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THE HISTORY

The first public railroad (the second in absolute chronological order) was built in Tuscany to link the cities of Florence and Livorno. It is easy to understand the needs for the railroad - easier, faster and more economical connections between the capital of the Grand Duchy and the important seaport. The first step in planning was to obtain a government permit; it was requested in 1837 and granted the following year.
Construction began in 1841 in Livorno and was concluded in 1848, just outside the walls of Florence, near the Porta al Prato. And it was here that the city's first railroad station was erected.

The Porta al Prato station was designed in the neo-classical style by the Architect Enrico Presenti. His plans called for a central building that would be the arrival court and two lateral buildings to house all the services.
Outgoing traffic was directed towards the Lungarno Nuovo (today's Lungarno Vespucci), offering arriving visitors a splendid view (the bridges, S. Jacopo, the hills with the beautiful Romanesque church of San Miniato al Monte).
The Porta al Prato station was completed in 1848 and the Livorno-Florence railroad was named "Leopolda" in honor of the reigning Grand Duke.

Shortly after the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy (1861) the Stazione Leopolda closed its doors and all the rail traffic was routed to the other station known as Santa Maria Novella.
Over the following years many ideas were presented on what to do with the old station which was never again to serve its original function.

Thus, in the year following its closure, the "Leopolda" was used for the first Italian National Exposition - an exhibit of Italian arts, sciences, work and industry with over six thousand exhibitors.

The event that covered more than four kilometers featured countless items of interest including the paintings by the early Macchiaioli and the first pianos made in Turin. It was visited by about three thousand people on weekdays and 27,000 on holidays - when admission was free. It closed with a loss, but it did bring a huge amount of visitors to the city. When the exposition ended the former station was occupied by an artillery arsenal. When Florence became capital of Italy the complex, that was owned by the government, was remodeled by the architect Marco Treves to house the General Directorate of Taxes and Customs. The architect had to deal with the existing structure with its two longitudinal wings - one of which was the main fa├žade - that in spite of their size were not big enough to hold all the offices that were needed. In order to increase the volume, two more stories were built over the four corners that were lower than the rest. Then, to increase floor space even more, the first floor that was 8.6 meters high was split to create a mezzanine.

The renovations included the construction of three stone staircases, a masonry portico and a wooden passageway connecting the buildings. The new offices moved in on 15 November 1867.
Although it was the home of the new offices, due to the increased rail traffic over the years the Leopolda was transformed into a large railroad shop.
Starting on 1 July 1905 the "Officina di Firenze" was involved in an expansion and streamlining process to meet the ever growing rail traffic requirements and the need to upgrade the fleet of trains inherited from the former management.

On the eve of World War I, the management had already started work to build a new traversing table and to replace the existing beaten earth floors with stone paving. The war led to increased production and a partial transformation of output. The shop began to manufacture ammunition and the lathing department was augmented with lathes from the no longer used locomotive shops.
During World War II the shops repaired rolling stock. When the Nazi occupation began, the workers who belonged to the Resistance began sabotaging the facility, appropriating and hiding materiel up to the bombing of 2 May 1944 that definitely brought an end to the shops' activities.

The building was significantly modified in the years following the war.
At the end of all the additions, subtractions and changes what was left of the old station was one huge room that was used as a warehouse for railroad spares until 1993 when the Stazione Leopolda was transformed into the versatile venue for exhibits, Florence fashion-promotion and cultural events. Its atmosphere of a huge, abandoned shop is a stimulus for invention and free expression. Indeed the Leopolda has truly demonstrated its ability to harmonize with the phenomena taking place today at the crossroads of culture, art, industry, technology, information, politics and society as a whole that have difficulty in identifying with traditional venues and museums.

Stazione Leopolda srl was established to develop the huge potential of the Leopolda.