In our previous post we discovered the popular sights and sounds as we sauntered through the city. This time we would work around the margins of the centre of Florence to see what else we could find.
The Mercato Sant’Ambrogio is known as Florence’s second market. Second after the Mercato Centrale and its tourist market. This one is more local and since 1873 has offered fresh fruit and food to the Florentine masses. The inside stalls contain some of the best Macellerie (butchers) you can find.
It is located, or should we say hidden away, in Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, the main building itself built by Giuseppe Mengoni (who built the Mercato Centrale and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery in Milan to name just a few of his projects). There are more stalls outside the building than in it – a miscalculation of future demand at the time.
Nearby was a large synagogue, the Firenze Ebraica Sinagoga. Inaugurated in 1882 you would be forgiven for not assuming its identity on first glance as its Moorish exterior would have you believe. Pink limestone and white travertine om the façade an up top a triple cupola arrangement in gilded copper – the best designs of Arabia and Byzantium combine to make one impressive looking building. It is a deliberate choice to pay homage to the Sefardic Jewish tradition in Berber Moorish Spain.
Commissioned by the Tuscan Jewish community to celebrate their emancipation 21 years earlier in 1861, it took the bequeathing of a large Jewish estate, that of David Levi, to become a reality.
It was almost destroyed by local fascist militia and German soliders during the retreat from Florence in 1945 but they were thwarted by the last ditch intervention of Italian partisans.
We took via Giuseppe Verdi and carried on back towards the Arno River, taking the time to stop at the Piazza Santa Croce and it’s Basilica of Sante Croce. It is the principal Franciscan church of Florence and its crypts are the last resting place of many famous Italians – Michaelangelo, Machiavelli, Enrico Fermi, Galileo to name just a few. This has given rise to an alternate name of Tempio dell’Itale Glore – The Temple of Italian Glories.
On the southern end is the frescoed façade of the Palazzo dell’Antella, the result of the merging of a number of homes over the centuries and the addition of a floor or two.
The square itself plays host in June each year to a modern exhibition of the ancient Calcio Fiorentino – a brutal precursor to football. The entire piazza is covered in sand and teams from the 4 quarters of the city compete against one another.
Netflix have a cracking docuseries called Home Game with one of the episodes all about the Calcio. Viewer discretion is advised.
All this sightseeing called for some lunch. Back towards the Duomo and across the road from the Anthropology Museum (Museo di Anthropology e Ethnologia) on Via del Proconsolo is a small doorway and window. If you walk at a brisk pace you walk right past it. Tourists like us have no place being here without a tip-off. Uncle Kevin had spent some time in Italy and recommended it as the best restaurant so we just had to try it out.
The front saloon is like something out of Cinema Paradiso, every inch dripping in old world charm as you walk further into the narrow restaurant, its confines make it all feel a little subterranean. But it’s the pack of fellow customers, not an empty seat in the house at lunchtime, that makes it come to life. As we ate our tasty pasta and drunk red wine (quando a Firenze) a casual glance around shows a convent of nuns on the next table, and older Italian couple sharing some antipasto at another. All walks of life doing il pranzo.
Ladies and gentlemen – I give you Trattoria Le Mossacce.
Continuing onto the river we crossed the Arno via the Ponte alle Grazie, a bridge that was originally older than it’s neighbour the Ponte Vecchio before the German Army demolished it in 1944 during the retreat north of the Wehrmacht giving us its modern look today. The district om the other side is called the Oltorno District.
Ever since Roman Times – Florence has always been a walled city with 6 iterations built around the city – not always expanding out either but tied to the fortunes of the beautiful city and its population sizes. The sixth and final wall was made of stone with gates that were 35 metres tall and decorated with religious frescoes. Built in the 13th Century they were upgraded a number of times in the proceeding centuries – most notably in 1530 and the threat of invasion from the German Emperor Charles V – this led to increased fortification at the Gate of San Miniato, a gate we needed to pass through on our way to the Piazza Michaelangelo. This gate and surrounding it has the best preserved examples of those city gates.
Through the gates and up a cobblestone hill brings us to Piazzale Michelangelo and its breath-taking views back across the Arno to the rooftops of the old city. Built by Giuseppe Poggi during the Risanamento (‘make healthy again’) re-organisation of the left bank of the city it is dedicated to the famous artist – with a copy of his David Statue occupying a central plinth. Tourists, artists and soon to be newly weds jostle up here for space to get those all important photos.
The less direct path down takes you through the Rose and Iris Gardens that were built a few years later.
No Strings on me.
It was not all Piazza’s and pizza – there was some serious shopping to do as well in Florence The strings were cut and the girls were off to get some bargains. The Mercato Centrale had all the usual tourist fare – including some pushy vendors but the real magic is the in the hundreds of bespoke craft shops, cobblers, tailors and everything in between that are sprinkled around the city.
An increasing number of these stores were all dedicated to a particular fictional character. One of the first books you read as a child in Tuscany is a great tale of adventure, identity and the importance of telling the truth.
Pinnochio was written by Florentine journalist and writer Carlo Lorenzini (aka Carlo Collodi) and was first published in 1883 – over 150 years before Disney brought the character to life on the silver screen. Carlo was born on via Taddea, a stone’s throw from the Mercato Centrale and buried near the Piazza Michelangelo – in the Porte Sante Cemetary.
And that was Florence.