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.
Florence – Been There

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

Photo by Jurjen Drenth

Florence – Been There 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.”

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton Travel Writer

For the thousands of tourists that descend on Florence every year, the Renaissance capital of Tuscany seems anything but closed. From the 18th century onwards, Florence has been the high point of the Grand Tour: less city than cultural playground for the writers, artists, and idle scions of landed gentries past. Visitors would come to Florence to consume – art, food, wine – to export antiquities and anecdotes alike. They would engage with locals little, if at all.

In recent years, the financial crisis and the crash of the euro have made Florence an even more appealing prospect for the 8,000 or so American students who come to study here every year. Local lore has it that Florence has the highest concentration of Americans outside America.

They attend local English-language universities; drinking Peroni beer in the streets around Piazza dei Pitti and spending their money in places most locals can’t afford. City papers such as the Corriere Fiorentino regularly publish exasperated screeds against the study-abroad students who sing, slur and shout each morning before dawn. And along the smoothly geometric alleyways of Florence’s dandelion-gold centro storico, they are by far the city’s most visible presence – and for many, its most despised.

Yet behind closed doors, in studios fashioned from repurposed palazzos and hidden bars, there lies another Florence: the famously insular city of locals like Giambaccio, who take pride in how “walled” their city really is. Rome may be a promiscuous città apertà – Giambaccio cites Rome’s capitulation to Nazi occupation, which he contrasts with the noble suffering of Florentines during the year-long German siege – but here in Florence, the locals remain steadfastly wary of outsiders.

“We are survivors,” says Giambaccio. He points to his city’s tradition of cucina povera – a diet rooted in the transfiguration of cheap offal into filling dishes like lampredotto – as a characteristic example of Florentine ingenuity and strength. “We eat what we had to eat to survive.”

Giambaccio has spent a year painting a series of 500 local portraits: a book of Florentines that doubles as an urban “who’s who” of the city’s eccentrics. But he denies that there is any unifying visual factor to link them. Rather, you can tell a Florentine by the smell. “We are like migrating alligators – we have a sense. At home, or abroad, we recognize one another,” he laughs. “Florentines smell like lampredotto,” he says. It is all in the blood.

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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. Photo by Ruben Drenth

Ruben Drenth

Ruben Drenth

Canon EOS 6D

Aperture
ƒ/4.5
Exposure
1/350
ISO
100
Focal
140 mm

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.

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