The Art of Soap Making in Florence

Tiếng Việt

For centuries, Florence was known as the centre of European art, culture and architecture. It was here that the Renaissance was born and flourished, and many legendary artists had made this place home. However, the city on the Arno River was also famous for the crafting skill of its artisans. From gold, leather to common items such as soap, the Florentine really knew how to turn ordinary stuff into works of art.


Soap making history goes back to the year 2800 B.C. when the Babylonians made soap from animal fats boiled with ashes to clean wool and cotton. The name supposedly comes from Mount Sapo – a fictional mountain near Rome. The most basic ingredients for soap making are animal fat, such as tallow or vegetable oil, such as castor, olive or coconut oil.

Although soap had been used for a very long time in Italy, soap-making only became a real profession in Florence when the Medicis was in power. In case you didn’t know, the Medicis was one of the wealthiest and most influential dynasties in Italy and Europe during medieval times. They spent a large chunk of their fortune to refurbish their capital city; hiring architects and artists from all over the country to build grandiose churches, magnificent palazzi (palaces) and gorgeous giardini (gardens). Florence’s best-known landmark, Duomo di Firenze, was also created in this period.

Duomo di Firenze, the pride of Florence
View of Duomo di Firenze from Piazzale Michelangelo

Not only art was flourished under the rule of the Medicis, but businesses also expanded as well. The density of shops raised in the old town and on the Ponte Vecchio – Florence’s most popular trading spot, and trade guilds was also founded. In the case of the soap-makers, the corporation of Master Soapmakers was formed under the noble Art of Physicians and Pharmacists, with an alley in the heart of Florence still bearing the name of the Via dei Saponai (Soapmaker’s street).

Ponte Vecchio
A leather shop in Florence’s old town. These products show how skilful the Florentine artisans are.

Today, most soaps in Italy are produced industrially through a cold process (often referred as saponification) in which oils, mostly olive, coconut and palm oils, are mixed with an alkali, while very few manufacturers like Nesti Dante continue using the historical hot method (sometimes called the Marseille method) which entails four days’ heating in cauldrons and one day’s setting to guarantee the highest quality product.

Currently run by the members of the third generation, this family-owned company is one of the two Italian factories that still use the traditional method to produce “Made in Italy” soaps. Balancing tradition and innovation, their products are characterised by its natural yet sophisticated fragrance, ranging from rose, lavender to a selection of fruity aromas, as well as the beautifully hand-drawn package. Furthermore, only vegetable oils are used in their soaps and they aim to use the raw materials come from Tuscan terroir as much as possible in order to promote Florence and the Italian craftsmanship.


DISCLAIMER:

This post is written based on my personal experience. It was neither sponsored nor solicited by Nesti Dante or any third party. All texts and pictures reflect my own opinions and are provided solely for informational purpose. I will not be liable for any errors or damages by making use of this information.

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Florence và nghệ thuật làm xà phòng

Trong suốt nhiều thế kỉ, Florence được biết đến như một kinh đô văn hóa, kiến trúc và nghệ thuật của châu Âu. Chính tại nơi đây nghệ thuật thời kì Phục Hưng đã được sinh ra và phát triển mạnh mẽ, và không ít những nghệ sĩ thiên tài như Leonardo da Vinci hay Michelangelo cũng đã từng gọi Florence là nhà. Tuy nhiên, thành phố bên dòng Arno này còn được biết đến với các làng nghề thủ công truyền thống. Từ vàng, da thuộc cho đến những món đồ thông dụng như xà phòng, những người thợ thủ công thành Florence đều có thể biến chúng thành những tác phẩm nghệ thuật.

A leather shop in Florence’s old town. These products show how skilful the Florentine artisans are.

Xà phòng và nghề làm xà phòng đã xuất hiện từ rất lâu ở Italy, khoảng thế kỉ thứ nhất sau Công Nguyên. Vào thời kì này, xà phòng được tạo ra bằng cách trộn mỡ và tro, và nó được sử dụng để làm sạch len và cotton. Tuy nhiên mãi đến khi gia tộc Medici lên nắm quyền ở Florence vào khoảng thế kỉ 13 thì nghề làm xà phòng mới trở thành một nghề nghiệp được công nhận.

Một chút thông tin về gia tộc Medici: Medici là một trong những dòng tộc giàu có và quyền lực nhất thời kì Trung Cổ ở Ý và có tầm ảnh hưởng đến cả châu Âu. Nhà Medici đã sử dụng một phần lớn tài sản của mình để chỉnh trang tu bổ Florence. Họ đã chiêu mộ rất nhiều những họa sĩ và kiến trúc sư tài năng từ khắp nơi trên nước Ý về Florence để xây nên những nhà thờ, cung điện và khu vườn nguy nga tráng lệ. Niềm tự hào và biểu tượng của Florence, thánh đường Duomo di Firenze, cũng được xây dựng vào thời kì này.

