How many times have you heard your out-of-town friends say, ‘Florence is such a lovely city, but where are all the kids?’ It does sometimes seem like the Renaissance city is completely devoid of children as families have begun to move out of the center and into more ‘kid friendly’ areas. But, as with most things in Florence, you just need to scratch the surface and you’ll find everything you’re looking for.
Piazza Santissima Annunziata is home to one of Florence’s most famous and internationally recognized institutions for children: the Ospedale degli Innocenti, the world’s first orphanage, designed by Brunelleschi in 1419. For over 200 years, children were abandoned in a basin located at the front portico. In 1660, the basin was moved to the left of the loggia behind an iron grate. People could thus leave their babies anonymously, to be cared for by the orphanage, a system that remained in operation until the hospital closed in 1875.
It is fitting, therefore, that the site of the former orphanage is still a space dedicated to children and their well-being. The Bottega dei Ragazzi (Children’s Workshop) combines the Renaissance principle of learning through doing with more modern aspects of childcare, such as creative workshops, art history lessons, plays and shows-all supervised by highly specialized teachers and caregivers.
Inside is also a perfect blend of traditional and modern. Seventeenth-century frescos decorate the walls, while the floors are covered in toys, tot-sized tables and shelves overflowing with books in English and Italian. The Bottega’s activities reflect a certain attention to the city’s past: among the activities for children ages 3 to 11 are workshops focused on the art and history of Florence, the ancient Ospedale degli Innocenti, the concept of multiculturalism, respect for the environment, citizenship and children’s rights.
Art workshops are devoted to the knowledge of artistic heritage, history and ancient artistic techniques from fresco to illumination, painting and construction of architectural models. A visit to the nearby Ospedale degli Innocenti museum allows direct observation of the artworks before a hands-on session of, for example, fresco painting, terracotta making or portrait painting.
The Bottega seeks to fill a need in the city: that of providing a place in the center of town where kids can have fun while learning, while at the same time giving parents a couple of free hours to take in a museum or do some shopping. It is a way for families-whether they are residents of the city, suburb dwellers or tourists in for a few days-to enjoy some playtime in downtown Florence.
In response to the city’s multicultural environment, the Bottega has recently begun holding workshops in English. Additionally, the center has announced a series of theatre workshops in collaboration with Florence International Theatre Company (FITC). On December 13, FITC will present Theatre Adventures in English and on December 20 it will host Look at That Face!, a workshop to discover portraiture through the works of Domenico Ghirlandaio. Rounding out the holiday fun, FITC will stage an interactive Christmas show and an animal workshop, featuring exciting costumes and face painting on December 27.
In the spirit of true family fun, some of the Bottega’s workshops are designed for mom, dad and kids. Workshops take place every weekend; and each day in the morning and afternoon when schools are closed (Easter, Christmas and summer). Note that space is extremely limited and reservations must be made at least two days in advance for all workshops.
The Florentine is proud to announce a collaboration with the Bottega dei Ragazzi to bring our readers the latest on this innovative and important addition to the English-speaking community. It is a place that brings out the best of Florence-past and present-and offers kids and parents a way to truly connect with their unique city.
La Bottega dei Ragazzi
Via dei Fibbiai 2 (Piazza Santissima Annunziata) Florence
Tel 055 2478386
The Bottega also organizes birthday parties in English. Each party is two hours long and includes a 90-minute workshop, followed by 30 minutes for cake and presents. Saturday parties cost 150 euro for up to 15 kids (10 euro for each additional child). Weekday parties are 120 euro (8 euro for each additional child).
Fun facts – Ospedale degli Innocenti
The surname Innocenti, still common in Tuscany today, was given to the orphaned children when they grew up and were sent out into the city and surrounding countryside to make a new life for themselves.
A ceramic tondo is found above each column of the Ospedale. Brunelleschi originally intended for the columns to be blank, but in 1490 Andrea della Robbia was commissioned to decorate them. The design features a baby in swaddling clothes on a blue wheel. The insignia of the American Academy of Pediatrics is based on one of the tondi.