Florence Experience the best of the cradle of the Renaissance – without the crowds
PROUDLY fanning their tail feathers, peacocks parade around the rims of ceramic plates for sale in Florentine shop Sbigoli Terrecotte. Along with plump pomegranate kernels and emerald green hills dotted with cypress trees, the scene is one of many traditional Tuscan designs revived and replicated by Antonella Cini and her daughter.
Dating back to 1859, the small store tucked between medieval towers on Via Sant’Egidio is one of the few surviving examples of the artisanal entrepreneurship that helped Florence blossom into one of Italy’s most prosperous and forward-thinking cities. Hidden away at the back, a small workshop stacked with paint palettes and kiln-baked earthenware is proof of the labour and love invested in each piece – a refreshing alternative to the mass-produced products crowding so many high streets today.
“It’s getting much harder to find terracotta masters,” admits Chiara, who helps run the shop with her parents and sister. “As generations change, the knowledge is dying.”
A cluster of terracotta rooftops dominated by Brunelleschi’s magnificent cathedral dome, Florence is known as the cradle of the Renaissance. In the Middle Ages, Dante Alighieri created a blueprint for the modern Italian language with his epic narrative poem Divine Comedy, and in the mid-15th century Lorenzo Ghiberti sparked the Renaissance movement with his innovative, three-dimensional designs for the bronze Baptistery doors.
Florence itself could easily be classed as a museum piece. But beyond its gilt-framed masterpieces and glorious stucco facades there’s a living, breathing community still pulsing with energetic activity. If you want to appreciate the past while having some present-day fun, try these essential Florentine activities.
EAT TRIPE AT CIBREO
Celebrity chef Fabio Picchi has built a gastronomic empire in a busy corner of Sant’Ambrogio, not far from one of the city’s biggest fresh food markets, San Lorenzo. In 1979, he opened Il Cibreo, a fine-dining brasserie decorated with velvet seats and mirror-backed bars, and has since expanded with the more economical Cafe Cibreo opposite, a noodle bar, a fast-food ravioli outlet and a mobile lampredotto (tripe) trailer. His food is quintessentially Tuscan – liver pates, chicken meatballs and oil-soaked peppers – and the atmosphere is lively day and night.