Our city guides continue with this guest-written guide to Florence, Italy, written by local resident and Cities and Memory contributor Valerio Orlandini.
Florence city guide
Florence is one of the best-known art cities in Italy, and together with Venice and Rome it represents a must-see for every tourist visiting the country. Notwithstanding this, two perspectives of Florence are often neglected: the first is its soundscape, the second is the possibility to explore this city outside the typical borders of the historic centre.
As a Florentine myself, I want to help you discover the aural side of my hometown.
1. Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria is one of the main squares of the centre, and it is close to the famous Uffizi gallery. It is always crowded with tourists visiting Palazzo Vecchio, the palace that once belonged to the Medici family and is now both the seat of the mayor and a museum, and Loggia dei Lanzi with its marvellous statues. The soundscape is just as you might imagine: different languages overlapping, street musicians playing, tourist guides talking and much more. A dense tapestry of sounds in which to get lost.
2. A stroll through the centre
The city centre is full of things to see (and to listen to) packed in a small space, and it is easily crossable with a pleasant walk. The sounds to focus on are many, and they belong to very different categories. Past and present blend, with horses and chariots riding side by side with taxis and buses, and you can listen to different languages, foods and craftsmanships. A sometime chaotic but always intelligible soundscape that tells many stories to those who walk with open ears.
3. The markets
In every corner of the city there is a market at least once a week. Ostensibly they look very similar, but each one has its own features, according to the zone of the city in which it is held. You can guess the typical inhabitant of every area by listening to the voices and the way the customers approach to their local market. Moreover, some markets attract people from all over the city, like the one held in Cascine park on Tuesdays or the monthly antique market of Vittorio Veneto.
4. The thin line between city and countryside
A very nice feature of Florence is that sometimes you just need to cross a street to switch from a dense cityscape to the open countryside. The soundscape changes accordingly, and just a few hundred metres from the traffic you can listen to barnyard animals, birds and the wind blowing among the branches.
5. The green Florence
Florence is a greener city than it may appear at first sight. In every corner of the city you can find a place among the trees to rest or to take a walk, from the huge Cascine park and the monumental Boboli garden to the small and often hidden neighbourhood parks. Each one has its own sound signature: in some biophony prevails, in other anthropophony covers it all, but you can find new places to discover almost anywhere.
6 – The railway stations
Despite being a medium-sized city, Florence has ten railway stations within its territory, each of course of different size and importance. The main station is Santa Maria Novella, located in the city centre, with its flow of 60 million passengers per year – a real Babel of sounds of every sort – while most of the other stations are mainly for local trains. Each station has its sonic character, depending on its size, the city area in which it is located and the travellers passing through it. It is a small world in itself that deserves to be explored.
7. A bigger city than it seems
Florence is not only a city centre with countryside surrounding it, but there are also many other areas to be explored. These places do not only offer original and unexpected points of interest for art lovers, but they also have a kaleidoscope of sounds that really tell you something about life in Florence. Abandon yourself in a soundwalk through Isolotto and San Frediano, with their veracious people; among the elegant XIX century buildings just outside the centre; through Campo di Marte, where sporting events are held; or in the small country villages still belonging to the city municipality, like Galluzzo, Settignano and Serpiolle. You will find the true soul of a city that did not stop living in the Renaissance, but still breathes and sounds today.
If you’d like to hear more of Valerio’s soundscapes of Florence, check out the whole Firenze soundscapes project here.