Stationary

Florence’s other stations

Harry Cochrane
January 8, 2020 - 10:20

Say “Florence train station” and you mean Santa Maria Novella, and for the vast majority of tourists this thronging, thriving terminus might as well be the city’s only. It makes sense that development should be aimed here: with its 19 platforms—a couple of them out on a limb—and its underground shopping gallery, SMN is clearly the mainstay of rail travel into and out of Florence, even if the last couple of years have seen its romance rather docked by the installation of glass barriers and the ticket inspectors who staff them. So, on behalf of those who are in Florence medium-to-long-term and would like to do their railwayfaring from somewhere a little off the beaten track, I struck out in search of platforms new.

 

 

One cold, dreich morning in December then, I find myself at Campo di Marte, Florence’s second station on account of its size and coordinates. It puts one in mind of the heyday of rail travel, when everything was on a more personal scale. It has a small waiting room full of seats which, though not luxurious, are a luxury missing from Santa Maria Novella.

 

Life seems relaxed here: trains arrive and depart, sometimes delayed, no doubt, but there are relatively few people to offend, and anyway I get the impression that the Campo di Marte commuter is fairly unflappable.

 

Automatic ticket machines take the pressure off the lone ticket officer, and never is there a queue to use them, though perhaps 10am on Thursday is not the best litmus test. It all harks back to a more innocent time, when Florence’s myriad tourists were not factored into building projects.

 

 

 

Firenze Campo di Marte / ph. @helencfarrell

 

 

Luckily, there is little need for expansion at Campo di Marte, which strikes me as a true “Florentine” station. Italian is the only language I can hear, and perhaps it is for this reason that the bar, notably unbustling, sells its coffee and cornetti at prices that Italians are happy to pay. Life seems relaxed here: trains arrive and depart, sometimes delayed, no doubt, but there are relatively few people to offend, and anyway I get the impression that the Campo di Marte commuter is fairly unflappable. An underpass runs under the platforms, but, less typically, a rusty bridge runs over them: it gives off a ferrous odour, at least when you’re up there.

 

 

No such oddity straddles Firenze Rifredi, similar in size to Campo di Marte but less central, lying up in the city’s northwest. High-speed trains do not make platfall here, but the occasional Intercity, marked in green on the timetable, will take you to Rome, Milan, Naples, even Reggio Calabria or Trieste. The Freccias and the Italos cruise past in their crimson livery, leaving you to wait for the chugging regionali, almost all of which are bound for western Tuscany.

 

 

Every large station is roofed with lines and pylons, but Rifredi’s canopy is particularly thick; unprepossessing apartment blocks, meanwhile, close it in on either side. But look up the line and you make out the closest Tuscan hills, with Monte Morello looming shaggily round to the right; look back down it and you see the outline of the Duomo, hazy behind the immediate steel girders, but with Verrocchio’s golden ball roundly visible. Little flowerbeds on each platform also bring a touch of green into the concrete jungle. Like Campo di Marte, Rifredi has a bar, warm and welcoming, even with table service. Had I not been fretting about our train’s departure, I would have been tempted by the pesto lasagne that my colleague was getting down to.

 

 

A bar, after all, is obligatory in an Italian station of any respectable size. You are hard pressed to find one in, or even near San Marco Vecchio, so small that it is officially termed a binario (platform) rather than a stazione. It is almost a stone’s throw away from Campo di Marte, but almost never the twain shall meet: if you want to go from one to other and don’t catch the sole connection between them, you’ll have to make an isoscelean dog-leg of a journey, across town to Santa Maria Novella and then back again. Its two tracks fork as soon as they are past the platforms, each plunging into jumbles of houses as one bends off to the left, towards Campo di Marte, and one to the right, which leads to Santa Maria Novella. Florence is zipped up at this station, which lends it an air of the frontier.

 

 

Indeed, getting off at San Marco Vecchio, I don’t feel like I’m in Florence at all: the Duomo’s spire, which I can glimpse between two rooftops, looks as if it belongs to a mythical city. Here, instead, I see an old, yellow country church and its charming bell tower; I see Fiesole just up the hill. It is apt that the train that dropped me off here was bound for Faenza, because San Marco Vecchio, with its ever-so-gentle elevation, does feel like the first step on the transappenine via Faentina. It may not be picture-postcard Florence, but with a city on one side, the dark green wilderness on the other and not a soul on either of the platforms, it is like something straight out of a film.

 

 

 

Honourable mentions

 

 

 

 

Rifredi, Campo di Marte and San Marco Vecchio are only three of the “other stations” in Florence. Here are three even deeper cuts, little used but always there if you need them. Just remember: it just might be a few hours between trains.

 

 

LE CURE / San Marco Vecchio is not actually the smallest station to be found in Florence. That title must surely go to Le Cure, a single platform a 20-second walk from piazza delle Cure. From here you can see the track connect bashfully with the mainline, and it is amusing to watch the big alta velocità trains thunder out from behind the buildings in front of you.

 

 

PORTA AL PRATO / Two platforms, but only one destination: Empoli. Piazzale Porta al Prato is a bit of a thoroughfare, and were it not for the proximity of Santa Maria Novella the station would no doubt see more action. Right next to the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Stazione Leopolda, this is the station for Empolesi who fancy a night at the opera or spending time at a temporary exhibition. Plus, it's rumoured that a new tramline will connect to the eclectic Manifattura Tabacchi in the not-so-distant future. 

 

 

CASTELLO / Probably the ugliest station to have “Firenze” in front of its name, and easily the furthest from anything you would want to see in Florence, apart from the nearby Medici villa of Castello. From the south end of the platforms the Tuscan hills make an agreeable backdrop, but they do not redeem the abandoned freight cars and the platform roofing, painted in a defunct, industrial yellow.

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