Not far from the Piazza della Signoria, on the junction of the Via de’ Neri and Via de’ Castellan, stands the Loggia del Grano. Construction began on the unusual edifice in 1619, by order of the Grand Duke Cosimo Medici. The exterior of the building is adorned with an old Florentine coat-of-arms. Above the central arch, which looks on to the Via de’ Neri, you will see the bust of the Florentine ruler Duke Cosimo II, carved by the sculptor Chiarissimo Fancelli. The upper floors of the building were designated as a granary for grain. The offices of the ‘grascini’, whose job it was to monitor the quality of the grain, were located on the first floor. The quality of bread was strictly regulated in Florence; bakers who were found wanting in the stringent tests applied to their product were often legally punished and sometimes even exiled from the city.
For many years, all the bread made in Florence was baked without salt. The Florentines became very skilful at baking bread in this way, and their product, famed for its taste, is still baked to this day. This type of baking was learnt by necessity; legend has it that, in 1100, in an attempt to force Florence to surrender in one of their endless battles against each other, Pisa blockaded the salt that arrived at her port, preventing it from reaching Florence. Florentine bread is baked from a selection of wholegrain cereals, and the kneaded dough is leavened without yeast. The bread must be baked in wood-burning ovens. This type of bread is known as Sciocco, and is greatly valued throughout Italy, where it is often eaten in the famous dish known as bruschetta, where it is lightly fried with a hint of garlic, then covered with fresh tomatoes, basil, salt and olive oil.
After 1690 the Loggia stopped serving as a granary. Since that time the building has seen many establishments come and go, including a market, a restaurant, a theatre and even the headquarters of a local newspaper.