Much of Florence is built using the warm Tuscan limestone that glows in the evening and early morning light. The geological richness of Tuscany also supplies stone in many other colors to highlight architectural details.
Florence – Fact Check

The cornerstones of Florentine identity

Photo by Ruben Drenth

Florence – Fact Check The cornerstones of Florentine identity

Little is as indelibly Florentine as the piètra forte – literally, “strong stone” – that dominates Florence’s Renaissance-era city center.

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton Travel Writer

A dark, deep, limestone with a golden-brown hue, piètra forte – which comes from quarries all over Tuscany, including just beyond the city’s Boboli Gardens – forms the base of some of Florence’s most iconic buildings, among them the Medici, Strozzi, and Pitti Palaces, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Ponte Trinità.

To build a palace of this heavy stone was no mean feat; one legend has it that, over the 18-odd months it took to build the Strozzi Palace, carts crossed the Arno River from quarry to building site over 1,000 times.

But for many Florentines, the piètra forte is a cultural, as well as an aesthetic, signaler of what it means to be truly Florentine. “Rome is bright, colorful, it shines,” says my friend Zani, an amateur sculptor and a software engineer, “but Florence is dark like the stone.” In other words, what Florence lacks in Rome’s effervescent chaos, it makes up for in quiet, even solemn, elegance.

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Tourism may be a mainstay of Florence’s economy but it also has a thriving industrial sector based on its history of craftsmanship. Italy’s fashion industry relies on the city for the production of goods such as leather, including shoes, as well as jewelry, embroidery, textiles, ceramics and metalwork.

Peek over the walls and you'll see the real Florence

“Rome is a whore,” says Giambaccio, a ploud Florence native. It has just gone midnight, and we have wandered through the moonstruck streets around Florence’s Piazza San Spirito for hours before winding up here: in a haphazardly cluttered art studio Giambaccio has modeled on a ship’s deck. “She opens her legs for everybody. But Florence...” He mimes chastity – the shutting of two knees – with his fingers. “We are a walled city. We are closed.”