An itinerary entirely focused on a very special type of dwelling, of which only a few examples remain in Florence.
(by Freepenguin, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Because of its large size, the Spini Ferroni palace can be defined more as a “tower palace” than a tower house. However, it is possible to find within the building all the characteristic elements already seen in the latter type of construction.
Its construction started in 1289 by the very rich merchant and politician Geri Spini. On this land his family already owned some towers including those purchased from the monks of the nearby church of Holy Trinity. At that time, it was the largest private palace in Florence, the only one that could compete with Palazzo Vecchio, built in those same years.
Since the 14th century, the palace was divided into two properties belonging to two branches of the Spini family: one facing the Arno, inhabited by the Spini family until the 19th century, and one facing the square, whose family had to give up ownership due to financial difficulties. Today it represents the most remodelled part, especially in the internal structure, where since the 17th century, the staircase was redone, and some rooms were embellished.
The new owner of half the palace became Marquis Francesco Antonio Feroni, a nobleman of very recent date, humble origins and troubled life in Amsterdam. He became a wealthy banker and was able to welcome Grand Duke Cosimo III with such great pomp that he earned the title of nobility and a position as senator in Florence. Finally, in 1807, the marquis could also buy the other half of the palace.
In 1832 the palace was sold to the Homberts Family, who opened a hotel there, the Hotel de l’Europe. At that time, the palace still abutted the river, divided only by a vaulted passageway. The river was expanded in those years and necessitated the rebuilding of the new facade, where some coats of arms were inserted and are still visible today. These coats of arms include those of the Spini family, the city of Florence, Charles of Valois and the Caetani family, in honour of Pope Boniface VIII, an ally and distant relative of Geri Spini.
The Municipality bought it by reunifying even internally the two original parts in 1846 and later used it as its headquarters during the years of Florence Capital (1865-1871) when Palazzo Vecchio was “requisitioned” by the Italian government to settle there. In 1938 the palace was purchased by Salvatore Ferragamo as the headquarters and leading boutique for his footwear and leather goods designer business that made him world famous. Since 1995, the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum has been open there.
Today Palazzo Spini Feroni remains one of the best examples of medieval residential architecture in Florence, although its aged appearance is partly the result of some restoration work in 1874.
It is curious to see these medieval towers in a modern context today. We can only admire them and value their past more, knowing the thousands of events in which they have been protagonists.
The Florentine towers still rise to remind us of medieval Florence’s creative and bloody past.