Piazza San Marco is home to a serene convent decorated by the fifteenth century artist Fra Angelico. I find it’s a wonderful place to contemplate the need for solitude in my creative life, and so, despite the bustle of the square itself—which is home to multiple bus stops &  plenty of traffic—I associate this piazza with retreat...just one of many appealing contrasts in this city.


Piazzale Michelangelo overlooks the city from the hillside, and offers a chance to see it from a fresh perspective—a quintessential tourist experience. But even better, this chapter gave me the perfect excuse to talk about San Miniato, a church just up the hill from the piazzale (which means “large piazza”). Walking up there is one of my all-time favorite Florentine experiences: I love to wander through the Romanesque interior, listening to the monks singing vespers—and as I sit in front of the church, with the entire city before me, it’s always a great place to contemplate why I feel so at home in Florence.


But Piazza Santo Spirito is the piazza where I am most comfortable. There’s a beautiful relationship between the church and square, a simple but elegant fountain in the center, cafés and restaurants with outdoor patios, and plenty of trees. We shop for produce and many of our other needs at the daily market or in the little shops, we run into friends and join in on the neighborhood celebrations, and for years we passed through on our way to my daughter’s school each morning. It just seems to hold our days together...

Scroll to the right for more images >

People often ask if I came to Florence to write the book, but it was really more a case that I wrote the book so I would have a good excuse to spend more time in Florence (!). That, and the fact that I simply love this city.


The book I had set out to write differed considerably from the one that was eventually published. Decades of travel—always with the same difficulty in finding the “right” travel journal and the “perfect” guide—had led me to the conclusion that the ideal journal or guide would actually be one that we designed for ourselves. I knew this wasn’t practical for most of us, so my idea was to create an “interactive” guide for Florence. I wanted to provide readers with some structure—a foundation of historical, architectural & cultural information—but also allow a large degree of flexibility to create a more meaningful book by personalizing it with their own impressions, sketches and collected items. My original proposal incorporated travel writings from past visitors and a variety of blank pages (including vellum) into each chapter. I also designed what I called “Invitations”—jumping points intended to inspire creativity through writing, as well as visually.


While I received positive feedback on the proposal (which included a fully designed mockup chapter), getting a “yes” proved difficult; publishers thought the market too narrow. But finally, instead of responding with a polite rejection letter, one publisher asked if I would try a twist on the concept. I was still able to structure the book around the piazzas, and include the large-scale watercolored maps that I felt were integral to the project, but they wanted a narrative of my own experiences of living in Florence to overlay the historical/architectural information. Fortunately, by that time I had been here for a few years, so I had plenty to say!


The city has changed a lot in the years since The Piazzas of Florence was published, and so has the way I interact with the it. But, with the new layers of memory, the experience has only become richer...

DETAILS ~


Approx. 5.2 x 7.1 inches

(13.2 cm x 18.2 cm)

240 pages


Hardcover with jacket & ribbon


Includes 13 fold out maps:

A citywide map showing the

piazzas featured in the book

+ a large-scale one for each

of the piazza chapters


Published in May 2008 (Australia, New Zealand & the UK) by Pier 9, an imprint of Murdoch Books


Amazon UK reviews here.


The Piazzas of Florence is out of print, but a limited number of copies is still available; please contact me if you are interested or purchase from my Etsy shop. {US$28 including shipping within the US or US$43

for international orders.}

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TABLE OF CONTENTS ~

Preface

All roads lead to the piazzas

Piazza del Duomo {1}

Piazza de Pitti {2}

Piazza di Santo Spirito {3}

Interlude: Piazza della Passera (3a)

Piazzetta Ponte Vecchio {4}

Piazza della Signoria {5}

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella {6}

Piazza di Santa Croce {7}

Piazza della Repubblica {8}

Piazza di Santa Trìnita {9}

Piazza di San Lorenzo {10}

Piazza di San Marco {11}

Piazzale Michelangelo {12}

Acknowledgments

Reading List

Glossary

One question I like to ask others is: What’s your favorite piazza? Likewise, it’s a question people often ask me. It’s not easy to choose just one—they each play a different role in my life here.


With its spectacular cupola rising above the rest of the rooftops, Piazza del Duomo serves as a reference point. I like how the piazza flows all the way around the cathedral, creating many different kinds of outdoor spaces. And climbing to the top of the cathedral’s  dome or bell tower is perfect for creating a “mental map” of the city. On my very first visit to Florence, one of the first things I did was walk up to the top of the dome; comparing the physical city with a printed map really clarified the relationship between the various landmarks, and because of this I am never truly lost.


Piazza Santa Croce has always seemed like an huge communal front yard. Although some residents have courtyards or terraces or tiny balconies, there are no private front yards in Florence—but this space goes a long way toward filling that void. You’ll see children learning how to ride their bikes, people kicking around a soccer ball or playing frisbee, and everyone from the young to i nonni stopping to chat. Simply sitting on a bench and watching Sunday afternoon “happen” is a favorite pastime in this square.


Piazza Pitti is basically the equivalent of our “front yard”...it’s the first thing we see when we open the door of our building each day. We call it Pitti Beach—residents and visitors are always picnicking, people-watching & sunbathing in the enormous sloped square—and I like to come out here with morning coffee & crumbly treats from the bakery. When my daughter was younger, it offered the prefect place to fly paper airplanes & blow bubbles.


THE PIAZZAS OF FLORENCE


The magic of every Italian city lies in the piazzas—the public squares where locals can count on running into friends while tending to business, tourists are inclined to take a break, and everyone comes together for celebrations. Of all the city’s features, from the churches to the towers & bridges, the piazzas have always been my favorite. They give Florence a beautiful sense of structure, providing space to reflect on the past and observe the present as it unfolds. As such an important part of daily life here, they seemed a natural choice for telling Florence’s story.


I think of The Piazzas of Florence as a journey through the city. Each piazza serves as a point of departure for learning about everything from the artists, families and saints who are linked with each square, to observations about Italian culture, art and cuisine. The story wanders between past and present as I share not only the rich histories of each piazza, but also my own experiences of both the centuries-old festivals and day-to-day life. Woven throughout are the everyday details that make living in Florence so wonderful: the friendly relationships with the owners of the family-run shops, the pleasure of impromptu gatherings in the piazzas, the awe of picnicking in the same square where the king of Italy once lived.


More than an account of the role of the piazzas through the centuries, this is also the timeless story of finding inspiration in the natural course of daily life in a city that is very generous with its gifts.


Following the book’s publication, I began a blog called “Arzigogolare: Everyday reflections inspired by the city of Florence.” While the scope of my latest blog has expanded to include what’s happening in the studio & kitchen, the original one can still be accessed here.