The artisans' quarter
Dimly lit workshops, dusty studios and narrow alleyways lie in the shadow of the Palazzo Pitti, an other-world Florence that tourists rarely see. For centuries here in Oltrarno, tiny artisan businesses have been turning out first-class articles – from woven textiles to shoes of the finest leather.
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"Once upon a time, every door opened onto a craftsman’s workshop here," says Stefano Bemer. "If you needed a tool or some advice, you had only to go a few buildings further down."
Mr. Bemer has a cobbler’s shop in Oltrarno. The streets south of the Arno have always been the home of craftsmen, at least since the 12th century, when Florence’s population mushroomed and the city’s ancient Roman buildings no longer offered sufficient living space.
Oltrarno, comprising San Frediano, Santo Spirito, and San Niccolò, became a small town in its own right, an area where newly rich merchants found the space to build gaudy palaces while artisans could go about their ordinary trade.
After all, Florence’s well to-do citizens needed furniture, stucco, silverware, fabrics and frescoes. A close network of small family businesses arose that could produce anything that was needed in cultivated Renaissance life and later centuries – from porcelain and fabrics to a complete church altar.
When Stefano Bemer speaks of the past, however, he means a much more recent one. After all, the bespoke shoemaker only came to San Frediano in 1988, and unlike most of the people here, who carried on the trade practiced by their father and grandfather before them, he stepped in from outside and has succeeded in achieving remarkable renown...
Shoes, paper and beautiful squares
Only the very best: Stefano Bemer’s shoes fit perfectly thanks to the individual lasts he makes for his customers
To Enrico Giannini, covering books, pencils and cases with leather and marbled paper is a true labor of love
The bars, cafés and small fruit and vegetable market every morning make Piazza Santo Spirito the very heart of Oltrarno
Elaborate handiwork: printing plates and tools
Giuliano Ricchi is a master of intricate patterns. His work includes the production of printing plates for paper and fabrics
Dolce far niente: The fountain on Piazza Santo Spirito at the center of Oltrarno is a popular meeting place in the evening
Aldo Sopò Santini:
Aldo Sopò Santini builds and repairs string instruments at his picturesque studio.
Via dei Velluti 16/r, Tel. +39-055/29 53 07 www.aldo-sopo-santini.com
Antico Setificio Fiorentino:
The weavery shop sells gorgeous, exceptional silk fabrics by the meter, as well as cushions, scarves and ties.
Via L. Bartolini 4, Tel. +39-055/21 38 61, www.anticosetificiofiorentino.com
Since the waiting list is long, you have to arrange buying your shoes here well in advance. Only for men, unfortunately!
Shop & Showroom: Via di Camaldoli 10/r, Tel. +39-055/22 24 62, www.stefanobemer.it
Cecchi Carlo di Ricchi Giuliano:
Appointments by telephone only. Silver items include jewelry, boxes, bowls, salvers and even furnishings. Production of customers’ own designs possible upon request.
Piazza Santo Spirito 12, Tel. +39-055/21 49 42
Handmade and hand-painted paper, as well as objects made of paper. Telephone appointment recommended.
Via dei Velluti 29, Tel. +39-055/239 96 57
Gianni Raffaelli produces prints and original etchings in limited edition using a 500-year-old technique.
Via Santo Spirito 5/r, Tel. +39-055/ 21 32 55, www.stampeippogrifo.com
Fotos: Sabine Bungert