Via de’ Tornabuoni
Florence's Millionaire's Row
Milan’s current status as headquarters of Italy’s fashion industry is a sore point with Florence, which used to be top dog and lost its position in the 1970s for lack of a large international airport. Florence, in a few words, wants its business back. Pitti Uomo, the biannual men’s ready-to-wear trade fair, is now the most important event of its kind in Italy, and the increase in traffic at the local airport has made the city considerably more accessible.
Via de’ Tornabuoni and the surrounding streets sport window displays that could hold their own anywhere. In the bright and ambitious 1400s, when Florence was the centre of European high finance, Via de’ Tornabuoni and its environs was the area the new merchant élite chose for their palaces.
Today’s bankers build great skyscrapers for the firm and settle for modest mansions for themselves; in Florence’s heyday, things were reversed. Bankers and wool tycoons really owned their businesses. Their homes were imposing city palaces, often with their offices on the ground floor, all built in the same conservative style and competing with each other in size like some Millionaires’ Row in 19th-century America.