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The Ferragamos' Florence

Lo Spillo (72R Borgo San Jacopo; 39-055/293-126)—"the pin"—refers both to the size and contents of one of Giovanna's haunts. "The shop is devoted to vintage stickpins, lapel pins, hatpins, and brooches," she says. "The Oltrarno is full of high-end antiques dealers, but this is one spot where you don't have to wring your hands over the prices."

After it crosses Piazza Frescobaldi, Borgo San Jacopo becomes Via di Santo Spirito, where the woodcarvers at Castorina (13-15R; 39-055/212-885) meticulously restore and replicate Palazzo Spini Feroni's pelmets and pedestals. More realistically scaled for the rest of us are Baroque picture frames, marquetry boxes, and faux malachite obelisks.

Reverence for the original article also sets apart the painted furniture made by Ponziani (27 Via Santo Spirito; 39-055/287-958). The search stops here for a copy of the Duchess of Windsor's japanned Queen Anne bureau bookcase or a facsimile of a 17th-century pharmacist's cupboard, perfect for storing pasta.

what to see

Launched in 1995 by Ferruccio and his siblings in homage to their father, the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo (Palazzo Spini Feroni, 2 Via Tornabuoni; 39-055/360-456; by appointment) holds twice-yearly exhibitions that are drawn from an archive of more than 10,000 Ferragamo shoes. The earliest models date to the twenties, when Salvatore first worked in Hollywood and, in pursuit of functional perfection, studied anatomy at UCLA. A benchmark sandal from 1956 has straps of twisted rope in 18-karat gold and a metallic heel engraved with a dragon motif. Beginning in 1960, Ferragamo footwear was designed by Fiamma, the daughter Salvatore designated to succeed him, who died last year. (Today the shoe lines are created by a team under the family's direction.) Fiamma was in futuristic mode in 1968 when she introduced a style with an upper band of crocheted raffia and a strap that threads through a trapezoidal heel to grip the instep.

Commissioned by a Medici wannabe, Luca Pitti, the fortresslike Palazzo Pitti (Piazza dei Pitti; 39-055/294-883) displays a collection of Florentine Renaissance paintings second only to that of the Uffizi (6 Piazzale degli Uffizi; 39-055/294-883). But it is the Galleria del Costume within the Pitti that speaks most directly to the Ferragamos. Thirteen salons host changing exhibitions of dress from the 18th century to 1925. Bags, shawls, fans, gloves, and walking sticks paint a fully accessorized picture of what it meant to get dressed (whew!) in the salad days of the Medici court.

Though in the center of Florence, Piazza Santo Spirito has the slow-motion feel of a provincial square. At the north end sits the Basilica di Santo Spirito (39-055/211-716), "the most overlooked church in Florence and one of the loveliest," says Massimo. Augustinian monks gave up a meal every day for 50 years to help fund Brunelleschi's last—and some say best—work. Many of the 38 chapels retain their original altarpieces and frontals.

Santo Spirito was completed in the 1490's, the same decade a friar named Savonarola lit his famous "bonfire of the vanities" in the Piazza della Signoria, torching furniture, books, and "erotic" paintings in a blazing act of damnation. A porphyry plaque on the square marks the spot. "On a sunny day in November, the Piazza della Signoria is the most enchanting place in Florence," says Ferruccio. "Sitting at a café you see the Duomo cupola on one side, and on the other, the Loggia dei Lanzi, with its parade of Roman statues, including Cellini's Perseus. In front of you is a copy of David right where Michelangelo placed him, before the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall. Just pray for no traffic."

Leonardo loves Florence's city-country duality. "The proximity of countryside—real countryside—always astonishes me," he says. "Walk five minutes west from Piazza Torquato Tasso, and you find yourself in the kind of cypress-scattered landscape that so pleased Henry James."

One of Florence's great unknown jewels, according to Giovanna, is the Museo Marino Marini (Piazza San Pancrazio; 39-055/219-432), occupying the deconsecrated medieval church of San Pancrazio. "Marini is one of the most important sculptors of this century," she says, "and yet he remains in the shadows." The artist's dominant theme was the horse and rider, a topic he treated in bronze and invested with tender but doomed symbolism. "My father chose Florence because of its charm and tradition of craftsmanship—and also because of museums like this," she continues. "Of course, there's a catch to this city: no matter how many times you visit, you are never satisfied-which explains the large expat community. Everyone leaves longing to return."


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