In Florence it is now possible to discover the city through guided tours along the “Arno”.
Admire the city’s architecture, artistic beauty and nature from the point of view of the world reknowned “Arno” River. The excursions are made possible thanks to the work of volunteers whom over the years have joined their forces to create an association whose aim is to revive the age-old Florentine tradition of sand digging.
The boats used on the tours are the actual boats which were uses by the florentine “Renaioli” in the past. For centuries, until about ten years ago, you could view crowds of “Renaioli” skowering the Arno river several times a day to recover precious material necessary to reconstruct Florence’s ancient city walls and Palazzo’s which are admired worldwide.
From dusk to dawn, men more or less young, ploughed the silver river waters on boats of various kind. Canoes and little boats, that steered without oars, moving thanks to the push that the “Renaiolo” exerted on the bottom of the river with Long-sweeping wooden-oars.
They searched the richest spots of the bottom. They then strarted to take out heaps of sand which was taken to shore and was divided in different piles according to the size. From the river they recovered various material, such as gigantic Pillars to gravel and a finer quality of sand.
The fine sand is called “veil” it was a sand of an extremely high quality, in fact it was used to put the finishing touches to the walls plaster. A much higher quality than the sand dug out from a quarry. All these materials were essential for many building sites that are still functioning today. The sand was carried to the sites with carts pulled by horses. These carts were called “Barrocci” and they always travelled the same route. Without the “Renaioli” Florence wouldn’t of had the most important building materials necessary.
The “Renaioli” became important figures for the “Arno” river and for Florence. They were vital for the architecture and characteristic lifestyle of a city that has been a leading destination for merchants, politicians, artists and travellers for centuries. Powerful men, often bare-back with large brimmed hats, sailed up and down the “Arno” river attracting the attention of many people and often protagonist of very important deeds. In fact, they often acted as lifeguards along the river in the many occasions where imprudent bathers found themselves in trouble, and their boats were also very important in case of city floods.
For centuries the work of the “Renaioli” was very precious, handed down from father to son for generations. A very hard job that often created envy, but allowed them to work everyday because of Florence’s high demand of the necessary materials that were recovered from the bottom of the river.