My characters, Gianetta and Matteo, live with and work for the wealthy Rosini family in Palazzo Rosini on the Via Porta Rossa, near the centre of Florence. Via Porta Rossa is a real street. It still has the same name as it did in the time of the Medici. It will come as no surprise that Palazzo Rosini is also a real place, although its name is actually Palazzo Davanzati. It was built in the 14 th Century by the Davizzi family, and was sold to the Davanzati family in 1578, exactly one hundred years after our story takes place.
I have often passed it and looked up at its strong walls. Indeed, we have often stayed in the family- run hotel next door to it. It was only when the seeds of my book were beginning to germinate that I started thinking about the setting, and the answer was obvious. It had to be Palazzo Davanzati, and it only took a little artistic licence to change it into the home for my characters.
It’s now a museum, preserved as a 15 th century Florentine home and perfect for me to wander through and soak up the atmosphere. I began to visualize my fictional family and their staff in these surroundings, who would live where, and where certain events would play out. Entry into the Palazzo (for a small fee) starts in an inner courtyard, and looking upwards, your eye follows staircases and balconies up four floors, where the living quarters are housed. As you look around the walls of this courtyard, you can see pipework, which acts as a water shaft, a rare luxury in a domestic dwelling at the time, however wealthy.
Having watched Upstairs, Downstairs as a child and Downton Abbey as an adult, it took me some time to adjust to the idea of the kitchen being on the top floor. When you think about it, though, it makes perfect sense. Florence gets very hot in the summer, and the family wouldn’t want cooking smells to drift into the main rooms, so with the kitchen at the top of the house, the aromas can just waft away on a gentle breeze! And of course, if a fire should break out, there is less likely to be any damage done to the rest of the house. However, it did make me think on numerous occasions… "now was Matteo running upstairs? Or downstairs?”
Now I’ve written many of the scenes that take place here, I will have to revisit it, to see if it feels right. Do I need to add or change any of the details? Would the events be able to happen as I’ve written them? Have I missed anything important? That means another trip to Florence. Oh dear…