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Art and crafts in Oltrarno
The route in Oltrarno begins after Ponte Vecchio. Once this district was one of the most popular in the town and today a lot of trendy places and interesting craft workshops are in it. Oltrarno, with its strong and particular identity different from the most aristocratic Florence part, but even more tourist, represents the most lively and authentic version of medieval Florence till today. The Florentine artisans, who have hade their workshop here from a long time, are trying to avoid the transformation of their workrooms into fashionable coffee bar or design boutique. Art, crafts and popular nature live together harmoniously in a splendid scene made by greenness spaces, magnificent monuments, porticos and convents. Walking along the tight and dark but fascinating streets of this district you can still meet with carpenters, old-world object restorers, jewellers and frame makers. This route “doc” begins from Ponte Vecchio that lead to Borgo S. Iacopo on the left with its superelevation represented by the famous Corridoio Vasariano. Torre dei Rossi Cerchi lies opposite the bridge: this tower, at first of the thirteenth-century, has a niche at its base with Giambologna’s Bacco.
In the first stretch, at the corner with Via dè Ramaglianti, the two houses-towers of the two hundreds face each other: the Belfedrelli and the Barbadori ones. Further on, the two hundreds Torre Marsili lies on the left: its portal is decorated with an Annunciation of Robbia’s school (the original is in the atrium of the same building). Below the tower there is the Obsequium cellar: in its tasting room you can sample the best Italian wines. Going on, you can see the beautiful portico with three arches of the Romanesque church of San Iacopo sopr’Arno on the opposite side.
Some columns date back to the XII-XIII centuries, instead the bell tower was built in 1660. Further on, La Casa del ‘900 with a large range of glasses and jewels on Art Nouveau style lies at number 45 and Giovanni Maletti’s workshop at number 55. He is a special goldsmith who exposes a large range of necklaces and bracelets designed by himself. At number 66 you can find San Iacopo Show atelier, where beautiful manikins (all collector’s pieces) and other objects fit also for interior design are made.
After Piazza dè Frescobaldi you enter Via di Santo Spirito. Here the artisan workshops become thicker and take a simpler tone.
From Castorina it is possible to find frames of different forms, style and size at reasonable prices. Going on, after the crossing with Via dei Serragli, you enter into the typical Borgo San Frediano which is, including Piazza del Carmine, the area where you can discover new trendy places. This contrast between old and new is visible looking at the antique shop Paralume. In it there are a lot of lamps on different and conflicting style with the new punky boutique Cristina which sells hats and coloured bags made in Philippines and Mauritius.
At number 135 Casa di Bambole takes us back to the old-world crafts tradition with laces and vintage lingerie.
Turning into Via del Leone, Claudio Arezio’s studio, a lute-maker master, and Filadelfo Scaparro’s wrought iron workshop remind us that Oltrarno still remains the Fiorentine artisan shelter.
At this point you will face two possibilities: to continue walking along these lanes and marvelling at its life (the same after the years) or stop for a moment to admire the baroque Chiesa del Carmine in the homonymous square. This church keeps the splendid Cappella Brancacci frescos on the right transept tip. The cycle with the Old and New Testaments histories was started by Masolino and Masaccio in 1424 and finished by Filippino Lippi in 1480. Still going on, at the end of Via Sant’Agostino, you arrive at the splendid Piazza di Santo Spirito, with a big fountain basin in its centre. The typical local street market takes place here; in it the flea market, biological food and fresh vegetable stalls alternate. A sequence of charming and relaxing places, typical taverns, which offer genuine and economic dishes, and fashionable coffee bars such as Cabiria or the Caffè Ricchi round the square.
The Chiesa di Santo Spirito façade, with the simple but elegant outline, shines on a side of the square. In its inside you can admire the splendid architecture considered among the works of Brunelleschi. From Piazza di Santo Spirito you can quickly reach Via Maggio, called Via Maggiore in the past because it was the main road through which the Florentine nobility moved to reach the town heart. Rich in antique shops, often inside magnificent buildings near by it, this street is surrounded by narrow lanes where a lot of restoration laboratories are placed. Bartolozzi and Maioli’s atelier lies on the corner with Via dei Vellutini, full of wooden statues, furniture and huge mirrors. Going on to the end of this route towards Piazza dè Frescobaldi and going past Ponte Santa Trinita you will enter one of the most famous areas for the label shopping. Even if this is known as the most tourist area nevertheless it is all the same rich in charm for the elegance and a good taste of its shop-windows which share the beauty and the majesty of the historical buildings all around it.