In the Hall of Five Hundred at the Palazzo Vecchio, the city hall of Florence, tourists are craning their necks and staring upward. They’re trying to spot the words “cerca trova” ”” “seek and you shall find” ”” on a Vasari mural that figures in the plot of “Inferno,” the latest bestseller by Dan Brown. (Hint: You need binoculars.) In his latest book, Brown has art historian Robert Langdon racing across Florence in pursuit of a bad guy who’s obsessed with Dante Alighieri, the author of the original “Inferno.”
The hall is magnificent, but I’m in Florence on a different mission: to seek out what’s left of Dante’s medieval world. Would the great poet recognize anything in this city so dominated by Renaissance art and architecture if he were to return? The last time he walked these streets, after all, was 700 years ago.