The tale of the wooden puppet Pinocchio created by a carpenter in Florence may arguably be the most widely known children's tale.
Now new research reveals that the story, written by Carlo Collodi 130 years ago on July 7, 1881, has deep roots in reality.
According to Alessandro Vegni, a computer expert, who has been comparing the tale with historic maps, the story of Pinocchio is set in the Tuscan village of San Miniato Basso, which lies midway between Pisa and Florence. The village's original name was actually "Pinocchio," according to the research.
The tale of Geppetto and his pine wood puppet, serialized in an Italian juvenile magazine under the title La Storia di un Burattino (The Story of a Marionette) in 1881, was turned into a book two years later called, "The Adventures of Pinocchio."
Believed to be the second-most-translated book after the Bible, the novel has inspired hundreds of new editions, stage plays, merchandising and movies, such as Walt Disney's iconic animated version.
But new details about the story's Florentine town setting reveal fascinating new details about the iconic work.
"The present name (of the village of San Miniato Basso) was given in 1924." Vegni said. "We know from historical records that the village was originally called 'Pinocchio,' probably after the stream that runs nearby."
Collodi certainly knew the village. His father, a well-known chef, lived nearby for several years. In 1825, one year before Carlo's birth, his father moved from the Pinocchio area to Florence to work for Marquis Lorenzo Ginori Lisci.
Vegni believes that Collodi not only visited San Miniato, but also met several people there and most likely used real people to inspire his characters.
"When Geppetto names his puppet, he says that he knew a whole family of Pinocchi: Pinocchio the father, Pinocchia the mother, and Pinocchi the children."
"The inhabitants of San Miniato were called Pinocchi or Pinocchini," Vegni wrote.
Starting in San Miniato, Vegni's research showed several analogies with Collodi's tale.
There is the "Casa Il Grillo" (Cricket House), a rural building whose name might refer to the Talking Cricket and the village of Osteria Bianca (White Inn) where the pub still stands. Vegni believes it inspired the Red Shrimp Inn.
The "Fonte delle Fate" ("Source of the Fairies") whose unusual name might have inspired the Field of Miracles where Pinocchio planted his gold coins so they would reproduce into several thousand gold coins is also on the map.
Intriguingly, the Fox and the Cat encountered by Pinocchio appear to have links with two features appearing on maps: the Rio delle Volpi (Stream of Foxes) and two houses called "Rigatti" (the name evokes "gatti," cats).
Not far away, the village of La Lisca (Fishbone), which oddly boasts the bone of a prehistoric cetacean on the façade of a house, might have inspired the plot of Pinocchio being swallowed by the Dogfish.
Certainly, real-life place names played a role when the author of Pinocchio chose his pen name.
Born Carlo Lorenzini, the writer went by the name Carlo Collodi after his beloved mother's home town Collodi, near Pistoia in Tuscany.
But not everyone buys into Vegni's claim.
According to Gianni Greco of the Associazione Pinocchio, Pinocchio was set between Florence and Castello, in a little town nearby.
"The research is interesting, but I do not believe that Lorenzini was inspired by San Miniato and its surroundings," Greco, who owns a large collection of Pinocchio's rare editions, including the first one, told Discovery News.
"He spent his summers in Castello at his brother's villa and there he penned the book. At Castello he met Giovanna Ragionieri, a blond little girl with blue eyes, who is said to have inspired the character of the Blue Haired Fairy," Greco said.