Rainy season is here. It’s a fact.
Our knee-jerk reaction to such a dismal forecast is to surrender to the couch with a can of Paprika Pringles (seriously why haven’t those reached America yet?!) and let ourselves go brain-dead to endless hours of MTV Italia. While I’m not denying the occasional necessity of vegging out while in Italy (the last thing you want to do is burn out), don’t let the dreary days hold you back from enjoying the city. In fact, as many people cling to the belief that they will melt in the rain, you will be pleasantly surprised to find a Florence free of its usual congestion allowing you to experience a more bewitching side of the city. So pull on those galoshes and head out to see what Florence looks like when it glistens in the pioggia, from the best rain refuges – loggias and corridors – in the city.
Distance: 5 km
Time: at your leisure
The Corridor of Piazza della Repubblica
Layered with history, lined with classy cafes and crowned with a carousel, Piazza della Repubblica is always a charming place to pass an afternoon – even a rainy one. The west side of the piazza offers one of the most grandiose rain refuges in the city. This corridor, constructed in the later 19th century, offers entertainment of its own including souvenir stalls, newspaper stands, and usually even a street performer or two.
If the rain has you feeling pensive, grab a seat, pop in your iPod, and contemplate the history that you’re sitting amidst. Although now the little sister to Piazza della Signoria, Repubblica used to be the epicenter of the city. Literally. As an Ancient Roman settlement, Florentia focused its grid plan around this very spot – the location of the Roman Forum. Through the centuries the piazza remained an important pivot point of the city, hosting the Central Market, the Jewish Ghetto, and after Florence’s makeover when named Capital of Italy in 1861, the home to multiple historic cafes and hangouts. Artists, authors and scholars flocked to the new and luxurious piazza for inspiration, discussion, and let’s be honest, probably just to seem really fashionable. Whatever the motive, many say that this very piazza was a breeding ground for the artistic movement of Futurism. To be sure that Florentines knew that this place was no longer the grungy underbelly of the city, the reputation it assumed over the centuries, they smacked this large inscription over the arch:
L’Antico Centro della Città / Da Secolare Squallore / A Vita Nuova Restituito
(The Ancient City Center / Restored from Age-Old Squallor / To New Life)
Pop up the umbrella and skip over to the covered Mercato Nuovo just south of Repubblica. During the day this covered market is sure to entertain with luxurious leather goods to ogle and tourists’ attempts to haggle with the sleazy salesmen. Although bursting with energy and some very tempting scarves and purses during the day, I prefer the loggia at night. The abandoned market provides such a stark contrast to the bustle only hours earlier, that an almost eerie atmosphere lingers. With the exception of the crowd of tourists who can’t seem to leave that poor porcellino alone anytime of day, the mercato is yours.
The loggia was built in the 16th century as a market for Florence’s finest luxury goods, most likely the reason why items here can maintain slightly higher ticket prices than its sister market, San Lorenzo. The statues on the outside represent an incomplete project of filling each niche with a famous Florentine (think the statues outside of the Uffizi). Stroll to the middle of the market to find what looks like an inlaid stone wheel. It represents a wheel from the medieval Carroccio (war cart/altar and symbol of the republic). Before every battle Florentine troops met on this very spot with the Carroccio in tow for a few prayers and a pep talk. The stone assumed a less noble purpose later as debtors were brought to the spot to be publicly humiliated – paddled, dropped, beaten, you name it!
While the loggia remains largely vacant during the evenings, surely some stragglers will show up to join in on the fun. Occasionally the entertainment will come to you and a street performer will set up shop under the loggia for the evening. Later on, high school studenti gravitate towards the market to start their own late-night party. Just when their antics start to take your evening from enchanting to annoying, head over to the….
Loggia dei Lanzi
Renaissance originals, ancient Roman treasures, large stone steps for lounging and a view to boot! No one should be surprised as to why the Loggia dei Lanzi is my favorite rain refuge. Grab a seat and relax to the sound of the Titanic Song echoing through the piazza from the faithful keyboardist who sets up shop just below the loggia. Watch the umbrellas bob through the piazza, bambini delight in the puddles that their mothers so cautiously avoid, and smell the rain on the wet cobblestone. Aren’t you glad you’re not on the couch?
If you are looking to spend some time in the loggia click here for the deets on the delightful treasure box that you have found yourself in.
Fish Market Loggia
The next refuge would prove most useful if you happen to be strolling from the Duomo to the neighborhood of Sant’ Ambrogio on Via Pietrapiana. The seeming out-of-place loggia, as it turns out, actually is. It was moved from Piazza della Repubblica during said renovations of the area. While Florentine officials were happy with trashing the majority of the slums in the piazza, they couldn’t find the heart do destroy the iconic Fish Market Loggia. Today a book salesman hocks vintage Hustlers and AC/DC records among other treasures under there. Occasionally stalls from the nearby antiques market spill into the space as well.
Piazza Santissima Annunziata
A piazza surrounded by corridors on three of its four sides makes for a perfect finale to our rainy day refuges. The first of these loggias was artfully designed by Filippo Brunelleschi before he jumped ship on the project to fry bigger fish (such as that pesky dome we see peeking through the streets above). Brunelleschi’s work can be seen on the facade of the Ospedali degli Innocenti (hospital of the innocents) on the east side of the piazza. The building is as historical as its architect. The hospital, sponsored by the wealthy silk guild, took in abandoned children. Most of the children came from families who could not possibly afford another child, or unwed girls who hoped for a better life for their child than the stigma their circumstances would allow. And the hospital did just that. Children were raised here, given food, clothing, care, a good education and girls even received dowries to ensure good marriages. The children assumed the last name Innocenti and today a good deal of Innocenti can be found in the Florence telephone book.
The matching loggias were built to mimic Brunelleschi’s symmetrical genius and created unity throughout the piazza. Incidentally, they created the perfect rainy day getaway for us in the meantime.
Sure, water tends to pool in the streets due to an ancient drainage system; sewers emit a less than pleasant smell during storms; and walking through a crowded piazza with thousands of umbrellas at eye level can be treacherous . But let’s face it, we should all know by now that Florence is far from flawless, and that’s why we love it. Simply put, Florence is beautiful when it rains, so get out there and enjoy.
Oh and did I mention the best part? What a great excuse to buy one of these!