By Elena Tarasova, BA 2013-17
It is difficult not to notice furry four legged man’s best friend in almost every place in Florence. Dogs in Florence take to the city with confidence and with an air of nonchalance. In restaurants, museums, coffee shops, retail stores it is difficult to not find a dog with his owner. Other places in Europe and the United States generally do not let these furry companions roam leash-less, let alone enter some of the most amazing churches and museums in the world. So why are dogs allowed everywhere?
In 2008, the Florentine government passed a bill allowing dogs and their owners access to restaurants, art galleries, post offices, museums and stores. The only place where one cannot take dear Fido in Florence is The Teatro del Maggio Musicale, the Florence Opera House. While restaurants and retail stores do reserve the right to decline the entrance of a dog, that authority is generally not exercised. Dogs are not required to be on leashes either and are free to roam solo along the cobblestone streets of Florence.
The heart-warming union between man and his best friend in Florence take roots in the city’s rich history. Dogs have always played an integral role in Florentine society, amassing the reputation of a loyal and true companion for life. A common iconography used in Italian art is a dog- either awake or sleeping- representing the status of loyalty of the parties portrayed in the painting. For Lorenzo the Magnificent, his hunting dogs were a status symbol as well as loyal companions who often received princely treatment and were in attendance during important meetings and dinners. A future relative of Lorenzo, Grand Duke Francesco I is remembered as having a great affinity for nature. His dogs were more aligned with the common house pet of today and acted as a comfort for Francesco. Similarly, women leaving their homes for arranged marriages were generally allowed to take a small companion dog for comfort and as a reminder of home.
The history of the dog in Italy begins during the Roman Empire. Known for their calculated and straightforward lifestyle, the Romans saw animals as a commodity and yet another living being to conquer. The Roman mentality was fascinated with the ‘wild and exotic’ animals, acting as a metaphor for the human spirit and also the strength of the Empire. The dog though, created a special niche for itself in the harsh Roman Empire- that of a friend. Even though dog fighting was a sport and the sacrifice of canines was practiced, certain breeds, such as the Mastiff, became guard dogs assimilating themselves into the family unit. There are accounts of the bond between general and his guard dog, a friend and protector. In other parts of the world the dog had yet to become a companion, such as the Egyptian empire who opted for the cat as a companion animal.
The idea of a friend and a protector continued through the Renaissance to the present time. It is not difficult to understand why dogs today hold such a special role for the Florentine people; the dog has been a loyal companion and symbol of loyalty and strength for centuries. Just as Lorenzo the Magnificent did, allowing his furry friends to romp around important dinners and events so do the Florentine people of today. Dogs have created their own individual identity in Florence so why should they not be allowed in the post office or restaurant? They are an invaluable component to the Florentine History.
Photo by Allison Boyd