Duomo di Firenze, the pride of Florence
View of Duomo di Firenze from Piazzale Michelangelo

Dưới sự trị vì của nhà Medici, không chỉ văn hóa nghệ thuật mà việc buôn bán cũng trở nên phát đạt hơn. Số lượng cửa hàng trong khu phố cổ và trên cầu Ponte Vecchio, một trong những địa điểm buôn bán sầm uất nhất Florence, đã tăng lên đáng kể. Các thương đoàn cũng được thành lập, bao gồm thương đoàn cho những người thợ làm xà phòng.

Ponte Vecchio

Ngày nay, phần lớn xà phòng ở Ý được sản xuất công nghiệp theo phương thức làm lạnh: dầu thực vật, chủ yếu là dầu oliu, dầu dừa và dầu cọ được trộn với kiềm để tạo ra phản ứng xà phòng hóa, rồi để lạnh để tạo khối. Chỉ còn một số rất ít những nhà sản xuất như Nesti Dante là còn sản xuất xà phòng theo phương thức thủ công, bao gồm 4 ngày đun nguyên liệu và một ngày để nguội để cho ra sản phẩm chất lượng tốt nhất. Thành lập từ sau thế chiến thứ 2, công ty gia đình Nesti Dante đã sản xuất xà phòng “Made in Italy” trong hơn 70 năm qua. Đến nay đã là đời thứ 3. Đặc điểm nổi bật của Nesti Dante là bao bì vẽ tay tuyệt đẹp cùng với hương thơm tinh tế sang trọng từ các loài hoa như hoa hồng, oải hương và trái cây như cam, chanh, lựu. Sản phẩm của Nesti Dante hoàn toàn thiên nhiên, và họ chủ yếu sử dụng nguyên liệu từ vùng Tuscany để quảng bá về Florence cũng như sự khéo léo và lành nghề của người Ý.

20 thoughts on “The Art of Soap Making in Florence”

  1. Orvillewrong – "I am well read, fairly well travelled, maybe not as many stamps on my passport as I would like. Young at Heart, Always! I like Military history. I Love Life`s variable, colour, character are potential events to record for posterity!!
    Orvillewrong says:

    Thank you Len for another insight on a beautiful city.

      1. Orvillewrong – "I am well read, fairly well travelled, maybe not as many stamps on my passport as I would like. Young at Heart, Always! I like Military history. I Love Life`s variable, colour, character are potential events to record for posterity!!
        Orvillewrong says:

        My pleasure too I thoroughly enjoyed it,

  2. What a beautiful city! The first photo looks straight out of a painting. I didn’t know that Florence is also known for its soaps..

    1. Neither did I, until I found the shop in Florence 🙂 Before that, I only knew about their famous rose water. Although the soap is really good, it is still somehow less popular than the French one.

  3. I wish I would have known that before I went to Firenze, anyway thanks a lot!

  4. Mel & Suan – Singapore – Mel works his day job for a living, but lives for antiquities, history and geography at all other times. He enjoys writing and thought sharing and obviously traveling. Suan is a homey person, who like girlie stuff such as cross stitching etc. Enjoys shopping & modeling for Mel. What a match!
    Mel & Suan says:

    We only wish we had more time to explore Florence!

    1. Same here. A few days was not enough for this city 🙁 I wish I could have more time to check the surrounding hills.

      1. Mel & Suan – Singapore – Mel works his day job for a living, but lives for antiquities, history and geography at all other times. He enjoys writing and thought sharing and obviously traveling. Suan is a homey person, who like girlie stuff such as cross stitching etc. Enjoys shopping & modeling for Mel. What a match!
        Mel & Suan says:

        How long did you stay? We only had 2 days

  5. fkasara – I'm Sara, a Northern Italian with experience in Italy's travel industry and hospitality sector. Other than the classic travel tips, in my blog I mainly share cultural and lifestyle aspects of the Belpaese, that often elude tourists, yet make our country unique. Be inspired, avoid cliches and let Italy spice up your life!
    fkasara says:

    They’re much recent inventions, but it’s also here where rose water and talcum powder were created!

  6. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
    Jolene says:

    Such feminine looking soaps… Did you stock up on leather handbags to give to your girlfriend / wife / mum?? When I was there I saw bus loads of Chinese tourists just going straight to the main duty free shop…

    1. I think the tour guides / travel agencies intentionally lure them there because of the provision. But honestly, the stuff in duty free shop is available everywhere. Make no sense to me 🙂 I bought the lemon soap for my mom as a souvenir. A much lighter souvenir in comparison to Florence’s famous rose water 😉

  7. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    I didn’t know that Florence is famous for its soap, rose water, and talcum powder as one of your readers pointed out. Did you notice their scent emanating through the city’s air? That would be very fascinating, walking around those impressive buildings with a hint of fruits or rose in the air!

    1. Unfortunately, you can only smell it in the shops 🙁 Due to the heavy crowd on the street of Florence, you can only smell “human” most of the time, especially in summer. And the factories lie in the outskirt of the city. I would love to have a chance to visit them 🙂

  8. How interesting, never knew about the soap industry – thank you for sharing.

    Florence was on of my favourite cities in Italy, I’d love to go back and also explore more of the surroundings outside the city.

    https://2weekendwanderers.com

  9. This is very useful article with fantastic pictures, you have great blog, wish you all the best, thanks!!

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