Florence is a city whose character has been dominated by Catholicism since the Middle-Ages. Throughout the years, religion has played a significant role in many aspects of its social life. Culturally and artistically, the city initially developed under the Papal Influence. This strong relationship becomes obvious also in an urban realm: Catholic churches are the strongest elements in the urban grid. Not only the Duomo, but also many minor churches serve as symbols and reference points.
However, seasons change and historic cities like Florence enter in the era of the globalization. The immigration and the different population allocations have resulted in the mixing of many religious beliefs in the European cities, and Florence is not an exception. Among others, the worship of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and the Christian dogmas of Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Evangelism, Methodism, and the Jehovah witnesses are active in Florence.
So the faithfuls try to consolidate their existence, to acquire their private places, even to spread their cultures through festivals and temporary events. The urban grid, on the other hand, doesn’t seem ready to accept the new era. The non-Catholic places of worship are mainly reused spaces, basements or ground floors not designed to be churches, and therefore present many shortcomings to the needs of every religious group. These spaces are often hidden among the dense buildings, much unlike the prominent catholic temples, and they are rather hard to identify. Typical example of this situation, the mosque in the Borgo Allegri street, seen from outside, reminds one more of a shop or an agency and less of a temple. Other religions are being housed out of the city center, like the Hare Krishna temple and the Buddhist institute. The synagogue is an exception, and one of the few non-Christian temples that, with its green dome, defines the city’s skyline.
The mixing of religions is starting to concern the Florentine citizens. ”Meeting in what divides us” was the motto of the first Festival of the Religions that took place in Florence on May 2, 2014 and was a significant step towards public awareness.
In urban terms, many questions are created on the evolution of this situation. How can a city with such a strict character, like Florence. equally accommodate people of different cultures and religions? What type of urban tools and architectural elements should be used and introduced at places of worship, so as to not alter its historic, medieval image? And finally, should the spatial solution precede or succeed the social change?
Credits: Images by Marilena Mela, collage by Alex Lala. Data linked to sources.