Florence may be a top tourist destinations for visitors from all over the world, but it has its fair share of creepy secrets. Street names in particular can be pretty telling of a city’s history, so why, then, is Florence home to so many creepy street names? Close to via Parione, there’s via del Purgatorio, or Purgatory, which is found just across from via dell’Inferno, or Hell. And nearby: piazza del Limbo. What’s their story? Did Dante influence these street names, or was it he who was inspired to use them in his famous books?
The answers are out there, however: surprisingly, the street names have nothing to do with Dante nor with religion! All the streets around these via Parione are named after restaurants that were there in the Middle Ages, and these names were actually chosen by restaurants to tempt customers with succulent foods and poisonous wines. This was seemingly part of a medieval Florentine tradition to give the wickedest names - like Beppe Suicidio or il Troia (The Whore) - to the best restaurants as a way to imply the sinfully good quality of the food.
Modern-day via del Purgatorio is far from anything its name might suggest: indeed, this very short street is nothing like Purgatory, where souls go to pay for their sins before admission to heaven, often for thousands of years. Interestingly, the street is also covered in no-exit signs (quite ironic, we’d say). The street was historically larger, before it was closed in by Palazzo Minerbetti on one end. Being a back alley where people hang their laundry and dotted with restaurant kitchens, it’s a little gritty and not very well-maintained, so this is a good place to get a sense of “old Florence”.
Modern via dell'Inferno, while a paradise for restaurants, is hell for cars. The street starts out narrow and only gets narrower as it progresses, leading to an arch that’s unpassable for cars. So if you need to get to via della Vigna Nuova, which the road merges into, we suggest leaving your car in the aptly-named parking garage halfway down the street.
If you're looking for a more haunted part of Florence, cross via Tornabuoni and head over to piazza del Limbo, where you can find the 10th-century Romanesque Church of SS. Apostoli. This little piazza is barely more than an opening, set off the main street by a few steps that block traffic from entering. On one side of the church, now partially covered by the building, was a cemetery used for burying unbaptized souls, primarily children. Can you feel their ghostly touch brush against your skin?
When he encountered Limbo, Dante asks Virgil about the souls he sees there, and learning that they died before being baptised, he declares that "Gran duol mi prese al cor" - "I felt a deep pain in my heart". Indeed, Florence is a place teeming with ghostly history, but not all ghosts have to be scary.