Discovering unusual itineraries in between the sacred and the profane: From the San Niccolò Door to the San Miniato al Monte Church
This Florentine walk will lead you to the discovery of some characteristic and fascinating corners of Florence, and through ancient roads you will find yourself in the perhaps lesser known part of the city.
San Niccolò’s neighborhood.
A lively neighborhood full of young people who, thanks to the many typical gathering places, during summer evenings, decide to meet up here, close to the ancient ramparts that outlined the ancient Florentine walls. It is one of the oldest districts of Florence, and it stretches from Porta di San Niccolò (San Niccolò Door), in Piazza Giuseppe Poggi, called by the Florentines Torre di San Niccolò (San Niccolò’s Tower) for it tower-like appearance.
It was built as a defense to the last circle of walls facing South-East. It allowed the access to the Oltrarno for those coming from the neighboring countryside or other municipalities. It was also used as a sort of “customs office” for the business transactions that would take place on the Arno River, as the river was used as a privileged and faster route for exchanges with the port of Livorno until the Nineteenth Century. From this ancient door, built in 1324, allegedly from a design of the Orcagna, you can access the ramps leading directly to Piazzale Michelangelo.
However, our path requires us to enter the neighborhood, from via dei Bardi, where noble and obscure palaces rise in the cool and shadowed street, such as, for example, the Capponi delle Rovinate Palace, which echoes Florence’s most famous love story, the one sung By Dante for his Beatrice.
As we continue towards San Niccolò, we find many craft shops, good and cheap taverns, while discovering a bit of the bohemian and flaneur side of Florence.
Here, many artists have their painting ateliers, furthermore, there are some contemporary art galleries, thus, contributing to give a young and lively image to the whole neighborhood. Via San Niccolò then leads to the small square, which is a real meeting point. In fact, in this very lively and popular place during the summer, there are plenty of places to go for a gourmet food stop. Good ice cream, very trendy clubs, and ancient wineries, which have been transformed in characteristic spaces that offer great “schiacciata” (focaccia bread) or bread filled with typical lunch meats, bruschetta and other dishes.
Prior to 900, this was almost an isolated place, where one would go for an “outing from the city” or to spend a few hours during holidays. Foremost, people would go here during the hot summer evenings to enjoy the cool breeze coming from the hill and the gardens. One could find here small gathering places where, with little money, one could enjoy a few hours in serenity, sometimes improvising a dance. Even today, around sunset, one can perceive that atmosphere and the sense of good living that has so enchanted foreign visitors.
San Niccolò, on the Arno River side, has the most beautiful noble villas in Florence.
One example is Torrigiani Villa, which borders the Arno and from which you can reach Piazza Demidoff, built in the nineteenth century. The latter is quite recognizable since, in addition to recalling the style of an English square, it hosts the monument dedicated to Prince Demidoff, the Russian nobleman in love with the city and who made of it his new homeland. In the city, there are places of worship for every confession, and in fact, the small Lutheran Evangelical Church is located right on the Torrigiani Lungarno. Building of it started in 1901. It is a place of worship and during the Advent days in December, concerts and Christmas music are performed according to the Nordic tradition.
While returning to the small Piazza San Miniato, one can find the impressive Via del Monte alle Croci, a name that reminds Jesus’ Way to the Cross. It is a particularly suggestive itinerary where its final destination is the San Miniato al Monte Church. You will get there by climbing a road on the hill and through which you can enjoy a unique view of Florence. If you feel like walking and climbing in hidden streets, ideal models for the solitary paintings of Ottone Rosai, Erta Canina Street may be interesting for you. From Piazza San Miniato, this road follows the ancient walls, leading towards Viale Galileo in the direction of Piazzale Michelangelo.
This is another side of Florence, showing a city that can offer to a curious visitor infinite occasions to discover its art and its daily life.