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Travel Talk

Local hosts share their insights

Discover Florence through the eyes of a passionate historian

What can be better than walking through a city with a local historian and hearing all the secrets they have discovered throughout time? That is why GlobeTrott Travel provides an accessible way for independent travelers to hear local’s stories at their convenience. This time we are excited to introduce to you two new self-guided audio tours developed by Italo-Belgian historian David Napolitano in Florence, Italy.

His own story of becoming a historian is inspiring, as his passion for medieval Florence and the rich history of the city led to its cultural flourishing. We asked David to answer a few questions to us about himself, his love for Florence, and what things travelers “must do” while visiting this charming gem of Italy.

We hope this will be a great introduction to the audio tours about Medieval Florence.

So let’s start with a short story about your big career changes. First of all, you’ve been practicing law for quite some time before deciding to become a historian and an expert in Italian culture. Can you tell us more about what inspired you to dive into cultural/historical/medieval topics? What drove you to this decision?

It’s true that I have practiced law in Brussels for twelve years, first as corporate counsel of Belgium’s largest bank (KBC Bank) and later as an equity partner at Belgium’s largest independent law firm (Eubelius). Having arrived “nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” (ENG: “in the middle of the journey of our life”), I decided, however, to pursue my childhood dream and to get back in touch with my Italian roots. At the age of 35, I went back to university, starting all over again, taking a bachelor course on Italian culture – a trajectory that ended ten years later with a PhD thesis in medieval history and a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Cambridge University. In line with my apparently contrarian character, I decided not to focus on the three crown jewels of Italian literature (Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio) nor on the Italian Renaissance, but to explore the period leading up to this cultural flourishing. I wanted to understand who, and what had made it all possible. This search brought me in contact with Brunetto Latini, the supposed teacher of Dante, and his many writings set me on a – much larger and still ongoing - course to explore medieval thinking on city government.

Since you created an audio tour based on all of your research and knowledge, what do you like about being a guide for curious travelers? Is there something exciting about sharing the stories that you know?

First of all, I want to point out that I am not a professional guide. I am just a historian who loves to make history come alive. Having spent many years studying the writings of this particular figure, Brunetto Latini, I always found it stimulating – and also just plain fun - to wander through the streets of his hometown whenever I was visiting a Florentine archive or library. During these walks, often in the early morning or late evening, I was always on the lookout for any material remnant of this intriguing figure still to be found in present-day Florence. So, when you take the audio tour, you will actually follow in the footsteps of Brunetto Latini, taking a trip back in time, to medieval Florence, and you will encounter these different testimonies to a remarkable life, hidden throughout the city.

If you had to “sell” Florence as the next trip destination to someone, what would be the 3 main reasons why travelers should visit this city in your opinion?

I don’t need to sell Florence. Florence sells itself. Its Renaissance splendor attracts millions of tourists each year. I would urge people to continue to visit the city for that very reason. However, if you happen to be so lucky that you are able to return to Florence a second time, or even a third time, I would like to invite you to look behind its Renaissance façade and to search for its hidden medieval gems. In addition, I would tempt you to venture beyond the attractions of its city center and explore its often-overlooked hillside. I have created a second, separate audio tour to achieve exactly that goal.

Can you name the most exciting fact or story about Florence that you like the most?

There are to many exciting stories about Florence that it is impossible to pick the most exciting one. Listen to the audio tour and pick your own favorite. However, I would like to invite you to speak to the locals during your walk. They are usually more than willing to share their own story about their little corner of the world, often transmitted across generations.

Can you name one thing that locals do in Florence that would be “the must” for travelers interested in local experiences?

I would start by eating and drinking with the locals, sharing their local favorites. The Florentine calendar is also filled with recurring events – June is its golden month!

so plan your visit to coincide with any of them. However, if you are also interested in the strong and continued presence of a foreign community in Florence, make sure to visit its Victorian “English” cemetery, a remarkable demonstration of this lasting tradition, and, if you happen to bump into its energetic custodian, Julia Bolton Holloway, make sure to give her my warmest regards and to tell her that I hope to visit her – and Florence - again soon!

Now it’s the time to explore Florence and see what David meant by saying “Florence sells itself”. Download GlobeTrott Travel app and listen to “Discovering Medieval Florence” audio tours for FREE.


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