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Via Maggio

text Rossella Battista photo Andrea Dughetti

June 17, 2024

Curiosities, stories and anecdotes from the streets of Florence

Mysteries, secrets and legends: let's discover them together

Kids find it hilarious to learn that once, in place of the Uffizi Gallery, there was a neighborhood called della Baldracca [of the Whore], and not only them. And many are quite perplexed as they go past Piazza della Passera [Sparrow or Pussy Square]. Most people try to maintain a composed demeanor along Chiasso del Buco [Fag Alley], in the Signoria area, where Leonardo was reported for sodomy. Street names usually reveal something of the history of a place or of a famous family. And so we have Via della Stufa [public baths] where you could always find a brothel and streets called Via delle Malmaritate [Unhappily Married Women], Via delle Serve Smarrite [Lost Servant Girls], Via delle Convertite [Women Converts]. Streets, alleys, corners: all together they form Florence’s warp and weft. Let’s take a walk through them.

Via Torta

It was mostly in the 1800s that Florence’s streets became named after the local noble families. The Tornabuonis, for instance, had to move their loggia, but they were rewarded for eternity by having Via delle Belle Botteghe renamed after them. In the Grand-Ducal age, it was the street through which parades travelled down from Piazza Pitti and Via Maggio (from Via Maggiore [big]) to the Duomo. The street, running along the route of the ancient Roman walls, ends in Piazza degli Antinori, the square named after the family who has been living and working there since the 1500s. Instead, Via Bardi’s original name, has a completely different origin. The street was formerly called Borgo Pitiglioso meaning pidocchioso [lice-ridden], because it was filled with the humble little houses of the poor who came to town in search of a job.

And with the palaces came the workshops in the Oltrarno area. In the 17th century, Cosimo II gathered all the mills where colored woolens were hung out to dry in Piazza del Tiratoio. And in the San Frediano neighborhood there is Via delle Caldaie [Boilers],where clothes were heated before dyeing. Instead, from the 1300s, most of the workshops where wool and silk fabrics were dyed, were located in the Santa Croce area, on Corso Tintori [Dyers]. A very unpleasant job, because the workers had to put up with the nauseating stink of urine which, rich in ammonia, was used to fix the dyes. And the result was so important that the Dyers were given a Guild, a saint- Onofrio-, hospitals, hostels and schools.
But fabric processing was not completed unless the final stage, finishing, was performed. The finishers’ workshops were located around Piazza dei Cimatori [Shearers], near Dante’s house. And not far from there was the building of the powerful Wool Merchants’ Guild, which gave its name to the street opposite Orsanmichele, the church of the Guilds. The building gives onto Via di Calimala, whose name’s origin is still debated, Callus maius [big] or Malus [bad] or associated with wool. Even the powerful Merchants’ Guild was located on this street which was, however, modified following Poggi’s urban renovation works in the 19th century. Which is also the reason why Via Pellicceria [Furs],which runs along the open gallery of Piazza della Repubblica, has lost most of its charm. This is the street where the workshops of fur traders, physicians and druggists, oil sellers and mattress makers were located. Instead, Borgo Tegolaio [Tile Maker],near via del Campuccio, where kilns producing tiles and bricks were found, has lost nothing of its old charm.

Via Toscanella

There are two versions as to how Piazza della Passera, the square in the Pitti area, got its name. It is believed that a brothel, which was said to be frequented even by Cosimo I, occupied the space, but the origin may also stem from the 1348 plague. Legend has it that some children found in the piazza a dying sparrow [passera], bringing with it the Black Death that then spread throughout the city. A plausible assumption, although prostitution in Florence was not only tolerated, but also regulated and encouraged in order to educate young people and prevent them from having sex with each other. And close by is Via dell’Amorino [Sweetheart], in the Central Market area, where Boccaccio set one of his spiciest tales, and which inspired also Machiavelli’s The Mandrake. But not all streets made people laugh. Via dei Malcontenti, behind the Church of Santa Croce, was the street that persons convicted to death walked before their execution in the Field of Justice in the San Niccolò Bridge area, but not before having received the last sacraments at the chiesetta al Tempio(a church of Templar origin). Via del Traditore, now incorporated in Palazzo Medici Riccardi, is the street where Lorenzino dei Medici killed his cousin Alessandro, the first Duke of Florence, in 1537. Vicolo dello Scandalo or del Panìco [the Scandal or Panic Alley], opening onto Via del Corso, was so called because it separated the houses of the Cerchi family (Whites) from those of the Donati family (Blacks) and prevented night raids between the two rival groups. In Florence, bischero means to be a foolish, naïve person. It was actually the name of a wealthy family that refused to sell their home, despite a generous remuneration, to the Factory of the Duomo which had to complete the Cathedral. Shortly after, their home caught fire and was burnt to the ground. The corner between the Duomo and Via dell’Oriuolo is, in fact, ironically called Canto ai Bischeri. And Cimabue’s Madonna, kept in the former church of San Pier Scheraggio, gave the name to Via della Ninna [Lullaby], between the Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Vecchio. The Virgin Mary, in fact, is portrayed rocking the Child. Via Torta [Bent Street] is so called because it ran along the bending of the Roman amphitheater in the Santa Croce area. The street still maintains its medieval atmosphere.

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