The Streets of Florence

By Jillian McCarthy, FFE, 2016-17

The streets of Florence have many interesting names. Most of them happen to be derived from Florence’s rich cultural history.

For example, one of the symbols of Florence is a lion, and lions used to be kept in cages near Piazza della Signoria. One of the streets near Piazza della Signoria is titled Via dei Leoni, in honor of the lions kept there around the 13th and 14th centuries – the height of the Renaissance. Another street named after an important Florentine animal is Via delle Oche. In English “Oche” means geese. It is uncertain whether the street was named in honor of the geese consumed on All Saints Day or to represent a family’s coat of arms who lived on the street.

Our own street that all the FFE students live on is called Via San Gallo, and it is named after Giuliano Sangallo, the architect that the Medici family favored. He designed the Porto San Gallo, which was the gate to the city of Florence that led to the Church of San Gallo that he also was commissioned to design for the Augustinian monks.

Another historical street is Via Guelfa, which commemorates the victory of the Guelfi Fiorentini in the Battle of Campoldino (11 June 1289). There were two factions that existed in Florence, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The former supported the Pope and the latter supported the Holy Roman Emperor. This historical rivalry played a role in naming Via Guelfa, and Via Ghibellina near La Chiesa di Santa Croce.

Via Camillo Benso Cavour was named after the Italian statesman who became Prime Minister of Italy. He advocated for Italian unification. Cavour was founder the Liberal Party, but died three months after entering office. He did not live to see Roma or Venezia join the new, United Italian Nation.

The street of Santa Reparata has roots in Saint Reparata. She is the co-patron saint of Florence. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore was built on top of the former Florence Cathedral, Santa Reparata.

Other streets across the river in the Oltrarno, such as Via del Canneto, take its name from “canna” (meaning reed) and “canneto” (meaning grove of reeds). The street Costa Scarpuccia comes from “scarpata” meaning cliff or scope and “uccia,” which implies smallness. Most likely the street takes its name from these terms because the street is very small despite the incline.

Near the Boboli Gardens there is a street called Vicolo della Cava. It is named accordingly as “cava” is a quarry which the street leads to on the Boboli hillside. The quarry was closed after Cosimo I de Medici and his wife, Eleonora del Toledo, purchased the Pitti Palace and the land that would later become the gardens.

The street with the saddest origin is Via Madonna delle Tosse, after mothers who went there to pray for their children with whooping cough. A church was constructed there named La Chiesa della Madonna delle Tosse. The name translates to the “Madonna of the Cough.”

Florence is a rich, historical city and its streets are named accordingly so. As you make your way through the museums and galleries of Florence you will quickly begin to make the connections to the names of the streets that you walk down everyday! Those Florentines were clever in preserving the origins of their city.

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