Strolling through the cobblestone streets of Florence, tourists snap photographs in front of iconic symbols of the city’s Medieval and Renaissance past while using maps, guides, and modern technology to navigate through its wonders. It is easy to imagine that tourists have always been drawn to Florence to see the same attractions for the same reasons, but in truth, tourism in the city has a history of its own, one that saw significant and important changes between the 18th and 19th centuries.
As keys to the city, guidebooks not only highlighted what visitors wanted to see but also how the city and its inhabitants desired to be presented to them. Guides were a way of showing foreign visitors what Florence had to offer and how to access it. As Florence continued to grow and evolve, so too did its guidebooks, playing an important role in welcoming a new era of travel that has evolved into tourism as we know it today.
“Without further discussion, let us now devote our attention to the record of Florence that has passed away, – a resurrection of old memories and impressions, a fantastic journey through a by-gone world, a kind of dream that will re-create for us what once possessed such ineffable charm, but which has now been swept away in the avalanche of the past” – Guido Carocci, By-Gone Florence, 1899
Early Travel to Florence
Early travel to Florence was taken for reasons of a spiritual nature rather than for education or pleasure. Pilgrims came from all over Europe to pay homage in Italy – the heart and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. These pilgrims, needing guidance on the best routes and holy sites, read pilgrim accounts of those who had travelled before them. Florence, with its large number of churches, convents, and relics, was featured in many pilgrim accounts of Italy as an important destination on the journey south to Rome.
These written pilgrim guides evolved in the late 16th century into practical guidebooks for travellers – giving specific advice not only on desirable religious destinations but also on practical everyday needs. The first true guidebook of Florence was published in 1591 by Francesco Bocchi, but it would be almost 150 years before tourism in Florence truly started to flourish.