The enchantment of a journey lingers not just in the moments lived but also in the joy of discovering and acquiring unique items that resonate with the territory. These finds serve as cherished mementos of your travels or as thoughtful gifts for loved ones back home. In a city as historically and artistically rich as Florence, the challenge lies in choosing from the abundance!
Here are 5 authentic Florentine treasures for gifts that are as delightful to give as they are to receive.
For first timers in Florence, a stroll along the iconic Ponte Vecchio is a must. Established in 1565, the renowned Florentine jewelers on this bridge, with their distinctive overhanging showcases known as ‘madielle,’ continue to captivate visitors daily and add to the allure of this extraordinary location.
In a bid to enhance the Ponte Vecchio’s elegance, Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici in 1593 decreed that the bridge’s original shopkeepers (mainly butchers, cured meat vendors, and cobblers) relocate to make way for the jewelers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths.
His legacy endures, preserving the bridge’s esteemed trade ambiance.
Goldsmithing is deeply embedded in history, a culmination of a long artisanal heritage. Renowned figures trained in this craft include the likes of Simone Martini, Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Brunelleschi – central to one of art history’s most notable rivalries. Vasari credits other masters such as Luca della Robbia, Masolino da Panicale, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, and even himself. The legendary Benvenuto Cellini, with his prolific writings and masterworks, has bequeathed both theoretical knowledge and tangible examples of Mannerist mastery in goldsmithing.
For the inquisitive, a visit to the Tesoro dei Granduchi (once called the Museo degli Argenti) housed in the Palazzo Pitti is indispensable. This remarkable collection showcases decorative arts and jewels across various periods, including modern times.
However, if you’re on the hunt for that perfect piece of jewelry, the Ponte Vecchio is an essential stop. For those who prefer not to invest in valuables while traveling, rest assured, you can always find exquisite pieces online later, choosing from an array of beautifully crafted selections.
The renovation of the Ponte Vecchio shops by Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici was not only for commerce but also to address the foul odors of the time. Back then, butcheries and cured meat shops produced unpleasant byproducts, a far cry from Florence’s current renown as a perfume capital.
This legacy traces back to the Renaissance and the Medici family’s influence. When Caterina de’ Medici wed the Duke of Orléans, future king of France, in 1533, she took her trusted perfumer Renato Bianco with her. Renamed René le Florentin in France, he became a pioneering perfumer, his craft honed among the Dominican friars of Santa Maria Novella.
For fragrance enthusiasts, the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, the world’s oldest pharmacy established in 1221, is a treasure trove. Nestled at Via della Scala 16, it’s a place where time seems to pause, with original spaces and furnishings complementing an array of purchasable products from perfumes and solid soaps to linen scents.Florence’s fragrance legacy didn’t stop there; it has since nurtured new esteemed perfumeries like Aquaflor in the historic Corsini Antinori Serristori palace. Here, a signature scent inspired by the Giardino di Boboli captures the essence of the iconic Italian garden.
3. Leather Goods
Tuscan, especially Florentine, leather represents a deep-seated civic pride, showcased by the plethora of central shops offering locally crafted leather goods and apparel.
This medieval tradition thrives, bolstered by supportive institutions and trade groups. Between Florence and Pisa lies one of Europe’s largest leather tanning districts, boasting over 250 tanneries and a whopping 4.6 billion in exports as of 2022 (source: Il Sole 24 Ore). As a global frontrunner in luxury bags, the industry also produces quality shoe components, belts, and various accessories.
If you’re in search of something uniquely from Florence, the artisanal leather goods will not only impress but also provide immense satisfaction!
4. Artistic bookbinding and stationery
In Florence, the art of bookbinding, a craft where leather meets paper, is a tradition kept alive in the city’s historic workshops. As you explore, you’ll stumble upon places like Giulio Giannini e Figli, Parione (also a printing house), and Il Papiro, each a custodian of this creative and passionate trade. These shops offer a feast for the senses with their vibrant displays of paper decoration and bookbinding.
Dive into the world of marbled paper – a Florentine hallmark – featured on notebooks, boxes, and cases, each piece customizable and brimming with color and pattern.
Beyond the pages, discover a selection of finely crafted pencils, desk sets, cards, and quaint objects. Should you worry about transporting these treasures, online ordering is available, ensuring your finds travel safely to your doorstep. And for those with a penchant for the arts, a plethora of artistic stationery and high-quality prints await, catering to all tastes and budgets.
5. Ceramics and majolica
For a touch of Florentine artistry, ceramics and majolica, the famed glazed pottery, beckon. Embarking on the Ceramics Road takes you beyond Florence’s walls to the heart of Tuscan ceramic heritage. Starting from the charming village of Impruneta, journey through the Renaissance-rich regions, culminating in Montelupo, near Empoli.
Here, artisans mold ceramic into infinite forms: plates, vases, trays, centerpieces, sculptures, each inviting a slice of Florence into your home. Keep in mind the fragility of ceramic; ensure they are securely packed and your suitcase has room to accommodate their delicate nature to avoid any disappointments upon your return.For a glimpse into the historical grandeur of past masters, a visit to the Museo Nazionale del Bargello is imperative. This repository celebrates the Della Robbia family’s legacy of majolica, showcasing a dynasty’s dedication to the craft and innovation of glazed ceramics.
6. High craftsmanship
For those in search of meaningful gifts, consider the esteemed works of local artisans. Tuscany is renowned for its deep-rooted and flourishing tradition in arts and crafts, with Florence standing as the center of craftsmanship both in Italy and worldwide.
This heritage dates back to the Early Middle Ages and the establishment of the earliest artisan workshops. These workshops were not just centers of creation but also hubs for learning, professional development, and the perpetuation of both craftsmanship skills and moral principles.
Art enthusiasts who appreciate authentic reproductions may find the plaster casts from Romanelli’s studio particularly appealing. Established in 1829 by Lorenzo Bartolini and later handed down to his esteemed pupil Pasquale Romanelli, it stands as one of Europe’s most venerable sculpture workshops. Equally noteworthy are the bronze pieces from the Fonderia Artistica Marinelli, a bastion of Florentine artisanship with a legacy of master-to-apprentice tutelage stretching back to the 16th century.
If the intricate art of metal engraving fascinates you, Brandimarte offers stunning pieces, continuing a decorative tradition since 1955 that has long been reserved for crafting exquisite furnishings – a tradition once patronized by the Medici family.
And for those seeking extraordinary frames in Renaissance and Baroque styles, the artisanal mastery of Bartolozzi e Maioli, specialists in wood carving since 1938, is unparalleled.
Investing in these artisanal treasures not only grants you possession of a distinguished artifact but also contributes to sustaining the local community and economy. It preserves valuable craftsmanship and knowledge. By valuing these artisanal traditions, we encourage mindful and ethical consumerism.
Taking home a fragment of Florence’s soul is surprisingly simple. Choose from authentic, artful pieces that capture the city’s timeless fusion of art and history, a narrative woven between the past and the present.