I have a special story for Florence. As a Dan Brown fan, I was thrilled to go to the inspiration for his latest novel, Inferno. My goal was to trace Robert Langdon’s and Sienna’s path through Florence to save the city from a terrible threat. I visited all the places mentioned in the book from start to finish (plus a few more).
Porta Romana and Boboli Gardens
Robert Langdon started at the Porta Romana Art Institute, the largest and most well-preserved gate of the city, dating back to 1326. Just to the right are the Boboli Gardens, where Langdon and Sienna scaled the wall to flee their pursuers. The Boboli Gardens are one of the most beautiful gardens in the world with canopied wooded paths, large ponds, fountains, an amphitheater, and sculptures.
Located in the Gardens is the Grotta del Buontalenti, divided into 3 rooms with dagger-like stalactites and oozing features from the wall that make it look like the stone is melting. You can find Michelangelo’s sculptures found inside the grotto. In the days of Medici, a fish bowl sat on a hole at the top of each room to create the illusion of water on the walls. These days, however, the grotto is closed to the public, although Langdon did find his way in. Unfortunately, I decided to avoid climbing the wall to get into the gardens and I couldn’t find an atm machine anywhere to pay the fee to enter, so I couldn’t get into this part of the story.
Instead, I went around the gardens, through the city, and met back up with the professor at the Ponte Vecchio and the Vasari Corridor. Unfortunately again here we had to split up as the Vasari Corridor is closed to the public. The Vasari Corridor is a secret hallway providing a direct route from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti. But being the rebels that Langdon and Sienna are, they were able to admire the art lining the halls of the Vasari Corridor as they fled across the river unnoticed by the people below. The passageway is over a kilometer long.
Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria
With secret exits very common in the days of palaces, Langdon and Sienna are able to exit the Vasari Corridor in the Medici Palace from behind a panel in the Hall of Maps. They take a secret exit and enter outside to the Palazzo Vecchio. While I had a lot to see and only one day to see it, I opted out of the “Secret Passageways” tour and didn’t go into the Medici Palace, but got a great picture of the outside!
The Piazza della Signoria was the front yard of the Medici family. There is a David replica in the Palazzo Vecchio, one of the many replicas throughout the city. Also in the Palazzo is the loggia, three large arches under which is a large, open-air sculpture gallery. Under the Palazzo are labyrinthine corridors which are used today for celebrities, journalists, and other people who are able to use their power to avoid the congested tourist area of the Palazzo Vecchio.
After they escape the palace, they flee through the historic old streets where they come across Dante’s house and the church he used to visit and where his muse, Beatrice Portinari, is buried.
While Langdon and Sienna don’t visit the Badia Fiorentina, it is mentioned briefly in the beginning of the book. The mysterious “bad guy” starts the novel by throwing himself out the bell tower of the Badia. The Badia Fiorentina is a beautiful church and monastery off the beaten path for tourists since it isn’t mentioned in many guide books. In fact, many people don’t even realize what it is. The Badia was the first monastery in Florence, founded in 978. It is located just across from the casa di Dante. You can enter it from the Via Proconsolo or the Via Dante Alighieri.
Piazza del Duomo
Finally, we reached “paradise” along with our dynamic duo. As Michelangelo referred to them, the Gates of Paradise are the eastern gates to the Baptistery of San Giovanni created by Ghiberti, depicting scenes in bronze. Of course, these doors are replicas of the originals but still just as impressive to see. While Langdon slid in through the doors, I went in legally through the north facing doors to admire the beautiful octagon ceiling with golden mosaics inside.
The octagonal ceiling of the Baptistery represent the various levels of Hell and Paradise (similar to Dante’s Divine Comedy). The octagon shape represents Christ’s resurrection on the eighth day and starting to live forever. Until 1128, the baptistery served as a church, but in 1128 it officially became the Baptistery of Florence and hosted the baptism of Dante. In early days, a hole in the dome allowed sunlight to come in and hit the signs of the zodiac on the floor at the North Gate, on which is still written a palindrome, engraved with a blazing sun: “en giro torte sol ciclos et rotor igne”. The Baptistery is thought to be the oldest monument in Florence. It was first mentioned in a document in 897, but the date was built is still unknown.
From here, Langdon and Sienna head off to Venice (which we did before Florence) and a few other places before returning.
At the end of the book, Robert Langdon returns to Florence alone to visit the Duomo, or the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Il Duomo was designed in 1296, but the dome, designed by Bruneschelli, wasn’t added until 1436. It was the biggest in the world until the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
The Brunelleschi Hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Florence. This is the hotel Robert Langdon stayed overnight when he went to Florence.
For 10€, you can buy a pass that lets you climb the bell tower, the dome, enter the baptistery, and enter the crypts below the cathedral.
The crypts under the Cathedral hold the remains of the old basilica of Santa Reparata. The remains of the ancient church are still very well in tact, from the tombs to the floor.
Before heading to the Porta Romana, you can get a great view of Florence from Oltrarno (across the river) from the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo, which also hosts a David replica.
There are a lot of stairs to the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo, but it’s a nice walk under trees. There are also buses you can take to get to the top of the gently sloped hill. You can find vendors and restaurants at the top.
The Pitti Palace is the palace where the Grand Duchy of Tuscany lived, bought by the Medici family in 1549. In the late 18th century, Napoleon used it as a power base. The palace and its contents were donated to the Italian people in 1919. Today, it is the largest museum complex in Florence, and a popular hangout spot for local college kids.
The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone-closed arch bridge over the Arno River. Lots of shops line this big bridge, and it’s especially famous for its jewelers. The Vasari Corridor runs above the bridge.
Trattoria Bordino is a wonderful, off-the-beaten-path little spot that you wouldn’t even know was there if you weren’t looking for it. They don’t waste their money on advertising, so all of their business is via word of mouth. The have a wonderful lunch special; you choose the plate with bread and a drink for 8€ (or choose a steak, bread, and drink for 11€). It gets more expensive for dinner but for lunch, that’s an excellent deal in a big, touristy city!
There was another nice, local restaurant, but sadly I can’t remember the name of it. When I do, I will update this post! Unfortunately, most other restaurants we went to were super touristy or very expensive. Finding a good restaurant is like finding a hidden treasure!