Churches of Florence

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Cathedral (Duomo)


The cathedral of Florence, popularly known as "il Duomo", form the Latin "Domus Dei" or the house of God, was begun with the laying of the first stone, on September 8th 1296.   The architect, Arnolfo di Cambio, was the same who designed Santa Croce, Palazzo Vecchio and The Loggia dei Lanzi. 


The new church was meant to replace a much smaller one, Santa Reparata, a crumbling old romanesque building.   The cathedral took almost 140 years to complete due to several wars and especially the Black Plague of 1348, which returned several times before the end of the century, so that several generations of architects worked on the building, culminating in the extaordinary dome, designed and built by one of the fathers of the  Florentine renaissance, Filippo Brunelleschi. 


This was the first real dome to be built since the fall of the Roman empire.    Brunelleschi who studied the structure of the Pantheon in Rome (1st century, A.D.) was able to not only to design the dome, but he also designed and invented machines for hauling and lifting the stones to dizzying heights, whithout having to construct scaffolding from the ground. 


His was the famous lift to carry men, material and provisions to the top.   He had kitchens installed at the top so that the builders wouldn't have to lose time coming down for their meals.   The church was finally consecrated by Pope Eugene IV in 1436. 


Needless to say that the cathedral was decorated by several generations of artists up to the 19th century, when the facade was redesigned in a neogothic style by Emilio De Fabris between 1871 and 1887.    The facade was the work and inspiration of the newly united Italy, dedicated in the presence of the new King, Umberto II.




Santa Croce


The church of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce) was begun in 1294 by the great Florentine architect Arnolfo Di Cambio, who was also resposible for Palazzo Vecchio, the Loggia dei Lanzi, and the beginning of the cathedral. 


It is among the three "great churches" of the city, that is, the churches that served also for the
great spiritual gatherings, in which renouned preachers would hold forth.A sort of revival meeting of the middle ages. 


The mighty nave is in the simple cistercian gothic style: unusual in that there is no vaulting and is
reminiscent of the romanesque, having a huge wooden drop ceiling.   This church soon became the burial place of the great families of Florence and later the burial place of famous Italians from Michelangelo to the composers, Cherubini and Rossini. 


Many of the chapels were donated and used as family tombs, the most famous being the Bardi chapel, frescoed by none other than the young Giotto.   Next door in the cloister is the notable Pazzi chapel designed by the great Filippo Brunelleschi, probably the very first example of the
new Florentine neoclassical style: not to be missed. 


Beyond that, is the elegant neo classical cloister also by Brunelleschi.  The facade was revested in white, green and red marble in 1863 on an earlier neogothic design, elaborated by the great Jewish architect, Niccolo' Matas.

FRANCIS PETERS <> wrote about S.Croce




Santa Maria Novella


It was built over a previous church 1246  by Dominican friars in the austere Cistercian style which was imported into Italy by the Cistercians of Citeaux in France.

The church is famous for its 15th century facade designed by Leon Battista Alberti.  The choir is decorated with frescoes by Ghirlandaio depicting the lives of the Virgin on the left and the life of John the Baptist on the right.   These frescoes bring to vivid life the reality and customs of 15th century Florence.   


On the left wall down the middle of the nave is the extaordinary Trinity by Masaccio, one of the first painters of the renaissance  to bring real perspective into play.   In the middle of the church hangs the Crucifiction, one of the greatest masterpieces by Giotto.

To the right of the main altar is the Strozzi chapel containing the last work of Filippino Lippi: the lives of Philip the apostle and John the Evangelist.    Perhaps his greatest masterpiece.





S. Lorenzo 


It has a complicated building history.   Even though it was built – at least partially - under the direction of Filippo Brunelleschi, it is not purely of his design. 


The project had begun about 1419, but the lack of funding slowed down the construction and forced changes to the original design.    By early 1440s, only the sacristy, now called The Old Sacristy, had been worked on, the work on the church was being paid for by the Medici and in 1442, the Medici stepped in to take over financial responsibility of the church. 


Brunelleschi died, however, in 1446 and the job was handed over either to Antonio Manetti or to Michelozzo - today scholars are still not certain.   Though the building was “completed” in 1459 in time for a visit to Florence by Pius II, the chapels along the right-hand aisles were still being built in the 1470s and 80s.


By the time the building was done, many aspects of its layout, not to mention detailing, no longer corresponded to the original plan.  The principal difference is that Brunelleschi had envisioned the chapels along the side aisles to be deeper, and to be much like the chapels in the transept, the only part of the building that is known to have been design by Brunelleschi.



San Miniato al Monte 

It is one of the most beautiful romanesque churches in Tuscany.   Begun in 1013, and an enlargement of the previous shrine church dedicated to the merchant, who was the leader of the Armenian comunity of Roman Florentia.    Martyred in 250 a.d. under the Emperor, Decius., he quickly became renouned in the christian comunity. 


The catacombs lying beneath the present church, becoming a place of pilgrimage almost immediately.     The church dominates the hillside (or monte) With its white and green 11th century facade.     Having been beautified, with the financial aid of the wool guild, it was later decorated with arabesques and mosaics done by Greek artists from Venice at the same time as the Baptistry was restored toward the end of the 13th century.

The view of the city from the steps of San Miniato is one of the most memorable and breathtaking in Tuscany.



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