Florence is a city dripping with history. If you spend one afternoon walking around aimlessly you are bound to pass through some of the most historically rich piazzas, buildings, statues and more just by chance. While many of these structures are constantly being restored in an effort to preserve their historical integrity and maintain the feeling of magic that they have held since the renaissance, just outside of the tourist packed historical center lies a structure that holds a different type of antique magic.
Located on Via Ghibellina, Le Murate is a modern multipurpose complex that opened in April of 2011 and has become a cultural and recreational hub for Florence dwellers. Within Le Murate one can find apartments, offices, conference rooms, shops, restaurants, bars, and open spaces to relax in on a beautiful day.
While the adaptive reuse of the old buildings instead of simple restoration is what has kept me coming back, what brought me there in the first place is Le Murate’s diverse history. Built in 1424, Le Murate served as a convent that the Benedictine sisters of Santa Caterina called home. The nuns chose to live a life isolated from society, which lends itself to the buildings current name, Le Murate, which means the walled-up.
In the 19th century the French had rule over Tuscany and Florence’s religious orders were suppressed. In 1883, Le Murate underwent its first adaptive reuse as the convent was retrofitted to serve as a men’s prison. This remained the building’s purpose for about 100 years until 1985 when a decision was made to transfer the detainees to facilities that were not so centrally located. Bits and pieces of its religious and prison past can still be seen throughout the complex.
In order to appreciate Le Murate from a historical standpoint, one must look at it from a different angle than many of the other Florence landmarks. It is a structure that became disused and then adaptively reused in a way that conserved its historical value and resources. Adaptive reuse is a form of restoration that allows for a building with an outdated purpose to be reintegrated into society and actively contribute to it. By doing so, the integrity of the built environment and its origins are maintained.
Enjoying the events hosted at Caffe Letterario Le Murate in the evenings has quickly become one of my favorite things to do in the city and I would recommend it to everyone. It gives life to the cultural mixing pot that is Florence bringing together locals, tourists, and expats in a modern way.
Anna Perrone is a junior at the University of Kansas studying Strategic Communications in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Anna is attending LDM for the Spring semester of 2018 where she is enrolled in the 16 Unit Super Intensive Italian Program. With family roots in Italy and an innate interest in people and artful expressions, she is looking forward to her time in Florence and immersing herself in the local culture.