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Top Five Florence Cathedrals and Churches
Jan 11 , 2011
Want to see the best Florence churches and cathedrals without wandering for hours on end? Visit the best of the best and still have enough time left over for a scoop of gelato.
A visit to the magical Tuscan city of Florence would not be complete without stopping to take in the awe and beauty of some Florence churches and cathedrals. Of the dozens of beautiful and historic cathedrals and churches in Florence, here are the top 5 to see.
1. The Duomo and the Florence Baptistery, in Piazza del Duomo
The Florence Cathedral (Il Duomo) and the Florence Baptistery are two of the most famous and visited buildings in all of Florence. Walk all the way up the magnificent dome of the Duomo, and you’ll enjoy seeing the breathtaking Frescoes of the Last Judgment at the top of the cathedral and the famous gilded doors of the baptistery by Ghiberti. After you’re done touring these magnificence churches, relax at the Piazza del Duomo (the cathedral plaza).
The Duomo (dome or cathedral) often gets more attention because of its grandeur, but the baptistery church has an equally impressive history. Built on roman ruins of a church to the God Mars from the 4th or 5th Century A.D., the eight-sided Florence Baptistery Church was used for every catholic baptism in Florence up to the end of the 19th Century. The outside of the baptistery is clad with typical Florentine geometric patterns made of marble slabs. Artist and sculptor Andrea Pisano created the southern doors to this Florence church in 1330. A century later, Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition to create the northern doors depicting the last judgment.
The competition of the baptistery doors was very heated between the artists, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi. After Ghiberti won, Brunelleschi felt shamed and needed to create something in order to win back his good name. After being chosen to design the dome for the Duomo, Brunelleschi thought had his golden opportunity. Much to his dismay though, Ghiberti was assigned under him on the project and hoped to take credit for helping complete the dome. Rumor has it that Brunelleschi purposely left the building site with Ghiberti in charge. When the city realized that Ghiberti did not know how to build the fancy, egg-shaped dome, Brunelleschi came back, took over building plans again and won back his good name. The dome of the Florence Cathedral still towers above much of the cityscape. Admission into the cathedral is free but you must pay to ascent the 463 steps in the dome.
2. Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella is a must-visit church for anyone wanting to see a treasure chest of Renaissance art in an authentic setting. The inside of the church houses many masterpieces, including: Trinità (Trinity) by Masaccio, Giotto’s Crucifix, the Strozzi Chapel with stunning frescoes by Filippino Lippi, and the frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, to name a few.
Though the Florence church of Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest gothic churches in all of Tuscany, many elements, including its stunning art collection, come from the Renessaince. The façade, created by Leon Battista Alberti, expresses the ideas from the Renaissance of harmony and balance.
Make sure that you check when Santa Maria Novella is open and set aside enough time to see all its parts!
3. Santa Croce, Basilica of the Holy Cross
Santa Croce, the primary Franciscan Florence church, is the church for anyone who wants to pay homage to some of the greatest artists of all time. Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei are all buried here. There is even a memorial to Dante, but his sarcophagus is empty.
Inside, there are magnificent frescoes depicting “Santa Croce” (the holy cross) by Gaddi in the Cappella. In the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels, Giotto painted frescoes of the life of St. Francis and St. John the Evangelist. Donatello decorated the south nave of the church with a gilded limestone scene of the Annuncation.
Don’t forget to look at the memorial to the playwright Giovanni Battista Niccolini on the left side of the entrance in this Florence cathedral. (It is said to have been the inspiration for the statue of liberty).
4. San Lorenzo, Medici Burial Church
This Florence church houses Michelangelo’s sculptures in their original setting. You’ll enjoy experiencing the art and church as it was over 500 years ago.
Rebuild by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1419, the Florence church of San Lorenzo is home to some of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures, the tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici. These weighty figures are examples of the Michelangelo’s transition to a more mannerist style. (You’ll notice that he used male models even when sculpting the females). Michelangelo’s Biblioteca Laurenziana in San Lorenzo is an outstanding example of mannerist architecture and defines his later style.
Brunelleschi’s design, give a cool, airy feel for the space. It is not mystery that the Medici family chose this peaceful and quiet place as their burial church. Make sure to see Donatello’s last work, the pulpits, and Bronzino’s fresco of the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence.
5. San Miniato
Visit San Miniato for a view a stunning view of Florence and equally impressive mosaics!
Like the Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, you’ll notice the geometric marble, renaissance façade of San Miniato; the inside of the church, though, is Romanesque with 3 naves and long aisle.
If you are a fan of Disney, be sure to see the cemetery in the back of the church where Carlo Lorenzini, the author of Pinocchio, is buried.