by Claudia Niemann and Ivana Scatola
It is no coincidence that celebrities such as Sting and Madonna own an apartment in this neighborhood: Santo Spirito is in fact to Florence what Greenwich Village is to New York and Shoreditch is to London.
Less frequented by tourists than the center, the chic yet laid-back Santo Spirito neighborhood is a seemingly tranquil area, whose narrow side streets with their tiny vintage stores, boutiques, and low-priced taverns recall a bygone Florence. Locals can often be seen descending the stairs of their apartments early in the morning to open their shops either below or in the next street along, no doubt in the manner they have done for many years. At the same time Santo Spirito exudes multiculturalism. It’s where true, contemporary Florentine life unfolds.
The area’s charm is enriched by local industry, such as artisan workshops, art and jewelry schools, restaurants and corner bakeries, ancient churches and vibrant nightlife spots in its central piazza. Besides the little treasures found in basement shops or open studios, a successful culinary alliance in Santo Spirito between prestigious restaurants and familial trattorias means 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 an authentic neighborhood.
Given its alliance with creativity, Santo Spirito has encouraged a more alternative, bohemian scene in Florence. In addition to Piazza del Carmine, Piazza Santo Spirito is a densely concentrated social hotspot, especially in the evening. Here, students, musicians and street artists mix with the neighborhood’s inhabitants to create a vibrant atmosphere.
Piazza Santo Spirito host daily markets as well as an antique and flea market selling vintage items, typical handicrafts and regional food products on every second Sunday of the month. Although smaller than the markets in the city center, these offer low-priced specialties and individual items. Furthermore, during the summer, the square frequently transforms into a stage for various events and open-air concerts.
At all hours, people gather on the steps of the church of Santo Spirito, the backdrop to the animated piazza. Although at first sight the façade may seem unimposing, the church is a classic example of Renaissance architecture. The linear interior was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1435, who applied a new architectural vision to his work. It was completed after his death in the late fifteenth century, but it was not until later in 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.
Just a few minutes’ walk away from the piazza is Palazzo Pitti, originally designed for banker Luca Pitti, whose determination to surpass the Medici by flaunting his prosperity is discernable in this opulent construction. Later, the Medici bought the palace when Pitti’s heirs went bankrupt. In 1550 the powerful family chose the palace as their principal residence, and sovereigns of Florence resided there in subsequent centuries.
Today, inestimable treasures from the collection of the Medici are housed inside Palazzo Pitti’s walls. In 1549 the Boboli Gardens were designed to the Medici’s elaborate desires, and situated just behind the palace. This fine example of a Renaissance garden art has been open to the public since 1776.
Although the streetscape has changed over the years, as sandwich bars and souvenir shops have increasingly found their way into the neighborhood, Santo Spirito has maintained its authentic atmosphere. A great number of shops and restaurants have managed to exist for decades, playing a vital role in maintaining the genuine neighbourhood quality for which the district is widely admired.