Il British Past & Present
Il British Today
In the heart of the Oltarno, Florence’s most authentic neighbourhood, in a 16th century palazzo overlooking the river, lies an oasis of quiet authority: The British Institute of Florence. For more than 100 years il British (as the Florentines affectionately call us) has offered residents of Florence and international visitors outstanding opportunities for personal enrichment through participation in educational, cultural and social activities.
For the Florentines il British is the place to learn English and to engage with UK culture.
For international residents and visitors the Institute is a home-from-home, a special place beside the Arno with its own community – a club that welcomes everyone in. We offer excellent courses in History of Art, the Italian language, and a rich programme of cultural and social events in our beautiful heritage Library. It is the perfect place for visitors and new arrivals who wish to meet people, get involved and find the inside track to Florentine language, art and culture. The Institute is a fine legacy of the Grand Tour, a high quality alternative to the mass tourism that engulfs Florence.
For local and international organisations, the Institute offers wonderful rooms in historic Palazzo in the centro storico of Florence for their own events – conferences, study abroad programmes, meetings, presentations, performances, training events, screenings, receptions etc. etc.
The British Institute of Florence - your inside track to Florence’s magnificent History, Art and Life
Before the First World War, leaders of the English Colony at Florence and their Florentine friends discussed the idea of establishing a library and space for cultural exchange between Britain and Italy.
Once war began, British propaganda promoted Italian entry into the conflict and encouraged the population to support the war after Italy joined the Allies in 1915. This gave a sense of urgency to what had been a peacetime project. So when the British Institute of Florence was eventually founded in 1917, by a committee of poets, university professors and journalists such as Herbert Trench, Lina Waterfield, Guido Ferrando, Guido Biagi and Aldo Sorani, it was with the support of John Buchan at the Ministry of Information in London and, Rennell Rodd, British Ambassador in Rome.
The Early Years
By the time the Institute applied for a Royal Charter in 1923 it was established in Palazzo Antinori where it remained for over forty years. It ran a programme of lectures, published a journal, La Vita Britannica, and was in the process of building its library. The Institute’s objectives as defined in the 1923 Charter, were to promote understanding between the citizens of Italy and the countries of the British Commonwealth through the maintenance of a library in Florence dedicated to Italian and British culture and through the promotion of study of both the English and Italian language and the cultures of both countries.
In the 1920s and 1930s the Institute developed its language teaching and became responsible for teaching all its students of English at the University of Florence, thus producing a generation of English language teachers for Italian schools. The growth of the Library in the same period was largely thanks to donations from individuals and publishers. Summer Schools were organised, taking Italian students to London and bringing British students to Florence.
War strikes, again
In May 1940, following Italy’s entry into the Second World War, the Institute was forced to close. In a letter to The Times published in July 1940, Janet Trevelyan spoke of ‘some far distant date’ when ‘in a different Italy’ the British Institute, with its ‘magnificent library might still find work to do.’ And this it did. The Institute reopened formally in 1946, with its Library which had been protected during the war. In 1966, the Library moved to the sixteenth century Palazzo Lanfredini, in apartments generously made available by Sir Harold Acton, just before the Flood (in which many books were lost) – gorgeous rooms on the piano nobile overlooking the River Arno, where it remains to this day.
Meanwhile the demand for learning English at the il British grew exponentially. A language school was established in Palazzo Feroni, as studying English at il British became the gold standard in town. In 1998, the school moved to Palazzo Strozzino, where it continued to flourish until 2022, when it moved to state-of-the art new premises in Viale Mazzini.
Florence’s International Cultural Centre
With the advent of the digital age in the 21st century, the heritage library in Palazzo Lanfredini found a new role as a centre for educational and cultural programmes and events for the large resident international community of Florence and discerning visitors. Now the high quality opportunities to study History of Art and Italian are complemented by regular lectures, literary events and concerts … as well as all kinds of social and community activities. Everyone is welcome!