Santa Croce ★★★

Santa Croce church is the Westminster Abbey of Florence: The tombs of Renaissance giants Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, and Rossini (plus some great Giotto frescoes—and a renowned leather school)

Basilica di Santa Croce ★★★
Piazza Santa Croce 16 (though you now enter around the left side on Largo Bargellini)
tel. +39-055-246-6105 or 055-244-619
www.santacroceopera.it
www.operadisantacroce.it

Mon–Sat 9:30am–5:30pm
Sun 2–5pm

Adm

Santa Croce tours: Sights nearby
Casa Buonarotti [museum]
★★ Bargello [museum]
Badia Fiorentina [church]
Museo della Scienza [museum]
★★★ Uffizi [museum]
★★ Palazzo Vecchio [palace/museum]
★★★ Piazza della Signora [square]

Where to eat nearby
I Cche C'é C'é [meal]
★★★ Vivoli [ice cream]
Acqua al 2 [meal]
Antico Noé [snack]
★★★ La Giostra [meal]
★★★ Cibréo [meal]
★★ Il Pizzaiuolo [meal]
Vecchia Firenze [meal]
Alle Murate [meal]
Le Mossacce [meal]

Hotels nearby
Relais Santa Croce [premier]
Hotel Santa Croce [cheap]
Plaza Hotel Lucchesi [moderate]
Palazzo Virginio [moderate]
Borghese Palace Art [moderate/premier]
Hotel Privilege [cheap/moderate]
Palazzo Bombicci Pontelli [splurge]
» More hotels near Santa Croce

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Santa Croce
The Basilica of Santa Croce. (Photo by Sailko)
This big ol' barn of a Franciscan church on Florence's western edge has some great Giotto frescoes (below), but is also the Westminster Abbey of the Renaissance.

Also like Westminster, Santa Croce now (scandalously) charges an admission fee.

The tombs

Santa Croce sports the tombs of Michelangelo, composer Rossini (Barber of Seville and the William Tell Overture, a.k.a. the Lone Ranger Theme), political thinker and writer Machiavelli (who's gotten a bad rap for coming right out and saying a good ruler sometimes has to be sneaky), and Pisan scientist Galileo (the guy who dropped balls of differing weights off the Leaning Tower and went on to get excommunicated for claiming the Earth orbited the sun—s'okay; the pope later forgave him... in 1992; note, however, the Earth properly orbiting the sun on this funerary monument).

The Giotto frescoes

The Death of St. Francis by Giotto in the Bardi Chapel of Santa Croce, Florence
The Death of St. Francis by Giotto in the Bardi Chapel of Santa Croce, Florence.
Head to the right transept to see two chapels covered by the frescoes of Giotto, a former shepherd who became the forefather of the Renaissance in the early 14th century when he broke painting out of its static Byzantine mold and infused it with life, movement, depth, and emotion.

Never before had monks cried so piteously at their leader's death, holding his hand tenderly and gazing despondently at his dead face.

The frescoes were damaged in the baroque era when the frescoes were whitewashed away and wall tombs were rudely attached atop them.

To modern eyes, which view Giotto as one of the most important painters in the history of art, this borders on sacrilege—and much time and painstaking effort was spent in the 1840s to uncover the Giotto frescoes—but the baroque thought little of covering up what were, to them, crude medieval decorations.

(Taste is, of course, subjective, and I just hope our descendents don't develop a deep passion for the overwrought baroque era and become incensed that we destroyed the later decorations just to uncover a few Giottos.)

The leather school

Off the right transept (or enter at Via San Giuseppe 5r around the left/north side of the church), a corridor leads through the gift shop to the monastery's famed leather school—a bit pricey, but of very high quality.

You can also ask the workers to emboss your purchase—say, a wallet—with initials or a name in gold leaf. (Somewhere around here, I still have a small leather change purse with my initials and the Lily of Florence in gold that I bought when I was 11.)

The Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce

Teh Pazzi Chapel in the Santa Croce Museum
The Pazzi Chapel in the Santa Croce Museum. (Photo by Sailko)
After you finish with the church itself, you wend your way through a series of pretty cloisters on the south flank containing modern sculptures and the Pazzi Chapel, one of Brunelleschi's architectural masterpieces.

The ancient refectory was frescoed by Gothic great Taddeo Gaddi with a de rigueur Last Supper scene (conventual dining halls often had this most famous of biblical meals painted on one wall) just beneath a massive Tree of Life.

Also here are fresco fragments by Andrea Orcagna, which used to be on the right wall of the church itself; Donatello's bronze St. Louis of Toulouse (in a plaster niche recreating its original housing on the exterior of the Orsanmichele; and a gallery filled with some of the art salvaged from the 1966 Arno flood (which inundated the city with 20 feet of water and mud), including a badly damaged Crucifix by Cimabue, Giotto's teacher.

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This article was written by Reid Bramblett and was last updated in April 2013. All information was accurate at the time.

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