Florence has a rich history in artisan crafts.
Besides offering great things to buy in Florence, stepping into the stores where artisans still ply their ancient trades is like stepping back in time – way back in time.
Considering that the first craft guilds were established in the 12th century, these traditions would have been already well-established even before this.
Florence became renown for the mastery of its woodworkers, silversmiths, ceramists, fabric makers, leather workers and weavers whose skill combined with the Italian love of beauty to create products that became sought out throughout the entire Europe.
These design skills also gave to the city of Florence itself an elegance unmatched by almost any other city in the world.
To this day, artisans still produce their traditional wares with techniques that were developed and perfected centuries and centuries ago, often using tools passed down through the generations.
Just off Piazza Santo Spirito, we pass a store where three men are seated in a circle on tiny stools. They chat as they hand-make men’s leather shoes. This particular store has a reputation for making classic styles which, due to their skills in creating top-quality products, ensures they literally last for years, if not decades.
We bought a painting from one of the amazing artists who have studios around the city centre. Taking it to be framed, we meet a father and son who have been working together for over 50 years in their store on Via Ghibellina. With an expert eye, the father selects a wood that is perfect for the painting. Then the mount is chosen, which will be hand-cut together with the frame, before being painted to the exact shade desired. Once mounted, the back of the frame is lined with brown paper printed with the symbol of the city, the Florentine lily or, ‘il giglio’. Even the hook is elaborate, carefully attached to the back of the frame with two small nails. When we go to collect frames, they are wrapped in plain brown paper and tied with string. On the walls of our house, they look fit for museums.
Florence is also the best place to buy leather items such as hand-made leather jackets. Our favourite place is just a stone’s throw from the Duomo where the storekeeper and by now a friend, Adam, is like a leather jacket magician.
Other unique artisan crafts in Florence include the store where wooden forms for wigs are hand-chiselled at Bini Forme per Cappelli in Piazza Santo Spirito. You can buy the wig to match (as many a celebrity does when visiting Florence!) from Via Verdi number 9, at Filistrucchi – the oldest family-run business in Florence, dating back to 1720.
Bronze and brass items, from the simplest doorknobs to the grand door knockers, right through to the larger-than-life statues and fountains can also be found in stores such as that of F.lli Ugolini Bronzisti on Via del Drago d’Oro (yes, that’s street of the golden dragon!).
And if you’re really looking to splurge…head to the Ponte Vecchio or to one of the many jewellery stores about Florence’s city centre to buy hand-crafted jewels in 18K gold or in silver.
Watch our complete Top Travel Tips for Trips to Italy series! Be part of the Italy travel community for top travel tips.