Why is it all so confusing??

Let’s say you’ve been in Florence for a while and you can find all the major sights without a problem.

Let’s say you are now living in Florence and begin to make the connections that one makes when living someplace new.

Let’s say, for example, that you have an appointment in a professional office at 10 a.m. tomorrow and you Google Maps the address and feel confident you know where you’re going.


And, let’s say you get to the right street, which can be a Via, a Borgo, a Viale, a Strada, or even a Viccolo.  Or, it could be that designation known as a “Lungarno.” And there’s even something called a “sdrucciolo” (a slip) such as in sdrucciolo dei Pitti, for example.

OK, let’s recap: you know the address you want and you are on the right street. You hope.

Will you be at your appointment on time?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  It will all depend.


Let’s approach this problem slowly. Piano, piano, as Italians say to me constantly.

Addresses all over Italy are usually pretty straightforward. Street numbers on one street are arranged from the lowest to the highest, normally with even and uneven numbers on opposite sides of the road.

Florence, however, is one of the two only towns in Italy (the other is Genoa) with a distinction between red numbers and black numbers for addresses. Red numbers usually indicate a business, whereas black numbers in theory designate a private residence or a hotel.

Supposedly, you can discern immediately if you have arrived at a shop, office or business or a home, just by the color of the street number.  It should be red or black.

Ha ha!

Sometimes the street numbers are red and black, but they can also be green or blue or some color that cannot be deciphered.  Trust me, I’ve seen that!

So, since I presume I am not the only person confused by this changing color system,  somebody smart tried to make finding addresses easier by adding the suffix R, for red, after the red address numbers. Sometimes this designation will be given to you as “24 rosso” or “24/r” so you must be on your toes!

So, sometimes, but not always, the street address will give you a further clue.

In addition to having a possible clue, you need to understand that each set of address numbers, red or black (you still with me?) follows its own system, so it is not uncommon for two numbers, such as 6 and 6r, to be located several metres away from each other in the same street.  That’s if you’re lucky!

Remember also that Google Maps, and many other GPS devices, don’t acknowledge the difference between red and black numbers. So, if you are counting on the map you sent to yourself on your smart phone, and if you have internet service at the moment you’d like to be consulting that map, you still might not be at the right address!

Or, as I read in a book recently, I swear to god: “It could thus be hard to find an address just by strictly following directions.”

You fool, you!  You thought you could find an address just by following directions!  Ha ha!

If you, like I, find yourself asking “where did this insane system originate?” the simple answer is it was devised by the local authorities in the early 20th century to help unfortunate people who were not born and bred in Florence find their way around the city. The city council hoped to simplify the previous and much more complicated system.  OMG, can you imagine what that would have been?!

To master the material I have just introduced to you, I suggest you read this succinct appraisal of the system from this nice source: http://yourcontactinflorence.com/how-to-find-an-address-in-florence-italy/

  1. It gets complicated. In Florence Italy we have different numbers for residential buildings and commercial activities. So in each street we have two series of numbers: red numbers are assigned to shops, blue numbers are for houses.
  2. On one side of the street we have even numbers, while on the other side we have uneven numbers (in squares, numbers are consecutive). Numbers start from the side of the street which is closer to the river Arno, if the street is parallel to the river, numbers go from East to West, like the river.
  3. To identify red numbers, just look at the color, often hard to see because of dust and color vanishing, especially in the old streets of the city center. If you read an address that refers to a red number, you could find it written like “42 rosso” but also “42/R”.
  4. Blue numbers: sometimes, to add some complexity, all the doors in a building have the same number with a different letter: 42a, 42b, 42c etc. Also, not all the numbers are actually blue, some are black or even in different colors.

Oh, and one last good thing to know:  Nowadays this dual color numbering system is only present in the Florence’s historic center and in nearby areas, whereas newer neighborhoods have adopted the standard Italian system with only one set of numbers.

Oh, and p.s.: I still can’t find a certain yoga studio I’m looking for.  I’ve followed directions to the location, but haven’t spotted the studio yet. Soon, I hope. :-)  I did find my doctor’s office recently, after 3 tries, so I am making good progress!

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