‘We’re like an island’: inside Florence’s secret neighbourhood

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The Florentine neighbourhood of Sant’Ambrogio whitethorn only beryllium 10 minutes’ locomotion eastbound from nan landmark Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio, but this portion of nan Tuscan superior has a unique characteristic acold removed from nan tourer pizza traps and overpriced gelato. It’s a tight-knit organization that is still genuinely Florentine but besides multi-ethnic. It’s a nutrient nirvana and a favourite student haunt.

The crowds thronging nan humanities centre quickly bladed retired arsenic I walk into Sant’Ambrogio and nan tranquil gardens of Piazza dei Ciompi. It is noon connected Friday, and while Giotto’s doorbell building whitethorn beryllium chiming backmost successful nan Piazza del Duomo, nan sound that greets maine successful nan piazza is nan muezzin’s telephone to prayer. Crowds of Muslims unroll their dream mats successful nan mediate of Piazza dei Ciompi, location to nan Masjid Al-Taqwa, Florence’s main mosque.

Porcini mushrooms
Porcini mushrooms connected waste astatine nan Mercato Sant’Ambrogio. Photograph: Peter Erik Forsberg/Food/Alamy

At 83, Savino Zaccagnino is officially nan oldest barber successful Florence, and his salon is correct connected Piazza dei Ciompi. “When I first opened present 55 years ago, nan piazza was a consequence and rootlike market,” he says. “Today it has a play trade market, and now location is simply a mosque. Though really it’s a converted car shed that is acold excessively mini to accommodate everyone, truthful connected Fridays nan organization gathers successful nan square. This 4th prides itself connected being a tolerant neighbourhood: wherever other successful Florence tin you sojourn our medieval Chiesa di Sant’Ambrogio and past 2 minutes’ locomotion distant observe an immense, exotic Moorish synagogue built by nan Jewish organization 140 years ago.”

Florence’s celebrated panino lampredotto chop sandwich
Queuing up for Florence’s celebrated panino lampredotto chop sandwich. Photograph: Domenico Tondini/Alamy

What brings each of Sant’Ambrogio together is undoubtedly its mercato: Florence’s first covered nutrient hall, opened successful 1873, a fewer minutes’ locomotion eastbound of Piazza dei Ciompi, is surrounded by outdoor stalls trading porcini mushrooms, olives, porchetta and pecorino food consecutive from nan Tuscan countryside. Clothes stands are piled precocious pinch bargain outlet designs and vintage brands, and there’s besides a celebrated flea market. Rosanna Vannini, who has been trading antiques present for 30 years, says: “Sant’Ambrogio is for illustration an island, nan past celebrated Florentine neighbourhood. For sure, immoderate visitors find their measurement present now, but I really don’t deliberation they are ruining nan tone of nan quarter, arsenic has happened successful San Lorenzo astir nan mercato centrale.”

Pier Paolo Pollini, who has been serving Florence’s emblematic panino lampredotto – chop sandwich – for 25 years from his nutrient motortruck extracurricular Sant’Ambrogio’s church, says nan same. “At nan play we get immoderate tourists, but you won’t spot our paper translated into English aliases Japanese. Our regulars are builders aliases agency workers, families shopping astatine nan market, students happy to salary €4 for luncheon and moreover schoolkids, because everyone loves lampredotto.”

One sanction that stands retired astir nan mercato is Cibrèo, which operates 3 restaurants, a cafe and, much recently, nan C.Bio organization supermarket. This is foodie Florence astatine its best. Cibrèo was started by Fabio Picchi, a larger-than-life cook who died unexpectedly past year, leaving each of Sant’Ambrogio successful mourning. His boy Giulio says: “In 1979 erstwhile Cibrèo opened, nary tourer ever wandered arsenic acold arsenic Sant’Ambrogio.”

He explains nan accuracy down Cibrèo: “If you sojourn Florence and spot a Botticelli coating and Michelangelo sculpture, you should not person to past settee for a fast-food pizza aliases a sandwich connected nan street, arsenic sadly galore group do. So, Cibrèo drew visitors to Sant’Ambrogio to complete their acquisition pinch a awesome repast of accepted Florentine cuisine, utilizing section nutrient consecutive from nan marketplace crossed nan street.

Cibreo restaurant
Cibrèo restaurant: ‘Foodie Florence astatine its best.’
Photograph: Alamy

“In nan streets astir present visitors tin observe our accepted organization of casa bottega, wherever artisans unrecorded supra their workshops, conscionable arsenic I unrecorded supra Caffe Cibrèo. So galore craftsmen are still moving and surviving successful Sant’Ambrogio: Borselli Cornici, wherever Signora Virginia makes gilded frames for illustration they did a period ago; nan coltelleria of Fabio Figus, whose handmade knives are useful of art; and exquisite jewellery handmade by Felice Nicoletti.”

Piazza dei Ciompi flea market
A wealthiness of hidden treasures astatine Piazza dei Ciompi flea market. Photograph: Dorothy Alexander/Alamy

Peeking into Cibrèo’s kitchen, I spot nan unit are of galore different nationalities and Giulio says this is acknowledgment to nan section region’s programme to thief settee recently arrived immigrants. “There are fantabulous courses for learning Italian, arsenic good arsenic helping group to get a occupation and location to stay, truthful coming our brigade includes group from Senegal and Nigeria, Syria and Armenia, Algeria and Iraq.”

Rather than nan emblematic Florence sights, Sant’Ambrogio offers thing very different astatine Le Murate. Originally a 15th-century convent, it became an immense situation that only unopen down successful 1985, and now houses a groundbreaking taste and societal task spanning low-cost nationalist housing, a centre dedicated to quality rights, performing arts spaces, a late-night cafe packed pinch students, and Le Carceri (The Prison), a vino barroom pizzeria. The assemblage space, housed successful a helping of nan situation that has deliberately been near untouched, is conscionable different illustration of really Sant’Ambrogio stands isolated from nan remainder of nan city.

Where to eat and drink

Caffe Letterario
Spritz and cocktails astatine Caffe Letterario. Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

Inside Sant’Ambrogio market, nan lively Vecchio Mercato barroom serves vino astatine €1 a glass. Across nan roadworthy Il Giova is simply a friends trattoria packed pinch locals enjoying its juicy beef tagliata. Vegetarians will emotion nan deep-fried artichoke connected Ruth’s kosher vegan paper adjacent doorway to nan synagogue. Barista java is served astatine Coffee Mantra, while Caffè Letterario is much for spritz, vino and cocktails.

Where to stay
Hotel Plaza Lucchesi is not cheap, pinch doubles from €180, but is worthy splashing retired connected conscionable for its rooftop pool.

Source internasional