An itinerary entirely devoted to the Florentine trade guilds that contributed so much to the city's wealth and prestige.
(by Horemhat, CC BY 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
The building that hosted the Arte Dei Mercadanti or Calimala Guild between 1359 and 1570 is located on Via Calimaruzza at the corner of Piazza Della Signoria. Although the building underwent major remodelling in the eighteenth century, one can still observe the characteristic rustication of which the first two floors are made, a technique in which stone blocks were laid in staggered rows. All around the palace, above the arches on the ground floor, are roundels with the symbol of the Guild. Specifically, on Calimaruzza Street, above the front door, is the actual emblem that indicates the guild. It consists of a golden eagle clutching a rolled woollen cloth called “torsello”. In this specific emblem, there is also the addition of a background studded with fleurs de France because of the close trade relations.
The origin of the name Calimala is still uncertain. According to some hypotheses, it would descend from the Latin “callis maia” or “mala”, meaning great or lousy road. According to others, it would derive from the Greek Kalos “mallos”, meaning beautiful wool.
The association was administered by a board of consuls who were strictly Florentine, over thirty years of age and belonging to the Guelph faction. Thanks to the exercise of this council, members of the guild could enjoy numerous benefits such as assistance in case of insolvent debtors, practical help in case of fraud, and a kind of seniority pension for members for more than sixteen years. The guild had even hired a corps of armed guards to protect its business. In addition to guarding the warehouses and stores, they were also in charge of fighting any unauthorised mercantile traffic within the city.
The network of mercantile activities was huge, and many of the Florentine trading companies had warehouses and branches in various European and Eastern cities. But, as specified by the same banner of the gryphon with the torsello, the wool trade was undoubtedly the most important and lucrative. It led to close relations with the Arte Della Seta and the Arte Della Lana.
Calimala merchants bought cloth directly from where it was produced, especially at Champagne, Flanders, or England fairs. Then, they resold it in the European marketplaces, often after processing it only to make it softer and more colourful.
Together with Florentine Wool Art, a market-sharing agreement was established to avoid competition and conflict of interest. It stipulated that the Mercadante would trade their clothes abroad, and the wool workers would instead sell theirs on the domestic market.
In addition to woollen products, the association also procured silver, gold, pearls, and coral directly from local markets.
Primarily because of the foreign nature of much of the trade, the members of this Art engaged in real business activities, importing and exporting in large quantities to fairs and markets all over Europe. Calimala’s gradual decline was linked to the equally gradual loss of importance of the Champagne fairs, which entered a downward phase as early as the 14th century.