Curious stories of Florence

The book contains all this, and more: the one hundred and ten photos inside, rigorously taken from points accessible to all, show the obligatory stages, in short, the great classics of a visit to Florence, but also some "pearls", more secluded and far from the common tourist routes; the texts then "photograph" a lesser known and more curious Florence, digging deeply to enrich the image of an open-air museum that is commonly found in this city. So we tried to propose a truly lively Florence, no longer the usual romantic but two-dimensional postcard, and to reconstruct its everyday atmosphere: because the eye obviously wants its part when walking through the rooms of the Uffizi Gallery, but listening to the voices that populate the markets, breathing the smell of grilled meat on the streets of the center, and tasting the flavors of Florentine gastronomy can be equally surprising experiences. This book welcomes fragments of Florentine history and life, curiosities, anecdotes, idioms and traditions, tells the impressions of those who have lived here or only passed through the centuries, and try to really do justice to the wonder of Florence and its many souls: the brilliant one who at every corner gives some artistic treasure, the one a little folded in on itself that takes pleasure in its past glory, the welcoming one of the most popular corners and the narcissistic but also self-deprecating one.

(From Firenze, The ultimate guide with untold stories and secrets of Florence)


PINTING IN STONE

Opificio delle Pietre Dure,Via Alfani, 78
Scarpelli Mosaici, Via Ricasoli, 59 R

There is a world waiting to be discovered inside the Opificio delle pietre dure (the workshop of semi-precious stones). It was commissioned by Ferdinando I in 1588 to produce small gemstone ornaments and decorations. This is the birthplace of the commessi fiorentini, a style of mosaic in which beautiful pieces of stone are combined to create patterns. The Opificio continued to function under the Dukes of Habsburg-Lorraine until, in the late 19th century, it became an Italian excellence in the maintenance and restoration of all types of artworks. In 1978 this led to the opening of an important five-year school of restoration. Paintings, tapestries, manuscripts, ceramics and goldsmith’s work are sent from around the world to its premises in the Fortezza da Basso and Palazzo Vecchio, to be dealt with by the skilled hands of the restorers. The institute’s earliest history can be retraced in the museum on Via Alfani (its former premises, which today house the restoration school and the library). On display are ancient artifacts and techniques.

Poised between the artist’s inspiration and the meticulous precision of the craftsman, Renzo Scarpelli and his family, supreme master mosaicists in Florence, work in Via Ricasoli, where their workshop is open to the public. The fascinating archive of stones is the result of whole days spent searching for the ones where nature offers just the right shade of color. Patiently collected, all the stones are cut by wire, a centuries-old technique, to a thickness of two or three millimeters. As if each were a single brushstroke, the pieces are composed and held in place with a cement made from beeswax and resin. The mosaics then need a last touch of the file before they join the other pieces of Scarpelli’s art, practiced for many decades, unique in the great tradition of Florentine handicrafts.


FLORENCE'S OTHER BALL GAME

Calcio Storico Fiorentino, Piazza Santa Croce

Florentines are all familiar with the game of calcio played on February 17, 1530, organized by the Florentine Republic in response to the siege of Charles V. Ever since 1930 (after almost two centuries of silence), in June Piazza Santa Croce has been regularly turned into an arena and again hosts the traditional tournament of calcio (“calcio in costume”). Wearing 16th-century trousers and boots, the calcianti or players on the four teams, each representing one quarter of the city, compete in a 50-minute match to score as many cacce as possible. The points are scored when the ball hits the opponent’s net. The clash between bodies is almost epic, hard but fair, amid sand, mud and blood (it is widely considered the world’s most violent “sport”). At stake is the supremacy of one quarter of the city over the others and the traditional prize: a white calf of the Chianina breed, which takes part in the parade on 24 June (the day of the final). However it goes, at the end of the game the teams are reconciled and everyone celebrates Florence.


AN UNEXPECTED OASIS

Piazza della Passera

Charming Piazza della Passera well worth visiting at least once, to sit on its benches and dine in one of its trattorias, off the classic tourist routes, but just a stone’s throw from Palazzo Pitti. This small triangular space, created by the intersection of three narrow lanes in the labyrinth of Oltrarno (Via dello Sprone, Via Toscanella and Via dei Vellutini), is one of the most lively and authentic corners of the city. Especially in summer evenings, it is abuzz with live music and cultural events. Its name, which has always been in popular use and was only made official in 2005 (replacing Piazza Sapiti), is a classic example of Florentine irony: the area in the 16th century was known for being lined with brothels (one of them seems to have been frequented by Cosimo I de’ Medici). It was commonly called passera, a word that in Florence refers to the female genitals.


BEEF IN FLORENCE

Bistecca alla fiorentina

“Less than four fingers thick and it’s carpaccio.” With touch of irony (but underlying seriousness) the Florentines have drawn up a set of strict rules for how to cook and eat this legendary dish, which fills the streets of the center with its fragrance. The bistecca fiorentina, no longer necessarily from the Chianina breed but also French limousine cattle, is thick and eaten rare, just as it is without any seasoning and without any gaps. It is grilled over the embers for five minutes per side, and spends five more “on its feet,” i.e. on the T-bone that divides it in two; the meat will be red inside, warm but not really cooked. And that’s the way it is served, with a pinch of coarse salt. After being cooked and deboned, a steak for three will weigh about 1.6 kg of pure self-indulgence. The beef closest to the bone is sweet: pick it clean of every last tasty morsel of meat. Nobody will be scandalized.

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