Can you tell? I’ve posted about 100 posts in the past 5 days. And, I’m just getting started!
So, here’s what’s on my mind right this minute. Today I’ve been reading about the history of leather making here for the past, oh, I don’t know, millennium. And it turns out that this craft, which I’ve always loved in Italy, has left its mark on the city strata. Not surprising when you think about it. By the 1300’s, for example, there were already 1500 shoemakers working in Florence.
Still today in the Santa Croce section of the city, east of the cathedral, is the Via dei Conciatoi, or the Street of the Tanneries. You can see it right in the center of this map, running on an angle from left to right.
Author Laura Morelli writes that “In medieval Florence, many of the tanneries were located along the Arno in order to facilitate washing away the detritus of this process, and in many other cities of medieval Europe the tanneries were required to locate outside the city walls altogether. The via dei Conciatori, in the eastern part of the city near Santa Croce, retains the memory of the Florentine tanneries and is the location of the current Scuola del Cuoio or leather school.”
Sitting right on the banks of the Arno River, the neighborhood of Santa Croce in Florence has been home to water-heavy trades, like hide tanning, since the 13th century and the tradition lives on today. In fact, 35% of national leather production still takes place in this area today!
And, in another part of town, not far from Il Duomo, is another street, Via dei Calzaiuoli, Street of the shoemakers. On this map the street runs N-S right smack dab in the middle.
Via dei Calzaiuoli
Trailing from Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Signoria, Via dei Calzaiuoli is a popular street filled with high-end to everyday modern stores. You’ll find ultra luxury from Chanel to department store Coin, Sisley, and Furla.
Again, Ms. Morelli tells us “Although they remained of modest means, shoemakers sat atop the leather hierarchy and were considered a pillar of medieval Florentine society. By the 1300s some 1,500 shoemakers were already working in the city. About a third of these settled in the Oltrarno district. Cobblers made shoes for local consumption, but also participated in a lively export trade, forming the roots of the Tuscan international leather shoe industry that still thrives today. The statutes of the shoemakers’ guild or Arte dei Calzaiuoli (or Calzolai) specified many aspects of their working lives, from the quality and types of leather that the shoemakers must use in their production, down to their shop opening hours. Fifteenth-century documents place shoe- and belt-makers’ shops along the via dei Calzaiuoli, as well as on the streets stretching toward the church of Santo Stefano near the Ponte Vecchio. In contrast to the high-end fashion boutiques that line the via dei Calzaiuoli today, surely this street must have been lined instead with more humble workshops.”
Morelli, Laura (2015-04-01). Made in Florence: A Travel Guide to Fabrics, Frames, Jewelry, Leather Goods, Maiolica, Paper, Woodcrafts & More (Laura Morelli’s Authentic Arts) (Kindle Locations 668-669). Authentic Arts Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Next time you are in Florence, maybe you’ll stroll in your hand-made Italian footwear over these two leather-associated streets and think of the long history of this fine art in the city.