With the announcement of piazza delle Cure’s redevelopment, I’ve been sorting through my memories as a former resident of Florence’s northern district. Unknown to tourists unwilling to venture past piazza della Libertà, the self-contained Le Cure neighbourhood, while by no means a display of Renaissance architecture or the provenance of well-known figures, offers yet another insight into the Florentine suburban lifestyle.
Mugnone torrent | ph. Birgitte Brøndsted
After living in the rural seclusion of Borgunto for six years, our family eventually opted to descend from the hilltops of Fiesole to live among Florence’s borghesia in Le Cure. Delineated by via Francesco Caracciolo and via della Piazzuola, the popular residential quarter is traversed by the Mugnone torrent in which the washerwomen, “le curandaie” or “le cure”, used to do their laundry, giving the neighbourhood its distinctive name. On the city limits and physically cut off from the centre by the railway, Le Cure acts as the gateway to Fiesole and its surrounding countryside, ideally placed for those wanting to indulge in both city and country life.
Our new home was located in the far end of the district, referred to as Le Cure “Alte”, in which two- and three-storey late-19th-century villini occupy streets named after 13th-century Italian poets: Francesco da Barberino, Cino da Pistoia, Guido Guinzelli, Fra’ Guittone d’Arezzo. Perpendicular to the torrent, teeming with fish and wildlife, and a short walk from Villa Schifanoia, part of the European University Institute, this sleepy corner also proved a vicious hotbed of zanzare (mosquitoes) throughout the summer season. Alas.
Cycling beyond the stone pines that line the Mugnone, via Giovanni Boccaccio leads up a quiet winding road, past olive groves and overlooking the hills outlined by via Bolognese, directly to the village of San Domenico. Le Cure’s literary claim is as the setting for the novella “Calandrino and the Invisibility Stone” in Boccaccio’s Decameron. Towards the piazza, off via Maffei, were the former quarters of the Bottega dell’Arcimboldo (now relocated to the centre), an art school where my brother spent every Saturday morning shading countless squares in by pencil in a dark room. It took months before he was finally considered ready to tackle an arm.
Following the Mugnone’s flow, the ever-reliable ATAF Linea 1 bus would take us to piazza delle Cure in no time before mounting the flyover for piazza della Libertà, San Marco and the station. On match days, the overpass turned into a bottleneck with honking swarms of Viola fans arriving by motorini, making their way to the stadium in Campo di Marte.
Le Cure market | ph. Birgitte Brøndsted
Albeit chaotic, the piazza is the neighbourhood’s hub of activity, linking viale dei Mille, viale Volta and viale Don Minzoni. The narrow streets leading to it from the Mugnone are lined with independent, mostly family-run businesses, such as bars, tabaccherie, pharmacies and the Mignolli newsagent shop, furnishing locals with everything they need, gossip included.
If the piazza is the beating heart of Le Cure, then its marketplace is undoubtedly its soul. Seeing the white vans parallel parked from all angles and the unmistakable canvas canopies occupying the square’s north end meant only one thing: the vendors were open for their daily business. With an abundance of produce, it is one of the most frequented fruit and veg markets in town, with local residents preferring it to the nearby Esselunga on via Masaccio. Alongside artisan crafts and household goods (and according to a reliable source one of the best lampredotto stands in Florence), affordable alternatives to Italian brands are found here.
Gelateria Cavini | ph. Birgitte Brøndsted
In addition to the market, Gelateria Cavini has become a historic establishment on piazza delle Cure since its opening in 1926. Occupying the south side of the square and guarded by rows of tightly stacked bikes, the company’s owners serve delicious ice cream, ranging from traditional tastes to unconventional flavourings such as champagne and beer.
The underpass connecting the square to viale Don Minzoni is the neighbourhood’s colourful underbelly, offering passers-by momentary suspense from the conformity of life. It is also home to its custodian Totò, “the angel of Le Cure”, a beloved local figure who has lived there for over 20 years, keeping the passageway clean and safe for its residents. Over the years he has featured in many interviews, and even a documentary on homelessness in Italy. During the day his speakers echo through the tunnels, while at night Totò monitors the hours street artists can come to paint.
A corner of Le Cure | ph. Birgitte Brøndsted
As the old market space is cordoned off for the works to begin and the square stands bare for the first time in years, concerns have arisen among its residents that the market’s temporary move to piazza Berlinguer will alter the dynamic of the district. With so many locals dependent on the service, the change may cause inconvenience to older customers and affect neighbourhood business. Nevertheless, this is a first step for a new phase in the piazza’s history, not only updating its facilities but also enhancing its primary purpose as a community meeting point.