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The Church of Santa Croce is another must for visitors to Florence as, second to the Cathedral, it is the most famous temple in the city.
Its origins date back to the year 1218, when the Franciscans built the first church dedicated to the Holy Cross, which soon became an important centre of devotion. This popularity meant the building would soon prove to be too small and, in 1294, the decision was made to demolish the existing church and build a entirely new one. The initial design followed the plans set out by Arnolfo di Cambio.
The church was finally consecrated in 1442, though at that time the façade still required completion. At one point the Quaratesi family offered a sum of one thousand gold florins to complete the project in exchange for their shield featuring on the façade. The Franciscans, however, did not accept this condition and the façade was not finally completed until the 19th century, when it was financed by an English millionaire.
One of the main features of this church is that it houses the graves of many wealthy families of the time; families that, in a last attempt to gain spiritual salvation, paid large sums of money to lay their loved ones to rest here. This explains the proliferation of chapels belonging to noble families of the time.
First, to the right of the main altar, you will find the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels, which feature frescoes created by the great painter Giotto. On the one hand, in the Bardi Chapel, the artist painted the life of Saint Francis, while the Peruzzi chapel features a series of depictions of the lives of John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.
At the right end of the transept you will see the Baroncelli Chapel, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, thanks to the series of frescoes depicting the life of Mary Magdalene, painted by Taddeo Gaddi. It is also worthy of note that the picture seen here of the angels announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds was one of the first occasions in which a night-time scene was depicted in a fresco.
A little further along, a hallway to the right will take you to the Sacristy, built by the Peruzzi family circa 1340. Here, on the south wall, visitors can contemplate a wonderful Crucifixion, also attributed to Gaddi, as well as a beautiful series of frescoes in the Chapel of the Choir. More specifically, these frescoes include representations of the history of Anne and Joachim as well as Scenes from the Life of the Virgin, by Giovanni da Milano, one of the great 14th-century artists.
To reach the beautiful Pazzi Chapel you must first pass through the cloisters, which you will notice is flanked by numerous 19th century monuments. The chapel was designed by Brunelleschi in 1430, though work did not begin until thirteen years later. The splendid composition of central area, domes, arches and white plaster walls is to be admired. The walls were painted in precisely this colour in order to reflect light, light being one of the elements that Brunelleschi paid most attention to when building the chapel. Also noteworthy are the twelve terracotta medallions designed by Luca della Robbia and representing the apostles.
Santa Croce is also home to the graves of such famous people as Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo. Michelangelo's monument, for example, is located in the first chapel on the right, and was created by Giorgio Vasari in 1564.
The monument to Machiavelli in the fourth chapel is the work of Innocenzo Spinazzi. A famous politician and writer, Machiavelli died in 1527, leaving us a legacy of such important literary works such as The Prince.
Visitors should not forget to visit the graves of Leonardo Bruni, one of the great figures of Florentine humanism, and the Venetian poet Ugo Foscolo. In addition, a small chapel which is normally closed to the public houses the tomb in which Galileo was originally buried. This in itself is quite surprising as, having stating that the planets revolved around the Sun and not the Earth, Galileo was condemned by the Inquisition. Though initially he was denied the honour of being buried in this church, years later he was finally granted the privilege. Finally, in 1737, his body was moved from the original small chapel to the more important northern nave of the church.
Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia (25)
Palazzo Rucellai (40)
Piazza della Repubblica (44)
San Marco (32)
Santissima Annunziata (30)
Mercato Centrale (24)
Palazzo Strozzi (37)
Piazza della Signoria (5)
Santa Croce (8)
Via Tornabuoni (36)
Giardino dei Semplici (28)
Opificio dell Pietre Dure (31)
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi (27)
Santo Spirito (48)