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