An art walk on the Oltrarno
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An art walk on the Oltrarno

There are two sides to everything, especially when it comes to visiting and living in Florence. When we first think of the city, most peo-ple think of the breathtaking Duomo, the art-filled Uffizi, and the still standing Ponte Vecchio. However, there is another beautiful side to Florence, and

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Thu 15 Jun 2006 12:00 AM

There are two sides to everything, especially when it comes to visiting and living in Florence. When we first think of the city, most peo-ple think of the breathtaking Duomo, the art-filled Uffizi, and the still standing Ponte Vecchio. However, there is another beautiful side to Florence, and this is the artisan-filled side of the Oltrarno. This calmer, creative side of the Arno offers an equally wonderful yet uncrowded escape from all the tourists on the northern side of the river. Visiting the Oltrarno workshops, and hopefully buying from the craftsman, is one way to recognize the centuries of shared talent handed down from artisan to artisan. Even the untrained eye can see the passion that is put into every single piece and the originality of their one-of-a-kind designs. Its a small political statement, but for me, there is something reassuring in supporting traditional crafts-people with a modern eye for design rather than an  over-crowded, globalised chain store. There are three quarters along the Oltrarno in which you can still discover gifted artisans hidden away on narrow streets or in between the many tiny piazzas that dot the map. These areas include San Frediano to the far west, Santo Spirito in the middle, and San Niccol to the east. Wandering into the workshops in these areas is much easier and more inviting than one may think. Discovering and visiting on your own is probably the best way to go, but for the more organized visitor, there are tour guides available to help lead the way to local artisan workshops. If you choose to discover the artisan workshops without a guide, a nice beginning is to cross Ponte A.Vespucci and just start strolling the vias in various directions. During this art walk you will see the works of many creative artisans: traditional workshops, con-temporary art galleries, upscale antique and vintage shops, couture houses, and of course, fine Italian bars and trattorias. An Art Walk on the OltrarnoSan Frediano Quarter-This quarter is for those who like to wander the Oltrarno with eyes wide open. If you stroll the vias off Piazza Carmine you will find authentic artisans, but you have to scout them out. The artisans in this quarter dont necessarily have signs posted or even convenient hours (making them all the more authentic). Upon entering a workshop, dont be surprised to see aging artisans working and training their young family members. These new and aspiring artisans will often stop and share their designs and speak humbly of their talent. The neighborhood is quite spread out and somewhat quietwhich in this tourist-filled city often ends up being a very, very good thing!Santo Spirito Quarter-This quarter lends itself to those who like diversity, not only in people, but also in art.Here you will find groups of artisans crammed together on the block of Via Serragli. Within steps of one another, you can visit a contemporary artist who gives new life to antique pieces,  and a guilder who makes magnificently carved frames. Continue down the street and youll see a restorer who can turn something old into something even older, a vintage shop offering all the newest retro-trends, and a collection of antiqui-ties for lovers of all things Asian. Dont miss the surrounding streets between Chiesa S. Spirito and Piazza Pitti. Keep an eye out for jewel-lery design workshops, fabric and furniture restorers, shoe cobblers, high-end antique shops, decorative painters, and artists specializing in marble and mosaic design. San Niccol Quarter-This quarter is a little bit of San Frediano and a little bit of Santo Spirito combined. Well-hidden and often crowded with locals, this area is famous for artisans who specialize in handmade paper, fragrances, textiles, as well as food and wine. Its the smallest of the three quarters, but probably the biggest on style and charm.

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