Israel isn’t usually the place that first immediately comes to mind when you’re talking about anything connected to hipsters and the hipster culture. But there is at least one “hipster neighborhood” in the country, and you will find it in the southern part of Tel Aviv, named Florentin.
Florentin is dubbed as the “Tel Aviv’s Soho” by the locals, with the “Soho” referring to the artistic and entertainment districts in New York City and London. Indeed, like the American and British Soho’s, Florentine exudes a bohemian vibe.
Florentin’s history is quite interesting – from a drab, hopelessly run-down neighborhood to a colorful haven for artists, bohemians, and the young, hip crowd.
From a slum area to an artists’ haven
Florentin is an old neighborhood in Tel Aviv. It is named after Solomon Florentin, a Greek Jew entrepreneur who purchased the area during the late 1920s when Israel was then part of Mandatory Palestine.
It was initially inhabited by mostly poor Sephardic Jews who immigrated from North Africa, Turkey, and Bukhara, Uzbekistan. For many years, it was suffering from poverty and urban decay.
By the 1960s, Florentin’s status had declined from a working-class area to a slum. The original residents had moved out, most likely looking for a better life elsewhere. Florentin had become a neighborhood for many of the country’s poorest citizens. It had also become a favorite place to stay for illegal workers, most of whom came from Gaza. By the 1990s, many of the area’s neglected original buildings had fallen into ruin. At the time, Florentin also saw the decline of traditional garment and furniture-buying businesses, which used to be its primary source of income.
However, Florentin also attracted many younger residents and artists because of its cheap lodging and low rents. Soon thereafter, these artists began to open their workshops. Since then, Florentin has become increasingly popular among artists and bohemians.
As the formerly impoverished area becoming alive again because of its flourishing arts scene, Florentin began to attract other businesses. Soon, cafés, bars, restaurants, vintage boutiques, and markets started to open there, in addition to more artists’ workshops. It has now become one of the popular tourist spots in Tel Aviv, especially among the young and the “hipster” crowd. But of course, everyone is welcome to visit Florentin.
Florentin hasn’t yet experienced the same large-scale gentrification as nearby Neve Tzedek. The vestiges of poverty are still apparent, and it hasn’t yet gone from its “ghetto” past. The mixture of poverty and wealth is one of the things that make Florentin a unique Israeli neighborhood.
To a certain extent, Florentin remains very much an industrial zone and a garments district. You can see several wholesale traders buying and selling their stocks and artisans building and selling bespoke furniture in Florentin. Many businesses across Israel venture to Florentin to buy unique stocks and merchandise.
In addition, Florentin has become known as a marketplace and an assembly point for people, especially foreigners, looking for work.
When day goes into night, Florentin comes even more alive. Tiny bars sell cheap alcohol, and crowds spill into the sidewalks for falafel and pizza. For the most vibrant night spot in Tel Aviv, you cannot go wrong with Florentin! It is totally in contrast to pretty much the rest of the Tel Aviv, especially the north of the city.
Street art and art scene
The vibrant arts scene is Florentin’s main tourist pull. Besides its numerous art workshops and studios, another thing that Florentine is famous for is its street art. When you’re walking down the streets of this neighborhood, you will feel as if you’re in an open-air gallery – and in most ways, it is indeed an open-air gallery.
Many artists have turned garages and walls of dingy, old, abandoned buildings into canvases for large works. Many of the street art carry strong social and political messages.
Much of the graffiti is purely in text form, while others feature drawings. Because of the proliferation of these walled artworks, “graffiti tours” in Florentin have become a popular activity in recent years.
When in Tel Aviv, don’t forget to visit Florentin for an entirely different culture trip!