Florentin in south Tel Aviv is called Tel Aviv’s Soho by many. Florentin is an old neighborhood of Tel Aviv which hasnt yet seen the same large-scale gentrification as the likes of its neighbor Neve Tzedek. Florentin has a very mixed population, traditionally characterized by poverty and transience yet now is increasingly youthful, and yuppie. It is a neighborhood undergoing change, moving away from the margins in wealth terms, along the margins creating a center for arty and alternative culture. It is a symbol of south Tel Aviv, and is a fascinating area to walk through, contrasting to the modern Tel Aviv which dominates the rest of this city, and increasingly popular for its influence on the Tel Aviv nightlife.
Florentin’s narrow streets by Flickr user Tmanto
Florentin’s lifestyle is very different to much of the Tel Aviv seen by tourists, and is still, to a certain extent an industrial zone and garment district where traders buy and sell clothing, artisans build bespoke furniture, and businesses from across Israel venture to purchase unique stocks. The Levinsky market is lined with tiny stores selling specialist Turkish, Greek and Romanian products as well as kosher meats, cheeses, spices and dried fruits. Foreign workers from Asia and Africa congregate every morning on Rehov Chelnov hoping to be picked up for a day’s construction work. Florentin is the technical margin between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, nobody knows quite where, but it is around Rehov Salome. And it is that fact that provides a little more explanation of the contrast this neighborhood shows – Arabs and Jews, modern and old, its a neighborhood which is a little unsure of who it is, but is amazing at being what it is.
At night, Florentin comes to life transforming from a place of hard work to gritty leisure. Tiny bars sell cheap alcohol and crowds overflow onto the sidewalks for pizza and falafel. Its become one of the most popular spots in the vibrant Tel Aviv nightlife scene, totally contrasting, as it does in so many other ways, with the offering in the north of the city.
History of Florentin
Florentin’s colorful character comes from a mixture of poverty and wealth, hard work and fun, transience and permanence, all of which are bound up and explained by its history. The neighborhood’s roots can be found in Salonika, Greece, almost thirty years before the State of Israel was established.
Slowly, the neglected buildings fell into ruin and Florentin became the home for many of the country’s poorest citizens, as well as many illegal foreign workers. The city first tried to gentrify the Florentin in the 1980’s at a similar time to the White City and Neve Tzedek, but the success here was very limited and by the 1990s, much of the area was semi-derelict and rubbish laden. A revival occurred, however, in the late 1990’s in the area in large part due to the availability of cheap living space in large loft-style buildings, a possibility that was way out of reach to many in other parts of the city. As in many global cases of gentrification including that of much of the north of the city, this attracted a community of artists and designers who created trendy live-work spaces out of dingy, derelict buildings.
Since then, Florentin has changed irrecognizably. Bars, restaurants, and smart shops have opened in the neighborhoods streets, whilst nightclubs and live music venues have opened in the abandoned warehouses and basements found across the area. This has transformed Florentin into one of Tel Aviv’s most popular spots for the artsy crowd, and increasingly, for the mainstream.