Francesca Matteoni moved to Florence in January, though she had lived there once before while studying at Florence’s Academy of Fine Art.
Since settling in to her cozy Tuscan flat in Florence’s surrounding hills, she’s launched a new business that incorporates her passion for photography and her love of everyday life in Firenze.
Here, we chat about life, work, and art in the Tuscan capital.
What do you like about living in Florence?
I am forever bound to the nature of Tuscany, with its silver olive branches, stoic cypress trees, crisp autumnal scents, warm sunsets, and wild ruins. I’m moved simply talking about it! This is why I choose to live in the countryside, and why it’s a comfort to be close to the city of Florence, but not in it.
Cities often make me feel locked inside a box after a while but, to me, Florence is a unique and splendid box. The city’s history jumps out of its corners and streets all the time. You can walk down the same alley over and over again, then one day you’ll notice a detail on a wall, a phrase or something that’s been there for centuries that you just didn’t notice before. It makes you feel like you’re not alone in the sense that civilization has stood exactly where you’re standing. But it also charges you with the responsibility to respect and share in the sacredness of a place. Having aperitivi, chatting with friends, or simply walking in those places makes you feel extremely lucky sometimes.
How would you describe local life in Florence?
It’s the most “open” city in Tuscany, by which I mean we have the chance to meet people from all over Italy, and the world. The variety of people is inspiring.
Summer nights in Florence also have a “gypsy” quality to them, and the streets are happily noisy. There are plenty of restaurants and local bars where you can enjoy good wine and conversation while taking in the warm, evening air.
Do you think that travelers get a taste of the true culture and lifestyle of Florence when they visit?
The first thing I think of is the city’s main squares and streets — they’re just full of places for tourists and big chain shops. If people only explore these main areas when they visit, they’re not going to get a real taste of the city. The real taste of the city, I would say, is just a few steps off the main roads, in places like Santo Spirito or Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio. There, and in other areas nearby, you can discover the true Florentine culture.
I always encourage people to be curious, to step outside the main tracks and explore. The photos I shoot and the prints I make encourage this as well because they share a glimpse inside Florentine life.
Can you tell me more about your work?
I used to be an art instructor, but decided to take a break to study and become a yoga teacher instead. But during that time, I also became an “Instagrammer,” which isn’t a full-time job, but something I still do every day. The feedback I received from my community encouraged me to set up my own website, where people can order my photographs on printed canvas. This is still new to me, and I am looking forward to exploring it more.
Each of my photos come from my little, big travels around Tuscany. They capture the moments when I feel deeply connected to my territory, when I’m observing and exploring the land I was born and raised in. I am particularly passionate about showcasing the hidden corners of Tuscany and my biggest hope is to communicate the dialogue I have with the land.
Do you work in the city?
My studio isn’t based in the city, but I did work in an artisanal jewelry shop in the heart of Florence for many years. During that time, I discovered that every quarter of the city is like a little village — they have their own shops, and people generally know one another. After a while, it feels like the people working in the shop next door (or at the end of your street) are friends.
Do you have any favorite photography spots in Florence?
Of course! There are two places I’d say are my “favorite.” The first is Piazza Santa Croce — an amazing square. It feels so different than the rest of city’s squares. In that piazza, sunset is a sight to behold, too, and there are marble benches where you can rest as you watch the colors change in the sky. The Santa Croce church’s façade is also interesting, as it depicts a fascinating-looking “lady” who is wise and calm like the square itself. Its beauty is the backdrop of Florence.
The second place isn’t actually a place; it’s any spot where I can suddenly see the top of the hills surrounding the city, like a crown around the valley. They aren’t always visible, but sometimes, when you least expect it, you’ll see them. These hills have been the stage of my favorite sunny days and nights. They’re a calming presence; always there, around the cold stones of the city, even if I can’t see them.
Do you ever explore the city at night? If so, where do you go?
The light of Florence at night is simply romantic. Although I don’t go out often, every time I do, I find myself stunned by the majestic view of Florence’s buildings. The lights of the city at night are yellow and warm; the narrow alleys develop a strange, silent atmosphere, while the squares and main streets are crowded with voices and faces. The cathedrals look like gentle giants, finally resting after busy days spent posing for thousands of pictures — they reveal their quiet nature as they watch over the city as it falls asleep. I love night in the city because everything looks different, and I can enjoy the city in peace.
What do you hope to share with those traveling to Florence?
This city has seen a lot of history, and by “history,” I mean the lives of so many people. The time that consumed their lives has also consumed the stones of Florence’s buildings, and I firmly believe that a place like this has a unique and deep human energy. This is what I hope people can spot in the corners of my pictures. The affection for tradition is huge here; it is the essential Tuscan taste that lives throughout the city’s stories, art, food, and streets.
Give yourself time to adapt to the place you visit, not like a tourist, but like someone who understands what they’re watching, someone who can truly experience the moment. Be patient with us Italians; give us a way to get to know you, and you’ll uncover Mediterranean hospitality — it may even open doors for you to discover the handmade products of Tuscany. Be respectful of the land, the old ruins, and the city streets. I hope you get the very best from the land of art and cypresses.