ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Florence, Italy: The History of Homosexuality in the Renaissance City

Updated on July 17, 2016

Portrait of a Young Man by Botticelli

An exciting vampire novel brimming with sensual imagery and historical detail

Etruscan "Tomb of Bulls Fresco" (Homosexual Detail)


Roman Phallus Amulet


Donatello's David

A sexy alien, reincarnation, and 16th c Lisbon come together to create a unique, suspenseful tale.

Piccolo's Silver Phallus


"There is nothing new under the sun."

Historians can attest to the validity of that statement- particularly those who study human sexuality (a topic brimming with social moires and religious taboos). The attitudes towards homosexuality, for example, have fluctuated throughout history and cultures.

This article will focus on homosexuality in Florence, Italy- even though the documentation available is scarce and sometimes unreliable. Also, since this city has always been patriarchal in nature, only men will be discussed. Of course, this is not meant to imply that lesbianism and bisexuality were not as rampant.

The phallus has long been worshiped by ancient civilizations as a symbol of power and fertility. Long before the Romans founded Florence, Tuscany was inhabited by the Etruscans. While much of this intriguing culture is shrouded in mystery, the Etruscans did leave behind an array of sophisticated funerary artifacts thanks to their obsession with death. In addition, we have human figurines, whimsical creatures fashioned from ceramic, and erotic frescoes.

Theopompus (a Greek historian who lived in the 4th century BC) wrote the following in regard to the Etruscans "...the servants bring in sometimes courtesans, sometimes handsome boys, sometimes their own wives. When they have taken their pleasure of the women or the men, they make strapping young fellows lie with the latter...They (the Etruscans) certainly have commerce with women, but they always enjoy themselves much better with boys and young men. The latter are in this country quite beautiful to behold, for they live lives of ease and their bodies are hairless."- quoted from the book The Origins and Role of Same Sex Relations in Human Society (copyright 2009 by James Neill).

When the Romans conquered the area, they absorbed the Etruscan culture into their own. Roman men were already as sexually permissive as the Greeks. For example, it was not uncommon for them to marry and bear children with their wives, yet take pleasure in young boys. While men around the world still lead this kind of double life today, they aren't as blatantly open about it as their predecessors.

In time, Christianity permeated the pagan world and with it came the repression of human sexuality. The Christian bible was loaded with rules and regulations governing the body and family life. Sodomy became a forbidden practice, along with fornication, adultery, masturbation and lewd conduct. Sex was seen by clergymen as a necessary act for the sole purpose of procreation- not for the sake of pleasure.

The Catholic Church succeeded in creating a superficial veneer of "modesty" during the middle ages with its anti-sex mentality, but they could not prevent sex from happening behind closed doors- including sodomy.

The prevalence of homosexuality was so high in Florence that medieval Germans applied the words "sodomite" and "Florentine" (Florenzen) interchangeably. In fact, the German verb zuflorenzen means "to sodomize."

The Florentine, Dante Alighieri, wrote the Inferno in the 14th century and during his visit through Hell he speaks to two sodomites. They were both Florentine.

Apparently, Dante's dire warning failed to inspire fear in readers. Between the years 1432 and 1502 the Florentine magistrates (who called themselves the Office of the Night) "carried out the most extensive and systematic persecution of homosexual activity in any pre-modern city."- Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (copyright 1996 by Michael Rocke). According to Rocke, approxiamately 17,000 men were charged with sodomy during the 70 year existence of the Office of the Night. Keep in mind that Florence had roughly 40,000 inhabitants at the time.

Given the homoerotic art created in the fifteenth century, this should not surprise anyone. Botticelli's pretty boys and Donatello's David are perfect reflections of the Renaissance mentality towards young, beautiful men.

Since the Renaissance signaled the "rebirth" of classical humanistic teachings, and the ancient Romans naturally (and eagerly) embraced bisexuality and homosexuality, it is no surprise that high-profile people adopted these attitudes, too. For example, Michelangelo was supposedly gay and rumored to have had a close association with a good looking young man named Tommaso de Cavalieri. Also, Leonardo da Vinci was arrested for sodomy at the age of twenty-four.

What about today? Florence is a progressive city and its native inhabitants are open-minded and hospitable. Likewise, the international expat community is vibrant, embracing people of all backgrounds.

A Google search for "gay bar in Florence, Italy" results in Piccolo Cafe, a historic bar in the Santa Croce neighborhood. I had the pleasure of meeting the owner, Antonio, who founded Piccolo Cafe over two decades ago as a place where people can meet, talk, exchange ideas, etc. The cozy interior encourages intimacy, stimulating conversation, and laughter. Most importantly, there is no concept of "gay scene" in Florence since everyone is part of the community as a whole.

I decided to check out Piccolo Cafe with a friend and had a wonderful time. This is the type of bar that you can wander into alone and chat with everyone around you. I particularly enjoyed the mixed crowd- people of all ages, genders, nationalities (lots of Americans), and sexual orientations. Oh, and the music is fabulous.

Piccolo Cafe: Borgo Santa Croce, 23, 50122 Firenze (tel. +39 055 200 1057)
For more information, visit the Piccolo Cafe Facebook page: Click Here.

By the way, the bar boasts a glittering modern day phallus that (according to Antonio) everyone feels compelled to photograph. Myself included.

Thank you for reading!

C. De Melo
Author & Artist


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)