The historic center of Florence can become very crowded with tourists especially during summer when the narrow, stone streets become airless and dusty. Many choose to escape across the river to the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens, but most of them fail to notice the intriguing district of Oltarno, which lies on the other side of the road from the Vasari Corridor and the Pitti.
Oltarno might not hold the iconic treasures of Florence, but what it does have is history and real day-to-day Florentine life which has carried on in the neighborhood for centuries. There are also some absolute highlights to be found here: the Brancacci Chapel and its frescoes by Masaccio, the Basilica di Santo Spirito which was one of Brunelleschi’s last commissions and the house where the writer Nicolo Machiavelli died. In the center of Oltarno you’ll find the square Passera, the heart of this district of artisans. In the surrounding streets you’ll still find little shops housing wood carvers, framers, metal-smiths, goldsmiths, bookbinders making traditional marbled paper and silk weavers using the techniques from the 15th century. You’ll also find wonderful little cafes and bars, boutiques and antiques shops.
I wandered through here without a plan and poked my nose into the many churches I passed, finding treasures of art and design that are not in any guide book. If you’re very brave, you can stop for a bite to eat at one of the Lampredotto stands, a traditional street food of Florence. It’s important to know though that lampredotto is made from the fourth stomach of cows; it’s served in bread with a hot or green sauce. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it is delicious.
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