Oltrarno Quarter Travel Guide
The Oltrarno is a quarter in Florence and located south of the River Arno. The name means beyond the Arno. It contains many notable sites that part of its rich historical culture and are considered popular tourist attractions to this day.
After the settlement of Florence in the first century B.C., the first settlements on the southern bank of the Arno began in the 4th century A.D. The Middle Ages saw the area flourish and grow, especially in the 13th century when many noble families build palaces and towers that still persist until today. Several bridges were built as well in order to ensure good communication between the two banks of the river. Several neighborhoods were also built during this period, with a city wall added in the 14th century to protect it from invaders.
The Medici family took the Pitti Palace as their personal residence in 1550. This boosted the quarter’s importance and reputation as a result. Artisan earned their trade at this time as the Medici and many other families commissioned them to decorate their palaces with precious works of art – everything from paintings, sculptures and even elaborate mosaics.
Florence was damaged by incidents of fightings and floods by the mid-1900s. In 1944, the Germans destroyed all the bridges except the Old Bridge. It was subsequently rebuilt and restored, following the old medieval colors and scheme.
The inhabitants of Oltrarno are mostly workers and craftsmen, many of which still live in the area and ply their trade. Professions ranging from sculptors to metalworkers and gold-gilders can be found in the little maze of streets found here. Many of the workshops here still retain the old Renaissance look and give the area an old-fashioned and rustic atmosphere.
What to See
Santa Maria del Carmine and Santa Felicita Churches
The Santa Maria del Carmine can be found in the Piazza del Carmine. It is known for the Cappella Brancacci, Masaccio and Masolino’s early Renaissance frescos. The Santa Felicita in Piazza di Santa Felicita is one of Florence’s oldest churches and contains paintings by Jacopo Pontormo.
The Pitti Palace is the largest museum complex in Florence. It contains prime examples of fine Renaissance works of art housed in several museums and galleries. The different museums here include: the Palatine Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, Silver Museum, Porcelain Museum, Costume Gallery and Carriages Museum.
Also known as the Old Bridge, it is a closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge that spans the Arno River. It has several shops such as jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers lining it. It has two bridges nearby – the Ponte Santa Trinita and the Ponte alle Grazie.
Forte del Belvedere
Forte del Belvedere is the second fortress to be built in Florence and the largest ever made. It is located in the hills south of the Arno River, on the highest hill of the Boboli Gardens. It was made primarily to protect the Pitti Palace and the Medici family when it was constructed in 16th century. Outside of its military function, it was also the place where Galileo Galilei conducted astronomical observations after he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1633.
Here is a short list of just some of the more interesting artisans that ply their trade along the streets of the Oltrarno quarter:
Address: Ramaglianti 6/r, 50125
Those interested in learning the fine craft of leatherwork can learn from the artisans here at Monaco Metropolitana. Students can learn some of the leather crafting techniques that have been passed down over the years. The class can only accommodate two students at a time however, with the final lesson culminating in the creation of your own shoes or purses.
Address: Via Velluti 10r
Giannini’s skill with paper has created some very beautiful products. Aside from his bookbinding services, the marbled paper that he produces is of remarkable quality. It incorporates the Florentine tradition of using beautiful colors with flecks of gold or silver to create a unique brand of paper. He also speaks English for visitors who want to inquire about the paper making process.
Address: Sdrucciolo de’ Pitti 5/r, 50125
Pitti Mosaici is well-known for its work on pietre dure or inlaid hard stones. They are able to create intricate mosaic inlays on tables, panels and floors using semi-precious stones. Visitors are even able to schedule appointments to see the actual process firsthand.
Oro e Colore
Address: Toscanella 18/r, 50125
Business: Artwork restoration
Owned and operated by the Martelli family, they specialize in restoration work for both gilded and painted works of art. Their work can be seen in the Museo Civico di Siena, Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi Gallery. They also offer personalized courses that teach their trade for beginners or professionals.
Address: Piazza Santo Sprito, No. 12
Giuliano Ricci creates beautiful Florentine-style metalwork, everything from jewelry to even card holders. They are usually dipped in silver and hand enameled to give it that refined look. His works are sold in high end shops like Dior, Neiman Marcus and the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella.
Tips and Advice
- The best place to visit the area is in the morning (around 9:00 am to 12:30 pm) or in the afternoon (around 3:00 pm until 7:30 pm). Artisans have regular working hours, usually from Mondays to Fridays, so try to keep this in mind when visiting.
- There are other nearby interesting sights that you can easily visit when planning your tourist route. The Pitti Palace is just a short walk away and has several museums, which houses some amazing works of art that you can enjoy. Other good places to visit include: the Old Bridge, Santo Spirito Square and the Boboli Gardens – just to name a few.
- If you’re not familiar with the way Florence’s address system, you might get a little confused with how to get around the area. Street numbers are usually color coded and can have completely different natures despite having the same number. Numbers that are in red and have the letter “r” at the end means that it’s a place of business. Those that are in blue or black usually signify a residence. Try to determine the color code of the address when looking for a particular place in Oltrarno.