THE BEST BOOKS SET IN FLORENCE
I’m a massive history nerd and love historical fiction, particularly anything set in the medieval/renaissance. Even though this is a niche that is rife with ‘bodice rippers’ and doesn’t too often get taken seriously by the ‘literary crowd’ (with a few notable exceptions), I find it a fun way to learn about a certain place and time when I’m travelling. They also breathe life into historical figures, so that when you visit ‘Cosimo Medici’s personal chapel’, for example, it means just that little bit more, because you have an emotional attachment to the ‘character’ of Cosimo.
What follows is a short list of novels I’ve loved that bring Florence in the renaissance (its ultimate hey-day) to life, and I would recommend you read before you visit.
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
This is actually one of my all time favourite novels. Set at a time when the renaissance in Florence is at its peak, before falling under the power of the fanatical monk, Savonarola, this novel transports you vividly to a time when everywhere you went you could smell the plaster on the walls in readiness for the frescoes, and see how this new wave of art was transforming every element of society.
Oil and Marble by Stephanie Storey
I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. It's incredibly well researched and offers a fascinating insight to the simultaneous creation of Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' and Michelangelo's 'David'. That two greats were in the same city at the same time is rich story fodder.
Painting Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis
Jeanne Kalogridis is probably better known for writing your typical historical bodice rippers, but this novel is just so easy and enjoyable to read. It's about the life of the woman who supposedly inspired Leonardo's masterpiece, and while there are some precarious truths to the story, most of it is just a rocking good read.
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
Though it's not his most famous book, this is my favourite Rushdie masterpiece. Set in both Florence and the Mughal Empire, this book teeters between being fantastical and historical. When a 'stranger' arrives at the Mughal Court claiming to be the son of a lost princess. Through stories within stories we learn of this princess's life in Florence and beyond.
Inferno by Dan Brown
I wasn't sure whether to include this one or not. It's not historical fiction, but it does have historical references thrown in (however fictional they may be...). Jamal loved it, I hated it, but the movie was great fun, so I'm throwing it in here because if you fancy an easy read to get you in the mood for exploring Florence, this will do the trick.