Sex and the Sacred

Regulating Bodies and Boundaries in Renaissance Florence

Sex work was an active and regulated part of the Florentine urban economy. Ducal laws required sex workers to register their trade and pay a license fee, decreed where they could live and practice, and also allowed for a central brothel near the Mercato Vecchio. Like all laws, however, these were only as good as their enforcement and the city’s sex workers, known as meretrici, flouted them; some paid an extra fee to have their names kept off the official lists. This map shows the documented residences of Florentine meretrici in 1561 mapped against the streets where their trade was permitted. Notice the concentrations of sex workers around the central brothel area, as well as in the city’s eastern quarter.

Red lines indicate streets where sex work was permitted. Red circles indicate the number of sex workers living in a given residence. As the maps makes clear, sex workers tended to live together, whether by necessity or shared interests; they also lived nearby the permitted zones, though often far enough away that wealthier clients might maintain discretion in off-the-books visits.

The research for this map is drawn from the chapter “Locating the Sex Trade in the Early Modern City” in Mapping Space Sense and Movement. See the book for a more fulsome analysis of these spatial trends.

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

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