Florence is one of my top favorite cities. Why? You can walk the same streets as Michelangelo and Da Vinci and melt over their works in countless museums. You can be in the breathtaking Tuscan countryside in 15 minutes. Or you can get off-the-beaten-path without ever leaving the city. In 2017, I spent two months living in the wonderful Oltrarno district, where I came across Florence’s off-the-beaten-path jewels on a daily basis.
As the magic of Italy would have it, I happened to meet a new friend who connected me with the most impressive off-the-beaten-path jewel I’d yet to discover in Florence. Over the view from Fiesole and sandwiches brought to life by pecorino cream, my amico casually told me his mother works in Florence’s historic silk factory, Anticio Setificio Fiorentino.
Stepping Inside the Antico Setificio Fiorentino
24 hours later, I was greeting his lovely mom, Luana, with a kiss on each cheek and stepping inside the factory for a behind-the-scenes look!
Luana has been working at the factory for 8 years, the epitome of a dream job for someone who studied weaving and art. The factory itself, however, has been at work for the past 235 years–since 1786. They can identify the textiles in some of the fabrics and tapestries that appear in paintings in the Uffizi Museum as textiles made in their own factory!
Luana walked me through each step of the process, from making a single thread to combining threads to make thicker thread and eventually tassels and decorations to be attached to their textiles. To top it off, the fringes, cords, and braids are created using a warper designed by Leonardo Da Vinci himself!
Then we entered the impressive room full of antique looms where they make the most luxurious silks I’ve ever touched, along with other elegant fabrics and tapestries.
This is how they create the patterns and translate it to the loom.
What I found most intriguing was that in the same way that Florence’s most powerful families would use the architecture of their palaces to portray messages of power and strength to the rest of the city and their rivals, these illustrious families also designed their own propaganda-laden pattern used in their family-specific textiles. Notice how these two patterns below seem to express two different agendas; the left one of strength and power and the right one of elegance, finery, and perhaps enlightened knowledge.
Touring the Antico Setificio Fiorentino was like stepping back in time. I was in direct contact with the textiles that decorated history itself. Luana was beaming with pride to be working there, so intimately connected to a continuous line of impressive history, and it was such an honor to see the factory through her eyes.
With so many artisans in Florence creating breathtaking work the traditional way, it’s difficult to give one a title higher than another. But the Antico Setificio Fiorentino is most definitely Florence’s off-the-beaten-path jewel!
Want to step back in history for a behind-the-scenes look inside the silk factory? Creative Edge Travel can arrange a special visit and many more unique experiences in local spots throughout Florence and Italy. Just send us a message here!
Besides working as a weaver at the Antico Setificio Fiorentino, Luana is also a talented painter and ceramicist. You can view her works here.