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A Guide to Italian Folklore in Florence

As you walk along the streets of Florence, keep an eye out for certain clues that can transport you into a world of Florence's fables, icons, and legends.

Walking along the Mugnone River…

The Mugnone River in Florence, Italy surrounded by lush green trees and plants. A narrow dirt walking path for locals and travelers is on the left side of the Mugnone.
Photo credit: Eric Millman

The Mugnone River is popular amongst those in search of quiet, and it also happens to be the site of one of the more playful tales from Giovanni Boccaccio’s legendary Decameron. Long story short, a man named Calandrino was pranked by his friends into thinking that he had found the heliotrope, or bloodstone, the key to invisibility, amongst the river rocks of the Mugnone. It’s a story about hubris, avarice, and getting what you deserve.

Gazing up at the cursed window of Palazzo Grifoni Budini Gattai…

Exterior view of the Palazzo Grifoni Budini Gattai, which has a beige and peach color on its facade
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Here lies a ghost story and myth dating back to the 16th century. A young woman bid farewell to her lover as he went off to war, and sat there every day for the remainder of her life, waiting for the man’s return. He never did. Upon her death, when a servant tried to close the window, art flew off the walls, furniture toppled, and chaos reigned until the window was reopened (and it remains this way today).

Looking closely at the Column of San Zanobi…

Close up of the column of San Zanobi in Florence, Italy. The column has a symbol of a tree on it, representing its connection to Florentine legends and myths. A blue sky with clouds and a building are in the background.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s said a miracle occurred here involving the city’s first patron saint, Saint Zenobius or San Zanobi, who was known for curing the most permanent afflictions. When the first Bishop of Florence perished around 417 AD, locals carried his coffin across town and someone accidentally bumped it into a dead elm that was located here. According to legend, the tree blossomed on contact and everyone rejoiced. Now, the city pays its respects to San Zanobi every January 26th by placing flowers at the base of the column.

Searching for the petrified head of Santa Maria Maggiore…

Close up view of the petrified head of Santa Maria Maggiore embedded in a stone wall, relating to a Florentine myth from the Middle Ages
Photo credit: Eric Millman

The Petrified Head of Santa Maria Maggiore involves a Florentine legend dating back to the Middle Ages. During the Great Inquisition, Cecco d’Ascoli, a poet, professor at the University of Bologna, and astrologer, was accused of heresy and was being led toward Piazza Santa Croce to be executed. He stopped in front of this church, begging onlookers for a simple glass of water. A woman in the window above reminded the crowd that this man was an alchemist, and a simple glass of water could allow such a person to commune with the devil! His plan foiled, Cecco d’Ascoli cast a spell on the merciless woman, turning her head into stone.

If you're interested in discovering more myths and legends as you walk around Florence, check out Gesso’s audio walking tour, Blood, Magic and Misfits.


Explore more walks in Florence with Gesso, a next-gen audio guide app for travelers - browse audio tours!

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