|Foreboding fortress near Florence's railway station|
Fortezza da Basso is a Renaissance fortress complex built by the Medici in the 1530s on a design of Sangallo il Giovane. Inside the massive walls that once protected the city, enormous hangar like exhibition spaces were bursting with bargains and beautiful objects, traditional foods, and stalls for the Artisans’ Fair which closes today .
|ceramics resembling ivory|
The Fair, first set up 76 years ago, gives pride of place to both traditional artisans and contemporary design.
Scattered throughout eight days in April are 25 collateral happenings plus special areas pulsating with creative people.
|wooden toys, email@example.com|
The scope of the Fair is enormous making it necessary to prioritize, choosing only certain sectors and interests in order not to wander aimlessly among the hundreds of exhibits.
|delightful cat ceramics|
The main exhibit hall, Spadolini, has areas set aside for the guest country-this year Thailand, restaurants and unique handmade objects in classic, modern, ethnic, contemporary and futuristic styles .
I noted young people trying on Japanese kimonos in the Cavaniglia hall next to Italian handicrafts in textiles, wood, silver and ceramics.
The Fair is an international mix of cultures. Where else will you find jewelery made from coins in Argentina or hear the haunting sounds of aboriginal didgeridoo while sipping red wine from Tuscany’s Maremma?
Where else could you watch Cretan icon artist Nektaria painting while women tried on summery frocks made in India?
The traditional artifacts on show and for purchase range from tiny toys in olive wood up to heavy travertine sinks and fireplaces, unique chests from Umbria alongside traditional Tuscan-style furniture.
With Italian artisans still producing such magnificent furniture, built to last for generations, who needs Ikea ?
|Legno & Colore from Città di Castello, Umbria|
|traditional Tuscan furniture|
|lamps by Giuseppe Campanella, Polignano a Mare|
|From Monopoli, cushions by Giovanni Giotta|
|Bottega Orafa Bartoccioni, Città di Castello (PG)|
There were many irresistible tastes and perfumes in the air. The sellers entice by offering tiny tastes and dabs of their wares. The strategy works and a jar of hand cream, one of the perfumed cosmetics made with donkey milk, came home with me, as did a flacon of Modena's delicious vinegar.
|Laura Rovida's hand loomed textiles -the only artisan from Lazio|
Florence is also Fashion and the leather sector is one of the few in Italy's present crisis not undergoing a recession. In fact there is need for hundreds of trained technicians and artisans to turn out belts, bags and shoes for international markets.
|Bochicchio belts and bags from Leonardo da Vinci's hometown|
|Colorful bags of Gioia Chiara's|
I picked out a soft blue leather bag that doubles as a backpack from Gioia Chiara whose family has been producing and selling on Via della Scala in Florence since the 1940s.
|Bargain prices from Pistoia factory|
Sweaters and shirts in bright spring colors were presented by Cashmerissimi, a Pistoia factory.
The food sector was amply represented. There were huge loaves of bread and biscotti from Puglia, truffles and mushrooms, pates, mozzarella, gelato, chocolate and beers.
|Bread man of Puglia|
Mark your calendar for next year’s event and if you missed this fair, perhaps you can make it to Florence on the May 12-13 weekend for the smaller fair happening in the gardens of Palazzo Corsini.
Tips for Florence: take the train, leave the car at home.
|Beato Angelico frescoed the monks' cells - San Marco Monastery|
Where to stay? I keep going back to Hotel Orto dei Medici, a 3 star hotel with 5 star feel.
|cloister of San Marco's near the Hotel Orto dei Medici|
|Library of San Marco, where Savonarola was captured|
Leave a comment and let me know your special places, artisans and happenings .
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Next week I will be highlighting the “Festa di Primavera” in a tiny hamlet with a long name -Villa San Giovanni in Tuscia.
I will be at the Expat Writers Book Fair at the Beehive Hotel in Rome, May 12th 3-5 p.m. Need directions ? Just ask.