The Florentine Quarter: A Tel Aviv Neighborhood not to be missed on your Israel tour!
By Rachel Spitz
Intensity lingers about the neighborhood despite its stillness. One gets the sensation that the neighborhood of Florentine by night is only half the story.
During the day, Florentine is a busy, bustling, neighborhood filled with craftsmen, carpenters, upholsterers, cobblers and bakers. And, for each trade, there are countless shops; some have been around for decades, others are just sprouting up now. Day or night, Florentine awakens the senses.
Sounds of life call out from Vital Street just a few meters away. This street is an oasis of modernity that, in the last few years, has rejuvenated the nightlife in this neighborhood. A side street boasts trendy cafes, pubs and dance clubs filled with young, hip people. Music and conversation spill into the street, breathing energy into this district.
The Florentine Quarter was named after David Florentine, a Greek Zionist who purchased the land from Arabs in the late 1920s. Early inhabitants found the area appealing since, at the time, it lay near a train line from Jaffa to Jerusalem. Ashkenazi artists were the initial inhabitants of the neighborhood.
In the 1990s, a gentrification campaign sponsored by the municipality started bringing back Ashkenazi artists, yuppies and hippies. A small renaissance has been set in motion by young Tel Avivians who are interested in inexpensive apartments, Bauhaus architecture, and chic night life. Today, bakeries, pubs and restaurants compete with old-fashioned, family-owned hummus and bureka shops whose names seldom even appear on their dusty awnings.
Pedestrians, cars and bicycle riders all compete for space in the narrow streets. Trucks stop in the middle of the traffic to unload furniture, inviting a cacophony of car horns and shouts. Shiny, new convertibles inch past immigrant workers on their bikes. Young men with Rasta dreadlocks impatiently weave around old men whose shopping carts get caught on the potholed pavement.
Florentine’s bustle extends throughout the entire neighborhood. On Levinsky Street, spice shops overlap each other seizing your senses. Burlap sacks brimming with colored seasonings are labeled in both Arabic and Hebrew; their scents blur together into one overwhelming fragrance of rosemary, oregano, curry and vanilla. Wolfson, Matalon and Herzl Streets are lined with countless stores that sell furniture, household appliances and various light fixtures. Window after window shows off similar displays, leaving you with a wonderful feeling of knowing that you are witnessing a diversity of cultures all in one block.
Between Vital and Stern Streets, a lane exists that, at first glance, seems a charming respite from the surrounding stimulation. Brick replaces pavement underfoot, trees line the middle of the lane, and lampposts with candy-cane curves smile onto park benches. Blooming flowers decorate the porches overhead - this street could resemble a tiny slice of Europe.
Venturing into the Florentine Quarter is like entering a melting pot. Old and new converge into one with jumbled ease, providing a sense of curiosity. The neighborhood’s character may be a complex one, but it clearly speaks for itself.