Oltrarno means “Beyond the Arno” and it refers to the quieter, atmospheric area south of the river. It’s less crowded here, with secret gardens, great views, charming narrow streets and plenty of artisan workshops.
The highlights for anyone crossing the river Arno are the Pitti Palace Museums, whose collection of paintings is second only to the Uffizi. And the vast Boboli Gardens, with its green space that was once enjoyed by the Medici and the royal family.
In Oltrarno there’s a surprise round every corner, its narrow, hilly streets leading to incredible views over Florence.
This area has had a ‘revival’ in the last few years, and it’s filled with newly-opened artisan shops, and lots of little bars serving apertivi. Some of the squares have even been cleared of cars. Some locals don’t appreciate the change of course as it only draws more tourists to this part of town. But at the moment the area still maintains an authentic and relaxed feeling, and it’s a far cry from the clamour of Piazza Duomo.
Looking for Art in Oltrarno
Apart from the rich collections of paintings in Palazzo Pitti, art lovers are always drawn to Santo Spirito Church and above all the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, that boasts some of the greatest frescoes in Florence.
Good restaurants and the best views of Florence
Food enthusiasts will find some of the best and least busy trattorie of the city here, while photographers might want to head up the hills towards the Rose Garden, and to Piazzale Michelangelo for spectacular views of Florence. It has plenty to offer night dwellers who enjoy mixing with the locals in Piazza Santo Spirito, Piazza della Passera or the lively San Niccolo’ area. And this is the place to come for some of the best aperitivi in town.
Artisans have worked in this part of Florence since the Middle Ages. Gilders, engravers, goldsmiths, restorers and carpenters all had their workshops here, giving the area a distinctly creative atmosphere.Their crafts would get an added boost when the Medici and other wealthy families wanted to have their palaces decorated.
It’s still a good place to search for artisan workshops today. You’ll still find frame makers, jewellers, print sellers, and antique dealers.
A bit of history
This was originally a working-class neighbourhood, built to cater for the overflow from the city on the opposite bank. The artisan tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, when the area was inhabited mainly by the ciompi (manual labour workers that rebelled in the famous Rivolta dei Ciompi in 1378 burning houses near via Maggio) and artisans that had their workshops on this side of the city. Later it attracted the attention of rich families looking for green open spaces where to build their mansions outside the crowded and polluted city centre. First the Pitti, then the Medici moved to the Oltrarno, bringing with them a dose of nobility. The Medici and the rich families further boosted art craftsmanship in this creative city district. They all wanted to decorate their palaces with refined artworks and needed not only painters and sculptors, but also talented gilders, engravers, etchers, mosaic-makers, goldsmiths, and restorers, smiths and carpenters for all sorts of decorations.
Nightlife in Oltrarno
Santo Spirito square is the core of Oltrarno nightlife, attracting a young crowd all year around and lined with bars and restaurants. The San Niccolò area is the other buzzing nightlife spot, and the place to go for an aperitivo.
Opera fans might want to check out the program of the Anglican Saint Mark Church, a small and charming venue that offers a memorable experience at a reasonable price (tickets are around 20-25 €) There’s a moderator who explains in English what is happening before each act.
PITTI PALACE, BOBOLI GARDENS, SANTO SPIRITO CHURCH AND SQUARE, SANTA MARIA DEL CARMINE (BRANCACCI CHAPEL), SANTA FELICITA CHURCH, PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO, GIARDINO DELLE ROSE, GIARDINO BARDINI, LA SPECOLA NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM