Before diving into the highlights of shopping in Florence on Via de Tornabuoni, I must confess, I do not like to shop. It’s true…no interest! However, you need not have any interest in shopping to take in the beauty and serenity of Via de’ Tornabuoni, one of the most elegant and beautiful shopping districts I have ever seen. It winds around and sits upon ancient cobbled streets that are restricted to pedestrians only. There are no cars permitted, which allows for an afternoon or evening stroll along these magnificent old buildings and fashion brands, old and new.
This historic street runs from the Antinori Square to the Ponte Santa Trinita and was once crossed by the city’s Roman walls; in the early Middle Ages, it ran along the Mugnone river. Near the current Palazzo Strozzi was the Brancazio Gate. During the 12th century, they enlarged the walls, the stream was diverted and the road widened. Via de’ Tornabuoni has been called by many other names, but none has stayed longer than Via de’ Tornabuoni.
After the creation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in the 16th century, Via de’ Tornabuoni was the seat of the processions from Palazzo Pitti to via Maggio and Ponte Santa Trinità, as well as pallone col bracciale matches, Calcio Fiorentino games and horse races. In 1565 it received a porphyry column which still characterizes it.
The history of this street dates back to the Tornabuoni family. The Tornabuoni family, one of the oldest and most recognized Florentine families, married into the Medici family in 1444. The two most interesting people in the Tornabuoni family were none other than women…but of course.
Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a noblewoman was known for her exceptional know-how in politics and her literary disposition. She married Piero de’ Medici, son of Cosimo de’ Medici, when she was 19 years old. In 1480, Agnolo Poliziano, poet, wrote about the “laudi” (hymns set to music), sonnets and “trianari”(narrative poems) composed by Lucrezia Tornabuoni in her own words. Her poems were published into an anthology of 49 letters written from 1446 to 1478.
The second famous Tornabuoni woman was Giovanna degli Albizi, recognized for her extraordinary beauty who married Lorenzo Tornabuoni, cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent, when she was 17 years old. They were wed in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and it is mentioned in Florence’s history as one of the most memorable events at the time. When she died she was buried in Basilica di Santa Maria Novella in Tornabuoni’s Chapel. Domenico Ghirlandaio depicted her and Lucrezia in the fresco of the life of Saint John the Baptist. Giovanna is also included in Sandro Botticelli’s fresco of Venus and the Graces offering gifts to a young man which is currently in the Louvre Museum in Paris. (Charming Italy)
The list of designers that call Via de’ Tornabuoni home is long, yet distinguished: Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Trussardi, Prada, Celine, Damiani, Sergio Rossi and many, many more. For those who are intrigued by the history of some of these designer and their roots, the Ferragamo and Gucci Museums are filled with ideas, fashion favorites and stories of how it all began. Did you know that Guccio Gucci was a bellboy at the Savoy Hotel in London? After seeing all the gorgeous luggage the sophisticated, elite guests traveled with, he designed a travel bag, which became the first Gucci branded piece of its 95-year luxury brand history.
While the shopping is extraordinary, the dining options offer a respite from a day or browsing and strolling. Our favorite restaurant is Obica (Obica Mozzarella Bar). They produce their own mozzarella di buffala campagna, which is the freshest mozzarella, made from the milk of the water buffalo, said to bear the richest and creamiest milk. It also happens to be one of my favorite types of cheeses ever. Better to let you decide what you think of their mozzarella in many variations, from caprese salad to the traditional thin crusted pizzas, or just try them all on their own with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper and maybe a sun dried tomato or sweet roasted red pepper…Mmmmmm.
Via de’ Tornabuoni opens up at one end to the Arno River and offers the perfect invitation to end a perfect day meandering along the dimly lit walkways of the Florentine river just blocks from the Ponte Vecchio. Florence is the ideal city to walk from morning until night, ever corner you turn, you are welcomed into history, beauty and glimpses of what life must have been like centuries ago in this Renaissance city.