Photo by Scott MacLeod Liddle
What Greenwich Village is for New York and Soho is for London, Santo Spirito is for Florence. As part of the district of Oltrarno, this neighborhood is the most typical and genuine in the city center. Less frequented by tourists, Santo Spirito is a seemingly tranquil area whose narrow side roads still display the old picturesque Florence with its tiny vintage stores, numerous ateliers and low priced taverns. It is the home of genuine locals, who still go down their stairs to open their shop either below or in the next street and at the same time a venue of multiculturalism. Here is where true Florentine life unfolds.
Characterized by the presence of various handcraft workshops, art and jewelry schools, typical restaurants and corner bakeries, ancient churches and a vibrant nightlife, Santo Spirito instantly reveals its particular charm. Besides the little treasures that can be found in hidden basement shops or open studios, there is a successful culinary alliance of prestigious restaurants and familial trattorias, offering a wide range of Italian specialties. Beautiful gardens and cozy cafés offer the perfect surrounding to relax mind and body and to experience the pulse of a significantly authentic neighborhood.
As a spot of creativity, Santo Spirito has become the gathering place for the more alternative, bohemian scene of Florence. Besides Piazza del Carmine, Piazza Santo Spirito is the hotspot in which social life is mostly concentrated, especially in the evenings or at night. Here, students, musicians and street artists mix with the neighborhood’s inhabitants, creating a truly unique atmosphere.
Aside from the daily markets, the Piazza hosts an antique and flea market with vintage items, typical handicrafts and regional food products on every second Sunday of the month. Although smaller than the markets in the city center, it offers low priced specialties and individual items. Especially during summer the square becomes the stage for various events and open air concerts.
Day and night people gather on the steps of the Basilica di Santo Spirito, forming the backdrop of the lively Piazza. Although at first sight the façade may seem unimposing, the church is a great example of Renaissance art and architecture.
The linear interior was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1435 who had applied a new architectural vision to his work. It was completed after his death in the late fifteenth century, but it was not until the eighteenth century that the unfinished facade was added. The building houses important frescoes, paintings and sculptures by major artists such as Michelangelo, Orcagna and Sansovino.
A few minutes’ walk towards the Ponte Vecchio is Palazzo Pitti. Originally built for banker Luca Pitti, the dimension of the building demonstrates his determination to surpass the Medici by underlining his prosperity. However, it was indeed the Medici who bought the palace when Pitti’s heirs went bankrupt. In 1550 the powerful family had chosen the palace as their principal residence. Sovereigns of Florence have resided there ever since.
Today, immeasurable treasures from the collection of the Medici are stored inside the Palazzo’s walls, only exceeded by the art collection accommodated in the Uffizi Gallery. In 1549 the Boboli Garden was laid out according to the Medici’s preference. Since 1776, this fine example of Renaissance garden art is open to the public. Although the street scape has naturally changed over the years as sandwich bars and souvenir shops have increasingly found their way into the neighborhood, Santo Spirito has maintained its authentic picture. A great number of shops and restaurants have managed to exist for decades, playing a vital role in keeping the genuine congeniality for which the district is widely admired.