This walk might raise some eyebrows, but we figured if you’re still with us after last week’s post, then you must love us for who we really are. Yet we understand the obvious question: don’t art historians intrinsically loathe Dan Brown’s books? We’d be lying if we said we hadn’t heard a few professors moan at the sound of the author’s name (tying Da Vinci to a conspiracy theory will do that) – but haters gonna hate, y’all.
The truth is, these girls love anything art history + mystery, even if the facts are a bit hazy. It’s set in Florence? You better believe we’re going to do our “research” to scour this sucker from start to finish. Plus, Robert Langdon is the closest thing we art historians have to a Hollywood action star. Lucky for us, his latest wild ride hits up most of our favorite spots in the city. So if you want to follow in his shoes, hold on tight for our whirlwind walk of downtown Florence.
*There are some spoilers below if you are yet to read the book, but nothing so big as to ruin the plot. So if you want to proceed with only one eye open, avanti!
Distance: 2.4 km (about 1.5 miles)
Time: about a 30 minute walk, but you’ll move faster if you visualize the assassin chasing you through the streets!
Cost: $0 for the walk, but we’ll make suggestions for entrance fees and tours if you want a fully authentic Langdon experience.
Ok, we know there’s a good bit of action before Robert and his lovely “accomplice” Sienna speed their way down Via Machiavelli towards the Porta Romana, but it’s a little scattered and – let’s face it – so is Langdon. When he starts to get his wits about him, he finally does say, “The old city is where we need to go…Old Florence was Dante’s entire world.” So, for this walk, we flip our usual starting place of smack dab in city center and start at the old entrance through the city walls; we’ll work our way back towards the Duomo. Unfortunately, a whole host of spies and carabinieri are blocking Robert and Sienna’s safe passage here, and the duo have to find alternate means into the city. But you should have no trouble walking under the large stone arch to start following the outside wall of the Boboli Gardens.
Ah, Boboli! So green, so lush, so easy to scale the walls, slip in undetected, and hide away in its winding paths…wait what? Our man DB might’ve taken some liberties here (unless there is an easy way to sneak in via the Art Institute, then let us know!). We’d much rather you make your way down Via Romana until you reach Palazzo Pitti. If you’d like to spend some dough to check out the gardens and creep along the La Cerchiata, be our guest. Once inside, don’t miss Buontalenti’s Grotto; although you most likely won’t make it past the grotto’s gate, you can still peer in at the fountains Robert and Sienna spent so much time hiding behind.
The race continues when our protagonists manage to force their way into the very exclusive and private Vasari Corridor, which runs from Palazzo Pitti to Palazzo Vecchio. We’ve talked a little about the history of the corridor here, but – while it is definitely one of our favorite Florence attractions – it is faaar from free and requires some tough advanced maneuvering to secure a reserved visit of the space. Meaning: you most likely won’t be racing through Vasari’s halls like Robert and Sienna. But you can follow the corridor as it snakes its way across the Arno. See the long passageway with small square windows and the red tiled roof? Let it lead you over the Ponte Vecchio towards Piazza della Signoria, and keep an eye out for the plaques on the bridge that quote Dante’s Inferno as you speed by.
Can we talk about how weird it is that DB makes hardly any mention of the Uffizi, arguably one of the best and most famous museums in the world? Especially considering the Vasari Corridor passes through it on its way to Palazzo Vecchio? Anyway, it’s certainly there, so make sure to at least give it a quick nod on your way towards our next stop.
Much of the book’s Florentine action takes place inside the walls (literally) of the Palazzo Vecchio. Robert and Sienna sneak through secret passageways, climb ceiling rafters, and – shockingly – you can do it, too! Well, maybe not the jumping and running and climbing parts, but Palazzo Vecchio does offer a secret passages tour that winds you in and out of spaces often unseen by the general public. Now we don’t usually advocate for activities that cost money, but this tour was one of the very few Hannah and I sprung for while in Italy. It was more than worth it. The ticket price isn’t too steep, and while you do need to make a reservation, we made ours only a day ahead of time. If interested, call 055 2768325 for details.
After the guided tour, you’ll have the option to visit the rest of the museum at no extra charge. Now’s your chance to visit the Salone dei Cinquecento and see what all this “Cerca Trova” business is about. Turns out, that’s a Florentine story Dan Brown didn’t fabricate, and Maurizio Seracini is a real person advocating for further research into the possible Leonardo lost behind the wall. I highly recommend this National Geographic coverage of the science and process behind the search for the masterpiece. And no, I’m not going to tell you where the flag with the words is – seek and find!
…But if coughing up a few euros isn’t for you at this point, stealthily inch your way past Hercules and Cacus around the right corner of the Palazzo Vecchio. There, you’ll find a small door cut into the stone of the building’s side wall. Make a mental note for the next time you are escaping villains and find yourself in need of a secret passageway.
Once you’ve had your fill of secrets, head for heartache at the Casa di Dante. Coming out of Palazzo Vecchio, point yourself towards the northeast corner of the piazza and start up Via Magazzini. A quick right a few blocks up will put you on Via Dante Alighieri and right in the midst of Dante’s neighborhood. Langdon heads to the museum gift shop of Dante’s childhood home looking for a copy of Inferno, only to find it closed on a Monday (Robert Langdon – he’s just like us!). In a moment of genius, however, he then opts to instead visit Dante’s church, Santa Margherita dei Cerchi. The old, intimate church on Via Santa Margherita dates as far back as 1032, and legend has it it’s here where Dante first spied his true love, Beatrice. Of course, Dante suffered for the rest of his life from a case of unrequited love, only exasperated by the fact that, thanks to exile, he was buried in Ravenna instead of Florence at the end of his life. But Beatrice was (supposedly) buried at her home church of Santa Margherita, and today her tomb attracts lovers from all over the globe; they leave hand-written notes of love lost and won in a basket by her grave. Entrance to the church is free, so be sure to pen your heart’s deepest wishes here before racing on.
Onto our last major Florentine stop – the Baptistery! When Langdon finally puts two and two together that when the clue says “I [Dante] shall return…at my baptismal font” you should start moving towards the actual baptismal font (we were way ahead of you on that one, buddy!), he and Sienna are off to the Gates of Paradise. You should be, too; head west on Via Dante (which turns into Via dei Tavolini) until you reach Via Calzaiuoli. Sprint up the street, and the Baptistery will be in full view. While Robert manages to bust through the side doors undetected, we are certain you’ll have no such luck. Instead, we recommend fronting the 5-euro entrance fee to legally enter (the inside of a Florentine jail is not on this tour). We think the overhead mosaics will make it well worth your pocket change.
…and so concludes Robert and Sienna’s jam-packed, city-center adventure. But if your heart is still racing and you’re not quite ready to call it quits, might we suggest turning back towards the Casa di Dante? Then pass the Badia (the tower that the Shade makes his majestic “leap” from) and walk across town to Piazza Santa Croce. There, on the left side of the church, stands a marble Dante; we find it fitting to pay him a visit after the craziness of the tour. Stretch your legs on the church’s front steps, follow Dante’s intense gaze, people watch, and concoct stories about the adventures they might be having that day. Because who ever knows where Florence’s old streets will take you?