Truly a city of the past, Florence is rich with history and art – every street and building has its own story and significance. Here is some of the most impressive architecture throughout the city, ranging all the way from the Middle Ages to Italy’s unification during the second half of the 19th century.
Started in 1255, the Bargello is similar in style to the Palazzo Vecchio with its weighty fortress-like base and tall slender bell tower. It too was originally built as a civil building to house the City Commune of Florence and is the oldest public building in Florence. In the late 16th century, the Medici family turned the Bargello into a police headquarters and prison, which it remained until 1859 when it was turned into an art museum. Today it houses some of the most important statues and sculptures from both the Antiquity and the Renaissance, including Michelangelo’s Bacchus and Donatello’s David.
The basilica of Santa Croce is the largest Franciscan Church in the world, and it houses an impressive 16 different chapels. For a while it was the rival Church of the Dominican Santa Maria Novella, and it was very popular amongst the poorer peasants of Florence during the late middle ages. Many of the most influential and culturally important Florentines and Italians have memorial monuments in the Santa Croce Basilica including Dante, Galileo Galilei, Machiavelli and Michelangelo. The façade of the Church was greatly damaged during the devastating 1966 flood, but it has since been restored and its inlaid marble façade from the 19th century is still quite remarkable.
The Basilica of Santo Spirito is also an example of Renaissance architecture, though unlike Santa Maria Novella or Santa Croce, the façade of Santo Spirito was left bare, without decoration of marble and sculpture. Today it is painted completely white and it has a modest, almost angelic quality to its plain exterior. The interior houses a number of frescoes in it’s many side-chapels as well as Michelangelo’s wooden crucifix. When Michelangelo was 17, he was given permission to make studies of the bodies coming from the hospital, even though this practice was illegal, and so he based this tiny wooden figurine of Christ on his anatomical, true-to-life drawings.
The Piazza della Republica is one of Florence’s newer architectural monuments. Among a city of Renaissance architecture, this large and spacious square definitely stands out. The site of the square was previously a Jewish ghetto, dating back to medieval Florence. Shortly after the unification, Florence was briefly named capital of Italy, and it was during this time that Florence underwent a series of modernizations. Following the model set by Haussmann’s renovation of Paris in the 1880s-1890s, the Piazza della Republica was built to evoke the ‘modern’ European city, with open spaces, large neoclassical arches and patriotic statues to embrace Italy’s newfound independence.