Labours of Ercole

Yes, welcome to HF2! Four exciting new walks and four intriguing new characters are in the pipeline. We’re not even near the beta stage yet, but for the purposes of these posts that doesn’t matter. What we want to record here is the development process, and we thought a good place to start was with one of the characters we’ve been workshopping intensively in Florence over the last week or so – Ercole lo sbirro, Hercules the cop.

Like Giovanni the woolbeater (remember him?), Ercole is an ‘invented’ character. In this case invented by Daniel Jamison. Unlike Giovanni, who was from the 1490s, Ercole is based in the 1550s or 1560s, after the definitive end of the republic and under the government of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. Ercole has his own journey to make, around the theme of justice and policing, and what we’ve been doing in Florence is juggling character, place and historical context, all with an eye to creating the experience we want HF users to enjoy. This is something you really can only do on site – by walking, looking and listening, and at times also smelling and touching. This is what experiential research essentially means.

One of our projected sites brings this locative, and collaborative, process into focus. Ercole’s walk begins in the heart of the centro storico, in the Piazza della Signoria, and works its way outwards towards the old gate at Porta alla Croce (just outside the gate you would have found the city gallows). Along the way is the convent of the Murate. In Ercole’s time this was one of the city’s most prestigious convents, where aristocratic women religious were murate or ‘walled up’. In the 19th century, the convent and the nuns’ cells were converted into a prison, and now it is a mostly public space where you can relax and get something to eat and drink.

Our first question was: does Ercole talk to you as you face the entrance to the convent on via Ghibellina? He has things to tell you about policing the streets around convents. Sbirri such as him responded to the sisters’ complaints about prostitution, gambling or other ‘brutture’. The nuns may have been ‘walled up’, but sound travelled. Or does our cop take you right into the courtyard, where despite all the architectural changes you get a feel for what convent enclosure was like? But then another factor literally came into view. At the corner where Ercole turns into via Ghibellina, a few steps from the Murate entrance, there is a flood marker half way up the wall, dated 1547. The Arno has always been prone to flooding, and the sixteenth century saw three very severe inundations in Florence. The 1547 flood was one of them. Like any urban disaster, flooding created law and order issues. But we also recalled that one of the richest sources for sixteenth-century flooding was written by none other than an abbess of the Murate, who gives a devastating account of events at the convent itself.*


‘1547 Arno was here on 13 August’ Corner via Ghibellina/delle Casine

The point is that connections were made on site that otherwise may not have been made at all. So, is the 1547 flood marker too good to ignore? Do we have two stops on this walk very close to each other, or just one? The material is juicy, but how will Ercole join up the dots in a way that is stimulating for the HF user? As I said, it’s all under construction, and you may have to wait for HF2 to emerge to get the definitive version.

As for our other characters and walks, it might be best to be a little circumspect at this point. But we’re pretty sure one of your other guides to the mid-sixteenth century city will be a young artisan woman who, in a very different sense, is intent on keeping her head above water. And, from the other end of the social spectrum, we have reason to believe that a certain powerful and wealthy banker will be showing you his Florence in the 1450s. We’ll keep you posted.

David Rosenthal

* Sister Giustina Niccolini, The Chronicle of Le Murate, ed. and trans. Saundra Weddle (Toronto, 2011)

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