Although I have thankfully never encountered a ghost during my late-night/early-morning wanderings, in a country as old as Italy they are bound to be there, lurking in shadowed vicoli (alleys), peering down from finestre (windows), nascosto in piena vista (hiding in plain sight).
Such is the case for these popular spots for visitors to Florence…perhaps you’ve “haunted” some of these locations yourself?
Piazza Santissima Annunziata
Not far from the Galleria housing Michelangelo’s David is Piazza Santissima Annunziata (Most Holy Annunciation). Situated in this square are the basilica which shares the piazza’s name — which hosted Leonardo da Vinci briefly in 1500 — and Florence’s Foundling hospital (L’Ospedale degli Innocenti), which was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (of Duomo fame) in the 13th century. The hospital was originally an orphanage, but over the years also became a place where children, unable to be cared for by their parents, were abandoned.
Near the Ospedale is Palazzo Grifoni and its eternally open window, said to be home to another type of abandonment.
“The last window on the right hand side of Palazzo Grifoni, on the last (top) floor is always open. Why? The story tells of a newlywed couple from the 1500s who were tragically separated by war. She waited for his return by this very window, but he never came home. She continued to wait by the window never giving up hope until the day she died. Upon her death, the family carried her body out and closed the window, only to find themselves haunted by a frenzy of noise, light and disruptions. From that day forward, the window remains open, just in case he comes home.” (source: Visit Florence)
Heading west from Piazza Santissima Annunziata, between the Medici stomping grounds of the San Lorenzo district and the Santa Maria Novella area is the elegant Pensione Burchianti. Reported to have played host to Mussolini, it also appears to house a few un-earthly figures as well.
“With multiple sources claiming to see a pink, translucent figure in the Fresco Room, there are also sightings of a girl giggling in the halls, a maid that travels from room to room and an elderly woman sitting in a chair knitting. Others feel the sensation of being watched, their bed compressing as if someone is sitting on it and the feeling of icy cold breath in their face.” (source: Huffington Post)
Santa Maria Maggiore
Walking just a few minutes from the Burchianti towards the Duomo is Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Florence’s oldest churches, dating to the eighth century. Scanning the unassuming stone walls upward on the north side of the building, you will see this:
And here’s how the story goes:
“Although Florentines have spun many theories about the stone head, the most common attributes its existence to a cursed monk. As the legend goes, a man accused of sorcery was being dragged to Piazza Santa Croce to meet his death by being burned alive. As he passed by Santa Maria Maggiore a monk leaned his head out a small window and shouted to the crowd below not to give the man a drink as it would prevent him from dying (something the monk must have learned in Sorcery 101 class). Unfortunately, the monk must have slept through the part of class which addressed never insulting a sorcerer. When he said these words, the angry heretic cast a spell on the monk which turned him to stone and trapped his head on the side of the church for eternity.” (source: Florence for Free)
Piazza della Signoria
Undoubtedly, if you have made your way to Florence, you’ve found yourself in Piazza della Signoria, with the Loggia dei Lanzi‘s “sculpture garden” and Palazzo Vecchio, seat of Renaissance Florence’s government.
Perhaps you’ve even seen this as you wandered through the square, possibly on your way to the Uffizi or Ponte Vecchio.
This marks the exact spot where the divisive Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned (after he was excommunicated by the Pope) on May 23, 1498.
Want ghost stories outside of Florence? Read 24 Haunted Places that will give you Shivers by Italian Breaks (if you dare). And please share with us if you’ve ever encountered anything spooky in your Italian travels.
This post originally ran on Prayers and Piazzas October 2017