When the time came to leave the Oltrarno, my home for over six years, I was torn. The small medieval appartamento had started to feel too small and showering above the toilet seat (a detail that hadn’t much bothered me in my no-fuss twenties) had gone from quirky to quacky. I loved being in the quartiere, from giggly nightcaps at my favorite bar to strolling among the Sunday market stands and conversing with the artsy habitués of piazza Santo Spirito. I was at a crossroads: a scavenger hunt among the more central neighborhoods or time to step out of my comfort zone and into the edge of the city. Gavinana, Peretola, Novoli, Sorgane, Bagno a Ripoli, Sesto Fiorentino, Castello, Rifredi, Isolotto, Campo di Marte, Le Cure, Careggi: from basements to top floors, flight after flight of stairs I longingly scouted apartments and districts, finally stumbling upon a cozy flat in the district of San Jacopino.
Considered the last stronghold of the historical center, San Jacopino is a sort of middle earth, standing on the border between Quartiere 1 and Novoli. Its epicenter is the namesake piazza San Jacopino, where mayor Dario Nardella recently unveiled the three-meter-tall bronze statue Fiorenza by Tuscan artist Giampaolo Talani (also the hand behind the beautiful fresco Partenze in the main concourse of Santa Maria Novella train station), a tribute to Florence and Florentine women. The square’s buildings give off a feeling of fascist austerity, as most of them were built in the 1930s, while history actually sees it as the setting of one of the most important face-offs between the partisans and the Nazi army in August 1944.
As I shake off my “Oltrarnostalgia” and grow more acquainted with my new surroundings, the realization dawns that this part of Florence is successfully creating its own identity. Here, squares become potential vectors for multicultural integration, and teamwork among local realities is key.
The Associazione 4Quarti (via G. L. Spontini 47) was established in May 2016 by four friends wanting to create a multidisciplinary space where people of all ages could explore myriad declinations of art, well-being, craftsmanship and music-making. Hidden within a maze of inner courtyards, the association boasts a rehearsal room for musical practice and two workshop areas where locals can learn how to knit, DJ or enjoy the benefits of Feldenkrais and yoga. The space also hosts exhibits; on October 1, Peruvian artist Romina Farris will showcase her work. Associazione 4Quarti often teams up with Associazione Onlus “Giardino di San Jacopino”, a volunteer program committed to keeping the Maragliano-Spontini garden clean and fostering community-building events as well as holding movie screenings and concerts in the park, and even Italian classes for immigrant women.
Then there’s proudly independent bookshop Marabuk (via Maragliano 29), opened in 2015 by six former Edison franchise employees who, after working in piazza della Repubblica, decided to take on the challenges of settling into a less central area and invested their severance pay in something bold and brilliant. In the evening, the spread of tawny green grass in front of the “Mario Luzi” college dorm in piazza Dallapiccola becomes the common ground for students and migrant families with children, while the San Jacopino church (via Benedetto Marcello 24) hosts embroidery classes, choir practice and a summer camp for kids.
In 2016, the City of Florence announced a 2.8 million euro plan to revitalize the former power plant of Novoli’s dismantled FIAT factory by turning it into an innovative multi-purpose urban arts center. As we impatiently wait for this project to come into being—reports say in January 2018—we can rejoice in the constant urban transformation underway in Novoli (namely Florence’s second tramway line). The area is also making an important musical comeback thanks to forward-thinking organizations such as Tempo Reale’s live club format TRK. Sound Club, which has chosen the confines of renowned contemporary art space Galleria Frittelli (via Val di Marina 15) to showcase monthly forays into the world of experimental sound—don’t miss British media artist Stephen Cornford’s performance on October 20, the opening act for TRK’s third edition. Another event worth mentioning is cutting-edge visual arts and contemporary music festival Sonic Somatic, which from October 5 to 8 will take place in Novoli’s San Donato shopping mall with performances, sound walks and site-specific installations.
From where I’m standing, I don’t see Florence losing its edge any time soon.