It has become a habit for me, but one that always comes as a surprise: when walking toward Piazza della Repubblica from via del Corso, I sense something extraordinary out of the corner of my right eye. I obediently turn my head and there, at the end of via dello Studio is the Duomo, cut into a patterned sliver by the confines of the narrow street. Naturally, I turn toward it, pulled by the force of that grand image.
On this late winter afternoon, the street is quiet: the January sales are over and the spring crowds are yet to come. Today I hear only the occasional rickety roll of suitcase wheels on stone and walk through only one congregation of Japanese tourists, who seem happy to have the street all to themselves.
A wandering couple stops to read the menu at I Mangiarino Vineria (no. 5). Vines laced over the doorway, two oversized Chianti bottles on the step outside, and the English words ‘snack shop’ ensures tourists will feel welcome. On this cold, bright blue day the dark interior of the vineria does look warm and inviting. The couple accepts the invitation, but I keep walking.
I work my way to the Duomo at the other end of the street. I step into Parione (no. 11) to gawk at their stylish pens and notebooks. I love this store. It has the atmosphere of an Oxford University library-dark wood interior, respectful silence, and a devotion to the written word-but with one difference: the work is yet to be done.
A work in progress is a natural theme to this street, which takes its name from the Studium Generale, a predecessor to the University of Florence, which shaped young minds behind the doors at no. 1. Boccaccio taught here in the fourteenth century. Above the heavy wooden doors are a half-destroyed fresco with a Latin inscription and the coat of arms of the OPA. The fresco with the Latin inscription tells us that in 1784 the Collegio Eugeniano-a school for choir boys of the Santa Maria del Fiore-moved here. OPA is a contraction for opera, which means, literally, ‘works,’ but is really the shorthand for the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the works commission established in 1296 to oversee the cathedral’s construction. The group has been responsible for safeguarding and restoring the artistic monuments associated with the cathedral ever since.
Inside the building today is the Associazione Coro del Duomo di Firenze, the cathedral’s choir association, which holds auditions. Also here is the fine-art supply store Zecchi (no. 19/r), indispensable to artists and restorers in Florence. The shop sells the same paint colors, raw materials, and tools used by early Renaissance artists.
I cross the street to check out the windows of Pegna (nos. 24-26). Here you can get everything from dark chocolate to salami to cleaning supplies to perfume. As I walk away, I’m thinking of the chocolate bars, and that’s when the cathedral bells go off. Being this close to the cathedral is sublime; it reminds me every time that I am in Florence and nowhere else. It’s a deep, resonating sound, in rhythm with my footsteps and my breath.
The workshop (called the bottega; no. 3) of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore across the street cuts an odd figure amidst its much taller neighbors. The building is wide and the doorway is, thankfully, mostly glass. You can peer in to see what cathedral monuments the restorers are working on. Every year on September 8, the cathedral’s birthday, the workshop opens its doors to the public for a close-up look and a talk with the restorers.
Just past the workshop is the twelfth-century palazzo, which houses the headquarters of the Opera. As I walk by, two men come out the door (no. 25) to chat and smoke. I spot a contemporary sign just inside, CAZA, Studio d’Arte. I’m hoping it might be a modern art space.
The outdoor seating of Ristorante il Caminetto (no. 34) fills the small Piazza dei Macceroni and looks onto the cathedral. It’s much too cold today, but the idea of sitting down with that view is enticing.
What strikes me about via dello Studio is the inadvertently apt name. Even though it was named for the university, the street’s heart is behind-the-scenes artistic work-whether it be the auditions for the cathedral choir, the fine art materials, the restoration workshop, or the new art studio in the palazzo. It just so happens that all of these spaces lead to the most magnificent masterpiece at the end of the road, the Duomo.