Strolling through Florence

The Definitive Walking Guide to the Renaissance City By Mario Erasmus and published by I.B Tauris is reviewed by Patricia Cleveland-Peck

This book describes ten walks in and around Florence. They range in length from .70 to 3.4 kms, so none is unduly long. Such is the wealth of detail contained in each section however, that should one investigate thoroughly even half of what is mentioned, a whole day could easily pass on a single tour. Mario Erasmo is Professor of Classics at the University of Georgia but he also has an impressive, almost encyclopaedic knowledge of this city’s architecture, arts and history.

By way of introduction, before he take us on the first walk, he offers us a potted history of the city which is useful for such things as untangling the Medici clan and sorting out which artists lived when. He also puts the period in context for us by for example, letting us know that Chaucer visited the city in 1372 and met both Petrach and Dante Alighieri.

Such little asides are welcome in what it is fair to say, is a very dense text – and happily there are others. This, however is a serious book, bursting with facts somewhat in the mode of Pevsner. With this book in your hand, or better still in the hand of a companion who can read it out to you, you need not fear that you will miss anything of importance.

Beginning with a short chapter on Florence in a Day which involves a short skip from the station through the major sites, something which would prove useful had one such limited time. The book then describes eight areas in the city and finishes with a bus trip out to Fiesole 8 kms to the north, a delightful hilltop town and the setting for Boccaccio’s Decameron. As an example of Erasmo’s microscopically detailed knowledge is the fact that when describing the magnificent Villa Medici he tells us that a view of this villa was was inserted by Gihirlandaio into his famous frescos in Santa Maria Novella which of course he describes in Tour 6.

One caveat: this book is not well served by its pictures. In a book of this kind glitzy images are not required but when maps are included they need to be clear. The greyish blurry maps just aren’t. Further there is nothing to be gained by including poor monotone reproductions of great and well-known works of a such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus or Ghirlandaio’s Adoration of the Mag, especially when the reader is presumably able to see the real thing. That being said, this book is a valuable tool for the serious aficionado of the city’s art and history and richly deserves its subtitle ‘The Definitive Walking guide to the Renaissance City.