Il Mercato Centrale revives the heart of Florence

It can be so easy for an urban center to lose its purpose. Keeping it alive depends on having a community plan, a commitment to reviving abandoned spaces and initiatives to create new interests that keep residents engaged. That’s exactly what Umberto Montano did with the city of Florence.

Umberto’s dream was to rebuild the commercial area in the San Lorenzo neighborhood, which had been deserted for years. His first goal was to revive the old market that used to be the center of everything in Florence, a simple iron and glass structure dating back to 1874, designed by Giuseppe Mengoni.

What started as an impulse became one of his biggest successes. Il Mercato Centrale opened in Spring of 2014 and was quickly supported by merchants, craftsmen, and chefs all over the Tuscan region. The newly redesigned space that beautifully integrated natural and modern elements quickly became one of the city’s main attractions. 

But Il Mercato is more the perfect place to enjoy lunch. It’s a place for countless culinary lessons. You’ll find traditional masters in the art of bread, fish, cheeses, oils, and wines from all over Tuscany, as well as chefs that are more experimental. All of them offering honest products at reasonable prices.

Last time we visited, one of our favorite spots at the market was the vegetarian booth with their delicious Piatti Vegetariani. A beautiful raw seasonal salad that was lightly seasoned. Right next to it, another booth offered the Tuscan equivalent of veggie tempura. Also very lightly seasoned and battered.

Aside from offering samples of everything that makes this region great, the market has a second floor that works as a full-service restaurant. On the first floor, you’ll also find Mario Batali’s Eataly store and Bodega Chianti Classico for some of the best local Chianti wine. 

More than reviving the center of town, Umberto gave this place a reason to exist. He helped create a unique experience with the taste of Florence. Il Mercato’s positive impact has also expanded to the surrounding commercial and tourists areas: clothing boutiques, museums, and churches, cafes and book stores — Necessary foot traffic for the city to continue blooming.

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