Florence’s original city wall extended along Via del Proconsolo from the Arno to the Duomo, but in the 12th century the city decided to expand the walls to incorporate suburbs that had popped up outside of the wall. The Arco di San Pierino, off of Via dell’Oriuolo, may be what remains of that medieval wall. Under the arch, Volta di San Piero takes you past cafes and into Piazza di San Piero Maggiore.
Piazza di San Piero Maggiore is named for a church that had been founded in the 11th century, remodeled, and, finally, demolished (the structure was deemed dangerous in the 18th century). The façade of the church remains–a grand white arch opening onto the square.
Piazza di San Piero Maggiore is a bright. busy square home to numerous cafes, restaurants . . .and a popular Irish pub called The Lion’s Fountain. The medieval Torre dei Corbizzi looms over it all.
Florence’s medieval towers—torri (sing. torre) started rising in the twelfth century, and many are still present. They are tall, rather narrow stone structures, built by wealthy and powerful Florentine families as both defensive and residential buildings. The city has placed small brown signs outside of most torri to notify passersby of construction dates and family names. Several of these buildings were outside of the city when they were built—they were country homes or part of one of the suburbs that were enclosed with the city wall’s expansion. The word “borgo” means “village”; it’s likely each of the roads called “borgo” indicate a former village on the site. That seems to be the case for Borgo degli Albizi, which branches off of the pizza by the café I Ghibbellini and under the careful eye of a carved Madonna.
I find this street fascinating; it’s crowded with torri and palazzos, many of which now inhabited by boutiques, stationers, and restaurants. Look up for the architecture and for the busts that stand above doorways.
At Piazzetta Piero Calamandrei stands the torre built by the family after whom this street is named: the Torre degli Albizi.
This imposing structure was built in the 13th-14th centuries.
Further along, Palazzo Valori-Altoviti is recognizable for the series of herms that stand outside the building. There are 15 in all, five on each floor, and they represent learned Florentines. Dante is here, as are Vespucci, Ficino, Petrarch, and Lorenzo il Magnifico.
Just before Via del Proconsolo, at the corner of Borgo degli Albizi and Via Giraldi you’ll find the 16th century Palazzo Ramirez de Montalvo. Montalvo, from Castile, Spain, arrived in Florence with Eleanor of Toledo for her marriage to Cosimo I. Montalvo served the Medici household, for which Cosimo I rewarded him: first with a house and, later, the means of renovating that house into what we see today.
It’s reported that the palace’s colorful façade was designed by Vasari. The Medici coat of arms are displayed as tribute to Cosimo I. Currently, Hotel Bavaria occupies its second and third floors.
Just a short bit away Via del Proconsolo ends Borgo degli Albizi; the street across is Via del Corso. But here, by Palazzo Nonfinito, turn right and soon you’ll see Brunelleschi’s dome come into view.
Aside: Just at the beginning of a street leading away from Piazza di San Piero Maggiore, Via Matteo Palmieri, you’ll find a restaurant called Il Coccolo—it specializes in fried goodies. The place is inexpensive, fun, and the food is fantastic.