Mapping life in Florence during the most vibrant
part of the Italian Renaissance

Recognized by many as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence was at the heart of some of the most important changes to art, politics, and literature of the early modern period. The city was home to many influential artists, architects, and writers who were supported by wealthy, internationally-connected patrons. Together, these individuals turned a relatively small Italian city into one of the most important international cultural and political centres, with an impact that extends to the present day.


The wealth of Florentine history

In addition to being one of the most innovative and influential cities in Europe, Florence is also among the most thoroughly studied cities as well.


Historians know a great deal about its painters, sculptors, and architects. We know how a textile economy based on turning raw wool into highly finished cloth became an engine that enriched the merchants and bankers who commissioned this artwork.


We know that the city of Florence was as metropolitan as it was politically unstable. Closely recorded political debates, diaries, letters, and contemporary histories chronicle a narrative of unrest as the same powerful merchants and bankers fought for control over the city. Florence was a hub for Italian and international connections. Traders, diplomats, soldiers, and scholars brought Florentine goods, artworks, and ideas to other parts of Europe, around the Mediterranean, and around the globe.


The data is in the details

Known for their obsessive record keeping, Florentines themselves provided much of what historians have learned about their city. Local archives are full of account books that document the lives of citizens with incredible thoroughness and precision. Historians can access the work of a poor weaver, the investments of a powerful family, the comings and goings at a hospital, or the activities of guilds and governments. Kilometres of shelving hold copies of the contracts that notaries drew up for business deals, painting commissions, property transfers, marriages, or wills.


Florentines also kept meticulous personal diaries. They noted details of their lives in what they called “books of the family” or “secret books”, and passed these accounts down through generations. This wealth of original records in Florence’s overflowing archives is one reason why so many historians come to the city to conduct research into the life, art, and politics of the 16th and 17th centuries.


From archive to database, introducing the DECIMA revolution

These extensive records were the starting point for DECIMA: the Data-Enhanced Census-Integrated Map App. We recognize that the history of a city and the lives of its citizens shape the urban space as much as they are contained within it. For this reason, combining census records with a highly accurate, geo-referenced map just made sense.


DECIMA is an essential new historical GIS resource that allows historians to track developments in settlement and mobility over a period of intense economic and social development in Florentine history.


The DECIMA mapping tool presents an expansive aerial view of the city that can be easily navigated like other online mapping tools. It allows users to select individual households and access a wide range of data on household size and composition, occupation, and value. Design queries to track and compare population, occupations, property values, and household composition across the city. Visualize social patterns and build an understanding of Florentine spatial networks in ways that were never before possible.



This project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Archivio di Stato di Firenze

Archivio di Stato di Livorno

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