Tour guides the world over operate in strikingly similar ways: they develop, or are given, a list of topographically sequenced stops, each sight summarily described for its artistic or historical significance. Once hardened into a program, the sequence is endlessly repeated without the slightest variation to this rigidly established timing and progression. Florence, with monuments densely packed in its antique center, is the queen city of walking tours. On every day of every season, one can see platoons of attentive tourists following their leaders’ guidons (preferably old umbrellas) doing the canonical rounds: Piazza della Signoria, Orsanmichele, the Duomo, the Uffizi complex, the great conventual churches of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, and so on.

As familiar as the sight has become, it is difficult to imagine an enterprising Florentine tour operator devising an itinerary...


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