was forced to accede to papal power and asked Guido to take his leave. The commune soon submitted to a local condottiere rather than accept a representative of direct papal control, and Simone Mestaguerra had himself proclaimed Lord of Forlì. He did not succeed in leaving the new signory peacefully to an heir, however, and Forlì passed to Maghinardo Pagano, then to Uguccione della Faggiuola (1297), and to others, until in 1302 the Ordelaffi came into power.
Local factions with papal support ousted the family several times, in 1327–1329 and again in 1359–1375, and at other turns of events the bishops were expelled by the Ordelaffi. In that period, the famous musician Ugolino da Orvieto, too, had to escape from Forlì, and went in Ferrara. Until the Renaissance the Ordelaffi strived to maintain the possession of the city and its countryside, especially against Papal attempts to assert back their authority. Often civil wars between members of the family occurred. Sometimes they also fought as condottieri for other states to earn themselves money to protect or embellish Forlì.
In the Middle Ages, Forlì had an important community of Jews: they had a school in the 13th century; and, in 1418, a famous synod convoked by the Jews in Forlì, sent a deputation with costly gifts to the new pope, Martin V, praying him to abolish the oppressive laws promulgated by Avignon Pope Benedict XIII and to grant the Jews those privileges which had been accorded them under previous popes. The deputation succeeded in its mission.
The most renowned of the Ordelaffi was Pino III, who held the Signiory of Forlì from 1466 to 1480. Pino was a ruthless lord; nevertheless he enriched the city with new walls and buildings and was a sponsor of the arts. When he died aged just 40, perhaps by poisoning, the situation of Forlì was weakened as factions of Ordelaffi fought one another, until Pope Sixtus IV claimed the signory for his nephew Gerolamo Riario. Riario was married to Caterina Sforza the indomitable Lady of Forlì, whose name is associated with the city's last independent history. Forlì was seized in 1488 by Visconti and in 1499 by Cesare Borgia, after whose death it became more directly subject to the pope than ever been before (apart from an ephimeral return of Ordelaffi in 1503-1504).
In the 16th century the most notable among Forlì's bishops was Alexander De Franciscis, a converted Jew, who wrote Hebrew notes on Genesis and Exodus, with special reference to the text of the Vulgate; and a significant theological work, De Tempore et de Sanctis. His Jewish name was Elisha de Roma. After his baptism he entered the order of the Dominican friars, in which he distinguished himself as an orator. Pope Clement VIII appointed him proctor, then vicar-general, and, finally, bishop of Forli, which office he held from 1594 to 1597. The latter part of his life he spent as a layman in Rome.
On April 16, 1988, in Forlì, Red Brigades killed Italian senator Roberto Ruffilli, an advisor of Prime Minister Ciriaco de Mita. In 1989 the second Faculty of Economics, now part of the Forlì Branch of the University of Bologna, was named in his honour.
The most famous painter of the comune was Melozzo da Forlì, who worked in Rome and other Italian cities during the brief years of the High Renaissance. Other famous forlivese painters were: Ansuino da Forlì, Marco Palmezzano, Francesco Menzocchi, Livio Agresti. Together, they formed the Forlì painting school. Carlo Cignani was not born in Forlì, but painted important works there.
Other famous forlivese people are:
In the period from between 1265 and 1 May 1315, Peregrino Laziosi lived in Forlì.Villafranca di Forlì, Villagrappa, Villanova.