02 Dic Becky’s Oltrarno Experience
The Oltrarno is often overlooked by tourists even though it contains such history and elegance in its iconic buildings and piazzas. However, these are not the reasons why it’s my favorite area of Florence. I remember the first day I walked into the Oltrarno after spending my first few weeks exploring the center of Florence, the areas surrounding the Duomo, Basilica di Santa Croce, and Piazza delle Repubblica. I remember it because it was such a magical experience, like taking a breath of fresh air.
Florence was still new to me, but I was quickly becoming familiar with the rhythm of Italian life in a beautiful, ancient city. I was also already beginning to understand why people who live in Florence avoid the Duomo during the day, why the city has limited the use of cars in many areas, and what restaurants to avoid because they cater to tourists and tend to lose their flavor and originality.
It was immediate. When I walked across the Ponte Vecchio, packed full of tourists, vendors, and locals walking from home to work, and stepped into the Oltrarno. I sensed something different. The air held feelings of space and lightness. It felt openly malleable. Many of the streets were narrow, but there was a feeling of freedom and endless space to create, to be, and to wonder. I walked away from the main street that leads to Piazza Pitti and was enveloped in this sense of freedom. The people thinned out and different entrances and invitations opened up before me as I wandered the small, winding streets.
I found small shops with artisans selling their goods. People were using their hands. Absolutely mesmerized, I realized I felt so inspired and at ease in the Oltrarno because it is full of real people who uninhibitedly create. This fills the area and its people with creativity, openness, and authenticity.
In the Oltrarno, you can find jewelers, ceramicists, painters, illustrators, clothes makers, leather smiths, woodworkers, and more. It is the home of many art and jewelry schools. Students from all over Italy and the world come to the Le Arti Orafe Jewelry School and Academy and Accademia d’Arte in the Oltrarno. You can walk through the streets and see students and artisans sewing, molding metal, and working with leather in the windows. Via Romana and any adjoining streets hold many of the artisan and vintage shops. One of my favorites is Giulia Materia which features handmade clothes, bags, jewelry, notebooks, and trinkets all handmade in Italy.
The Oltrarno truly captures the feeling of “Made in Italy” and inspires the idea of supporting and sustaining your local community. You don’t have to be an artisan to fit in here, but you do have to appreciate handmade goods and community. These goods not only have a story, they are well made with high quality materials, probably by a neighbor or a friend of a friend. The Oltrarno is a genuine place with space for people to support each other and create.