The Church of Santa Croce, the famous church where many illustrious Italians are buried is one of the most popular destination for those visiting Florence. Santa Croce is a prestigious symbol of Florence, the meeting place of the greatest artists, theologians, religious scholars, humanists and politicians, who determined, in good times and bad, the city’s identity late-medieval and Renaissance art.
The History of Santa Croce
It’s told that San Francesco d’Assisi himself, visited Florence in 1211, coming from the Via Cassia. In 1226-1228 a group of his followers settled in the city, in an inhospitable area just outside the ancient city walls near the present Piazza Beccaria. Here they founded an oratory that, with the growth of the community of monks , was first enlarged and then from 1252 completely renovated. The new church grew quickly inadequate and so in 1294 was decided to reconstruct the building from scratch with a grandiose project drawn up probably by Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect engaged in those years in the most grandiose projects of the public administration. The convent was born almost simultaneously to the basilica . At the initial core were added early in the sacristy , the dormitory , the infirmary , the guest house, the refectory and the library.
The Facade and Sides of the Church
The basilica is raised from the ground of eight steps and originally the facade was unfinished, as in many Florentine basilicas. The current facade was built between 1853 and 1863 by the architect: Niccolo Matas, who was inspired by the great Gothic cathedrals like the Cathedral of Siena and Orvieto, the end result was harshly criticized, and it is still controversial for its artificial neo-Gothic style.
Unique is the external profile of the basilica in the style of early Christian buildings Arnolfo had seen in Rome On the left side there is an adjoining porch of the fourteenth century , known as the Pinzochere , which was restored and enlarged in the middle of the nineteenth century . Under it, over the entrance and the ticket for the basilica , you can see numerous coats of arms embedded in the wall. A similar porch is also located on the right side, overlooking the Great Cloister.
The Statue of Dante
On the left side of the churchyard was placed the grandiose monument to Dante from Enrico Pazzi, at the conclusion of the celebrations of 1865 for the sixth centenary of the birth of the great poet. In the presence of King Vittorio Emanuele II was inaugurated at the center of the square, but was later moved in 1968 to also permit again the new games in costume, calcio in costume. The high pedestal is decorated with the coats of arms of Italian cities.
The Architecture of the Church and the Chapels
The interior of Santa Croce is deceptively simple and highly monumental at the same time, with three naves divided by two rows of large pillars with an octagonal base. The great nave ( 115,43 x 38,23 m) marks a milestone in the artistic and engineering field of the time that will lead to the nave of Santa Maria del Fiore. The walls are extremely thin, supported by pointed arches on octagonal pillars , reminiscing of the early Christian basilicas of Rome where Arnolfo worked for a long time, but the size is much greater and structural problems were a real challenge to the technical abilities of the time.
There are sixteen chapels in the church with some of the most precious frescoes in Florence, starting with the major chapel (Cappella Maggiore) which is inspired by the purest Gothic matrix, the frescoes that decorate it are the stories of the invention of the true cross, a tribute to the name of the church, made by Agnolo Gaddi around 1380.
Far more important are the frescoes in the next two chapels to the right, the Peruzzi Chapel and the Bardi Chapel, both decorated by Giotto between 1320 and 1325.
Coming out of the head of the right transept you pass by the portal, designed by Michelozzo, the favorite architect of the Medici family, which leads to the Sacristy and the Medici Chapel commissioned by Cosimo the Elder in 1445, has a very simple and basic decoration.
Santa Croce as a Pantheon for the Greatest Italian Artists
Although the church had been used as a burial place for many famous people like many other churches, it is only in the nineteenth century that it became a veritable pantheon of famous people related to art, music and literature. In 1871 it was buried here with a crowded public ceremony Ugo Foscolo , who died in 1827 in Turnham Green , by his own desire to be buried next to other great Tuscan characters like Michelangelo and Galileo.
After this episode started to arrive other bodies of deceased celebrities even many years before, as Gioachino Rossini in 1887, Leon Battista Alberti , Vittorio Alfieri , etc., for which the best sculptors of the time realized the monuments that still line up in the aisle.
Even for Dante was prepared for a large tomb, but the city of Ravenna strenuously refused to hand over the remains of the poet who died in exile .
Santa Croce came to accommodate up to fifteen thousand corpses, with a large volume of requests from all over Italy after the gained reputation as guardian of the Urns of the Strongest had spread . Each application was examined by a special committee and approved by the Grand Duke himself , who also established the amount of the donation from time to time
The basilica during the 1966 flood
In 1966 the Florence flood inflicted serious damage to the complex of the basilica and monastery , located in the lower part of Florence in full blown by the Arno. It became a symbol of artistic losses suffered by the city (especially with the destruction of the Crucifix by Cimabue ) , but also of its rebirth from the mud through the extensive process of restoration and conservation.