What exactly is the Renaissance? How and why did this series of events occur? 

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At the heart of the Renaissance was the rediscovery of ancient wisdom, the wisdom of the Greeks and Romans. For centuries, this great storehouse of knowledge was thought to have been lost, but thanks mainly to the transmission and dissemination of pagan learning by Muslim scholars, Europeans were able to rediscover the foundations of their cultural heritage.

With the wisdom of the ancients now readily available to an increasingly literate population, intellectual horizons expanded accordingly. Now it was possible, for the first time, to emulate the example of the ancients in a variety of fields, most notably art, architecture, and science. Although ancient ideas were thousands of years old, their rediscovery gave them a freshness which inspired great thinkers, artists, scientists, and architects to push back the boundaries of what was possible. In acquainting themselves with ancient wisdom, Europeans of the Renaissance were reestablishing a connection with their ancestors, carrying on a cultural tradition which had been disrupted during that period of history known as the Dark Ages.

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The term Renaissance means rebirth.  It is a term used to describe major changes in European society, including new inventions, exploration, trade, and art.  Humanist ideas also gained popularity as the Roman Catholic Church weakened.

When Constantinople fell in the 1400s, many scholars with humanist ideas found new homes in Italy.  This is one of the reasons why Italy became the center of the Renaissance.  Humanism encouraged, among many things, free thinking apart from religious structures.  Advances in printing led to the publishing and distribution of humanist literature.

Art became more valued during the Renaissance.  Florence, Italy, became a center of art.  To some artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci, art even had a scientific aspect.  Mathematics also became more frequently used when creating art.  The Medici family, who were wealthy Italian merchants, financially sponsored art and architecture.  

More reliable navigation tools and maps, as well as more seaworthy ships, led to growth in exploration and trade by water.  Trade using ships was easier due to poor roads.  Many trade routes were also dangerous, making travel by water a desirable option.

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