On our most recent trip to Florence, Jon and I had the fun of using an app called Hidden Florence to take guided walks throughout the city. This great technology really heightened our sightseeing! The app takes one on a historical adventure of Florence attractions across the city. The guide, Giovanni, is a 1490s wool worker who shows you around “his” city.
There are two walks: City Center (Giovanni’s workplace) and Sant’Ambrogio (Giovanni’s neighborhood). Hidden Florence provides a present-day map and a historic one showing how the city would have looked in Giovanni’s day. It brings to life the saying: “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
As you follow along the Hidden Florence walk, you will be prompted to look for historical sites—they may be a window, a marble plaque, a statue, or an architectural detail. The music on the app lets you know when you are close. When you’ve found the item, you can them play the story behind it and Giovanni will make the area you are standing in come alive.
Touring the city through this lens allowed me to see Florence in a whole different way. Even in the city center amid throngs of tourists, I felt alone—transported back in time. I saw details of the city I had never seen before…and trust me I’ve pounded those flagstone streets for hours on end many, many times.
The Renaissance came alive, as did the life of an average working man in 15th century Florence. It was fun to hear how he viewed people like the Medici—a family still prominent all over Florence even though the part of the lineage that supported the likes of Michelangelo and da Vinci has since died out.
We enjoyed both walks immensely, but the City Center Walk takes a traveler through the most popular parts of the city and gives insight into many popular Florence attractions, which may be best for a person with limited time and many things to do in Florence. Giovanni describes this area—the Centro Storico—as the place where he worked and the city was governed. Points of interest detailed are:
- Ponte Vecchio—the walk starts on the old bridge and tells of the importance of the Arno River to Florence’s commerce.
- Piazza della Signoria—the heart of Florence where monks were burned, politics decided, art displayed, and public life thrived. This is the main square in front of city hall.
- Bargello—by looking at the hanging window of this old prison we learned about crime and punishment.
- Almsbox in Piazza San Martino—the box still exists as does the chapel behind it. Giovanni speaks of Medici patronage and how everyone was a bit under their thumb. One gets a sense of the extreme dichotomy of wealth in Renaissance Florence.
- Orsanmichele—different guilds funded statues around the façade of this church (once a granary). One gets an overview of Florence industry, especially wool.
- Vicolo del Giglio—this little side street opens onto a small square where drinking and debauchery occurred. Learn about the “best known tavern in Florence.”
- Carving of workers on a wall—Giovanni took us to look at a carving on a wall outside a workshop. As he was telling us a story about marble craftsmanship, he said to look in the window of the shop. Jon and I looked at each wondering if we were crazy for doing it before shading our eyes with our hands and peering in the glass. Sure enough, a big block of marble was there—just as Giovanni said it would be. We listed to Giovanni talk about the workers who toiled there. Chills ran down my spine as a modern-day marble artisan brushed past us, entered the shop, and commenced chiseling.
- Mercato Vecchio—we are taken to modern-day Piazza della Repubblica and shown a column from ancient Rome as well as learn about the market that once functioned there. It gave a little insight into women’s daily lives.
- A lantern on the corner of a massive palazzo—this light fixture underscored the wealth of people like the Strozzi family in Renaissance Florence.
The Sant’Ambrogio Walk takes one through the area that Giovanni called home. It is a less-trafficked area of Florence, but is home to my favorite market—Mercato Sant’Ambrogio. This walk is a bit shorter than the City Center one. We were able to see his church, where Giovanni lived, the taverns and restaurants he frequented, and the apothecary he used. We heard of neighborhood politics, social goings-on, public worship, and other aspects of daily life. It contextualized a place that is still bustling with local Florentines living and working.
I wish these types of historical treasure maps existed for every city. It was excellent. Do yourself a favor and take at least one of these walks the next time you’re looking for things to do in Florence.
- Free download (at time of publication)
- Available for Android and Iphone
- Website accompanies app and provides more stories. https://hiddenflorence.org/
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