The Tuscan countryside, a gentle place full of soft colors, is my countryside. I was born and raised in Pontassieve. I remember hiding amid the vines on our farm and stealing a few grapes when I should have been doing my homework. Florence, keeper of history, was my grandmother’s city, just a 25-minute drive from home.
It is now my turn to cultivate the grapes, though today my home is Florence. When I was 11 years old, we moved to live in my family’s centuries-old palazzo in the Oltrarno neighborhood of Florence, where artisans capably carry on their traditional crafts.
I live now in Santo Spirito, a neighborhood that offers generous glimpses of a world almost sealed in time. The past—specifically the Renaissance—seems to live here still. This is where you can breathe the city’s most authentically traditional atmosphere. But while our museums are the obvious repositories of historic treasures, I’m happiest when the past treads on the present. Nowhere is this sense strongest than on the bridge of Santa Trinità, built in 1252 by Lamberto Frescobaldi. The bridge unites Santo Spirito with San Giovanni, the so-called center of Florence. I love to cross at sunset and invariably pause to take in the sight of all the other bridges spanning the Arno River, one after the other. These small bridges seem to symbolize the connection of past to present.
That said, some things don’t change. Florence has always been romantic, moody, a little snobby. Its inhabitants are pleased with—and protective of—what they see as their uniqueness. Though full of enthusiasm and always ready with a witticism, Florentines don’t like showing off and tend to be very critical. But we love to make you feel part of the big family. Florentines are not quick to embrace novelty, but slowly, slowly, we usually fall in love with it.
Go on Sunday to the Church of Santo Spirito, built by the great Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who designed many of Florence’s great churches and chapels. A little beyond are the Boboli Gardens, filled in the mornings with the shouts of children playing and, later, with the stolen kisses of lovers vying for the most romantic view of the city below. The cathedral, strong and solid, stands like a master in the middle of the city, surrounded by shops showcasing the latest fashions. The nearby Renaissance Baptistery is where we baptize our children.
Walk along the narrow via in the city’s center, savoring the smell of fresh panini and watching visitors pose for photographs in the market of San Lorenzo or the Porcellino fountain in the Mercato Nuovo, where touching the statue of the porcellino—actually a wild boar—brings good luck. We are fortunate: Florence isn’t just the cradle of art—it is a city that celebrates the art of living well. Here you can buy an outfit at the most elegant of shops and then enjoy some artisanal gelato while watching, ideally at sunset, rowers oar their way along the Arno. Florence, so lovely and so scornful: You never seem to find a taxi, but when you do, you’re guaranteed a memorable ride, from the sights to the endless chatter of your driver.
We Florentines take pleasure in having our city—small, precious, and graceful—seen and experienced by visitors who invariably fall in love with what’s here. Florence’s future is filled with the past, which I jealously guard in the hope of being able to pass it on to my children, so they can inherit the elegance, history, culture, and wonderful simplicity of this extraordinary city.
LAMBERTO FRESCOBALDI, a member of the 30th generation of the Frescobaldi family, is the director of winemaking for Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi.
2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
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