Santa Croce FlorenceApart from being Italian, what do Renaissance giants Michelangelo, Galileo, composer Rossini (of the Lone Ranger theme among many operas) and political activist Machiavelli have in common?

Santa Croce Florence Galileo Tomb

Galileo, one of the greatest of all scientists (whose tomb remained hidden in a cellar in Santa Croce for almost 100 years until a later Pope permitted a proper memorial)…

Santa Croce Florence Michelangelo Tomb

… sits opposite Michelangelo, one of the finest artists and architects (note that the three figures on his tomb represent sculpture, painting and architecture.

They are all buried in the Franciscan church of Santa Croce in Florence. This illustrious group are joined by radio inventor Marconi, nuclear genius Fermi and Dante (cenotaph only but buried in Ravenna) and other luminaries in a Florentine equivalent to Westminster Abbey. Indeed, the church is often referred to as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glorie).

Santa Croce Florence Tombstones

It is difficult not to walk on some of the tombstones without undignified hopscotch moves

Indeed, the floor is littered with worn tombstones – rich families in medieval times paid handsomely to be buried in this hallowed sanctuary in a spiritual effort to be closer to Heaven.

Having being ex-communicated, Galileo took almost 100 years after his death to garner his spot in the basilica and along with his long overdue apology from the church in 1992 (350 years later), his funerary sculpture shows the Earth orbiting the Sun.

Santa Croce Florence Interior

Simple interior characteristic of a Franciscan church

Started in 1294 and completed in 1442 (except for its Gothic exterior which took a further 400 years), Santa Croce is a Florentine masterpiece. Architecturally austere in the Franciscan style with simple arches and building materials, the church was built in effective competition with a Dominican church (who had a lot more money unrestricted by vows of poverty). For funding, the Franciscans approached the wealthy families of Florence, though the external decorations with its marble facadeweren’t finished for another 400 years.

Santa Croce Florence Giotto St Francis before the Sultan Trial by Fire

St Francis Before the Sultan: Trial by Fire (Giotto) in Bardi Chapel

Santa Croce Florence Giotto Bardi Peruzzi Chapels

Giotto’s superb Bardi and Peruzzi chapels

The basilica is adorned with superb frescoes, the highlight being the stunning neighbouring Bardi and Peruzzi chapels (named for rich bankers who wanted an impressive family tomb). In these Giotto documented the life of St Francis (of nearby Assisi)and St John with emotional art that retold the stories of these significant saints. Remarkably, the works were whitewashed over and only rediscovered in the 19th century. Poor restoration attempts have lost much of the original lustre but they are still masterpieces to savour and enjoy. Note the sense of depth and use of light despite the idea of perspective only being developed more than a century later.

Wander around the serene cloister where a statue of Florence Nightingale stands (named after her city of borth) and pop into the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce which contains further treasures of the basilica.

Every year on June 24 (on Saint John’s Day, the patron saint of Florence), a madcap violent medieval cross between football and basketball (calcio storico) breaks out in the piazza in front of the church. Teams, representing the four main Florentine districts (in red, green. blue and white) and consisting of 27 bare chested men in renaissance pants attempt to throw a ball in the netting at the end of the arena while legally headbutting, choking, punching and elbowing opponents. With less rules than ice hockey, calcio storico has been played for over 500 years and is fast paced, colorful, riotously noisy and played with immense passion.

Florence is littered with magnificent art museums and churches but make sure any visit to Florence includes a couple of hours in Santa Croce to walk among the greats of Italian history, marvel at the stellar artistic works of Giotto (and others) and enjoy the ambience of the Santa Croce cloisters.

Recommendation: For a couple Euro more, you can get a biglietto cumultivo that also gets in you into the nearby Casa Buonarotti (as in Michelangelo’s family name), which includes some of the master’s early works.

Photo Credit: interior



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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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