Bag some authentic Tuscan handicrafts. Quality handmade goods that have been produced in the same way for centuries.
You can’t go on a holiday in Tuscany without being tempted by its rich array of handicrafts. There’s something for every budget and for the most part the same products have been made and sold here for centuries, so you have the pleasure of knowing your bit of ceramic or leather, is also a bit of real history.
Leather manufacturing in Florence, Tuscany
Leather – This is the obvious start, considering that Florence has been famous for leather manufacturing since Medieval times. The river Arno, around the Ponte Vecchio, was used to tan leather. Later they were moved (the smell used to bother the passing noblemen) to the area of Santa Croce, where today there is still a concentration of leather shops. Further afield, there are other areas that still manufacture leather goods, including in the Valdelsa, Pisa and Fucecchio.
If you’re up for a bit of shopping, you’ll find anything from wallets to belts and bags of all sizes and shapes, or the more original bracelets and stylish leather-bound notebook. Colours and quality vary. For top quality head to the Scuola del Cuoio adjoined to Santa Croce Church (they also organise guided technical tours). For more leather at good prices visit San Lorenzo Market. You’ll find plenty of luxurious shops in via Calzaioli and around Piazza della Repubblica.
Pottery and terracotta – classic Tuscan handicrafts
Hand painted ceramics – this is another classic of Tuscan art crafts. The small town of Montelupo near Florence has been an important centre of ceramic making for ten centuries, and is today home of the Museo della Ceramica and plenty of shops. But you’ll find pottery workshops almost everywhere, often with the artisans working on site. More ancient designs have a white background embellished with geometric green decorations. Renaissance-inspired motifs are more colourful with flowers or fantastical animals. The more modern creations are often inspired by the Tuscan landscape.
Terracotta – vases in terracotta can make any garden or terrace look special, in fact it has become synonymous with Tuscany and terracotta vases are the perfect match for those stone stairs. It is the colour of Tuscany. The area between Florence and Siena is the best to buy terracotta, starting in Impruneta or the nearby Il Ferrone, but also the whole of the Chianti area. Vases, statues and plaques are just some of the products available.
Alabaster, a very special Tuscan stone
Alabaster – This tradition dates back to the 3rd century B.C. when the Etruscans around Volterra started to use this translucent stone to create funerary urns. After the Etruscans, its popularity waned until the Renaissance when there was a rebirth of interest in the stone (called pietra di luce, or ‘stone of light’). It was used for all sorts of decorative objects, including lamps (the transparency of the stone created a soft light) and tobacco cases. Since then the artisans from Volterra have carried on reinventing their craft to follow trends, and today they still can be found in their workshops offering the chance to bring home a real piece of history.
A very Tuscan gift – Iron, knives and cigars
Knives – for knife enthusiasts, the town of Scarperia in the Mugello is a joy for the eyes. A knife is not the first thing one thinks about when looking for a souvenir, but the production and the quality here is truly unique. The most famous companies are Saladini, Berti and Consigli.
Toscano cigar – another less obvious souvenir, for the smokers. The Granduke of Tuscany founded a tobacco factory in 1818, and since then cigars have been produced using high quality fermented Kentucky tobacco. Toscano cigars are bigger and need to be cut in two, Toscanellos are smaller, ready to smoke and come in various flavours, like vanilla, espresso or dark chocolate.
Wrought iron – long tradition especially in the Casentino area in Eastern Tuscany, with the town of Stia hosting the Biennale of Blacksmithing. But you’ll find objects made of iron everywhere, giving another Tuscan touch to you house or your garden.
Textile – since Medieval times Tuscany has been an important centre of textile production. Today you can still appreciate this craft, the different styles and materials. You’ll find plenty of shopping opportunities virtually everywhere – in Florence, Anghiari, Arezzo, Siena, San Gimignano just to mention a few.
Goldsmithing and silversmithing – many great artists of the Renaissance were formed in these artisans workshops, and the Ponte Vecchio has long been the place to trade precious metals, back since Cosimo I decided this was the perfect place to give lustre to the city. Arezzo is the other important centre for gold working.
Woodwork – the Casentino area near Arezzo has always been devoted to wood. They’ve got rich forests and plenty of material to work with. The local artisans are brilliant carpenters and restorers, and today in the Arezzo province you’ll find an excellent tradition. Anghiari is known for its wood carving.