The focus of many Florence tours and tourists visiting Florence will, understandably, concentrate on the city’s major and most globally renowned central landmarks – Piazza della Repubblica, the Uffizi Gallery, Piazza della Signoria and Piazza Duomo. |
Simply by crossing the Ponte Vecchio bridge however (or any other bridge over the River Arno for that matter), one can discover an entirely new, lesser known yet richly authentic side of Florence in the form of Oltrarno.
Artisans Beyond the Arno
Literally meaning ‘beyond the Arno’, Oltrarno has a charm about it unique to the rest of Florence, as well as a series of magnificent sites and experiences that will make you wonder why you hadn’t thought to cross the Arno sooner.
One of the best of these is witnessing the many Florentine artisans ply their trade around Santo Spirito. While the artisanal quarters of other parts of Florence may have been taken over somewhat by more generic tourist vendors, those in Oltrarno are very much still the real deal and if you are taking part in one of the available Florence tours be sure to look out for a workbench at the back of a store for the mark of a true artisan.
Even if you’re not in the market to purchase, simply watching these men and women at work is an enriching experience in itself – look out for the handmade jewellery at Ugo Bellini, the bookbinding and marbled paper from La Carta di Omero, mosaics from Filippini e Paoletti and bespoke ladies’ shoes from Mara Broccardi.
Art & Architecture beyond the Arno
There are some real architectural treasures south of the Arno that are just as impressive, if not more so, than their northern neighbours. The Santo Spirito church, designed by Brunelleschi, dates back to 1481 and is a magnificent testament to pre-Renaissance architecture. Also not to be missed is the Brancacci chapel. Located in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, its frescoes were completed over a period of sixty years between the 1420’s and 1480’s, providing a unique glimpse into the evolution of Renaissance art.
Round off your visit with a trip to the Palazzo Pitti. Originally owned by Luca Pitti, a Florentine banker, the palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and later also became the residence of the King of Italy. The palace is home to a number of museums and galleries, and includes the Palatine Gallery’s collection of more than 500 paintings encompassing works from Titian, Perugino, Raphael, Correggio and Rubens.
Right behind the Pitti Palace are the eleven acre Boboli Gardens, one of Florence’s largest green spaces. To get there from Santo Spirito’ (if you’re not already at the Pitti Palace), follow the route along Sant’ Agostino street and Via Mazzetta. When you arrive, make sure you give yourself ample time to appreciate the magnificent collection of sculptures which range from ancient Roman to Mannerist.
Aperitivo Beyond the Arno
You will not regret including Oltrarno in your Florence tours. By the time you’ve crossed the river, chatted to some artisans and taken in some frescoes however you will no doubt be in the mood for a well-earned refreshment. Check-in to Zoe’s bar which sits just south of the river and enjoy an early evening cocktail on their outdoor patio.
Rose Magers is an Australian-born Italophile and the founder of ArtViva. With an international reputation for excellence and creativity, ArtViva are at the forefront of escorted day tours in Italy. Rose has indulged her own passion for history and the arts by designing an innovative range of exceptional small group Florence tours and experiences, from guided visits to view the masterpieces of the great art galleries to unforgettable Italian cookery and art classes.
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