As one of Italy’s fashion capitals, Florence boasts numerous shopping destinations. While it’s renowned as the birthplace of iconic brands like Ferragamo and Gucci, our favorites are not the chain stores or high-end designers in the city center. Instead, we adore the Oltrarno shopping scene, full of artisans and independent workshops located just across the Arno river from Florence’s bustling heart.
Florence’s artisanal crafts, which range from leather to ceramics, are as much a part of the city’s tradition as, say, Renaissance art. And even if you don’t have the room in your luggage for a single extra purchase, these artisans’ shops are worth checking out; the goods are so high-quality, you’ll feel like you’re in a (free!) museum or gallery. Not to mention you can often watch the artisan actually handcrafting the item, a fascinating process to observe even if you don’t purchase anything.
Exploring Oltrarno’s Shopping and Artisan Heritage
Oltrarno, Florence (meaning “beyond the Arno”) is a historic district situated on the southern bank of the Arno River, opposite the city’s historic center. Dating back to ancient times, it has a rich history, with traces of Etruscan and Roman settlements. During the Middle Ages, Oltrarno thrived as a working-class neighborhood with numerous artisan workshops. In the Renaissance, it became Florence’s artistic epicenter, home to renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, while the Medici family’s influence further enriched its cultural heritage. Today, Oltrarno remains a hub for traditional crafts, art galleries, and historic landmarks, preserving its centuries-old traditions and captivating visitors with its cultural and artistic history.
Read along for our modern-day Oltrarno shopping guide and to learn about some of the best local artisanal treasures.
Monaco Metropolitana doesn’t offer your typical purse-shopping experience. Instead, you’re invited to look around, get a feel for the craft of leather-making, and—if you want—help design an item the artisans make for you in the workshop. True leather-lovers even can study here, learning the techniques that have been passed down over the years. The class, which culminates in creating your very own leather purse or shoes. And since the workshop allows only two students per class, the near-private instruction means you’ll leave with a true understanding of the process.
Cose Preziose by Ugo Bellini
Forget the trinkets in the souvenir shops. Instead, meet jeweler and artisan Ugo Bellini to design your own one-of-a-kind pieces. Bellini uses traditional methods, but he keeps tabs on new jewelry trends to create modern, beautiful designs. Don’t miss a chance to stop by if you’re in Oltrarno shopping.
Perfecting the art of Florence’s pietre dure, or inlaid hard stones, the founder of Pitti Mosaici creates handcrafted mosaics in the Florentine tradition. Tables, panels and floors are opulent and intricate, using semi-precious stones. Make an appointment to visit their historic workshop, where you can watch the even most detailed mosaics come together as smoothly as a painting.
Oro e Colore
The Martelli family runs this shop, which restores both gilded and painted works of art. Though you’re not likely to need a gilded frame restored, you can watch—and learn—the craft first-hand. The Martelli, whose works are featured in the Museo Civico di Siena, Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi Gallery, also offer personalized courses for beginners or professionals interested in studying the art of restoration.
Exploring the Oltrarno shopping scene means having an abundance of options to unearth truly distinctive finds. Enjoy!
This post was updated on September 5, 2023.
by Gina MussioView more by Gina ›
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