Here you are in one of the most beautiful squares of Florence. Beautiful? I mean, splendiferous! Anything you want, we’ve got it. It’s a busy, active piazza full of life and with all sorts of things going on under the wing of the glorious Basilica which has been looking out over the whole square, its surrounding streets, its stands, its residents and its visitors since 393. The market and its stands have been around since the 1400s at least, but itinerant merchants may have been coming here even earlier.
But now I think you should know a little bit about San Lorenzo. He was a Christian martyr and a rather special one at that. When the Roman Emperor Valerian asked him to go get all the riches of the Church, Lorenzo brought him the city’s blind, lame, ill and poor. The Emperor didn’t take this at all well; actually, he was very offended and commanded that Lorenzo be grilled alive. Said and done. Lorenzo was made of stern stuff though and at a certain point, as he was being roasted alive, he whispered, “Turn me over now. I’m done on this side“. Or so the legend goes.
You can imagine that a guy like that is very popular in this part of Florence, where the people can be a little earthy and caustic but also very generous and warm, like all the real Florentines. Even when the statue of the Gran Capitano Giovanni dalle Bande Nere was put up in 1850 (and which, as you know, has become the symbol of this neighborhood), some guy had to make a smart remark about the fact that Giovanni’s pose (he’s sitting down) wasn’t really the most appropriate for a ‘condottiero‘ or captain of fortune. Here’s what the guy said: “Poor Giovanni, so tired from his long ride – he had to sit down to rest his backside“.
Anyway, if you look behind the statue, you can just see Palazzo della Stufa, which belonged to a family who got their name (‘stufa‘ in Italian means ‘heater’) because they ran the public hot baths. The della Stufas made a lot of money because even though the baths were ‘public’, you had to pay to use them and the Florentines were pretty good about keeping clean. The family was very influential in the city and its members were often elected to public office. There’s also a very narrow little street called via della Stufa (where the architect and sculptor Bartolommeo Ammannati lived before he died) just off Piazza San Lorenzo and where today there’s a public bathroom, one of the few in Florence.