Santa Croce

This is an excerpt from the book “Florence in two days“.

Photo © James Lawson
Photo © James Lawson


This is the most important civil building in the city; construction, to plans by Arnolfo di Cambio, was begun in 1299. It was the seat of the Priori delle Arti, of the Signoria and the ducal residence; over the centuries it was remodelled several times.

The 14th century courtyard, graced with the fountain with the “putto”, a copy of Verrocchio’s original, was later modified by Michelozzo. Inside, it is worth seeing the Salone dei Cinquecento, the study of Francesco I, the room of the Elements and the Sala dei Gigli.

The Loggia della Signoria or “dei Lanzi” overlooks the square; here there are several important statues including “Perseus” by Cellini and the “Rape of the Sabine Women” by Giambologna.



The Uffizi Gallery is one of the greatest museums in Italy and the world. It was founded in 1581 by Francesco I de’ Medici, who collected numerous artworks in the building designed by Vasari. Today the Uffizi contains masterpieces by Italian and foreign artists from 13th to 18th century such as Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Beato Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Caravaggio, along with Rubens, Rembrandt, Dorer, Goya and many others.

The Vasari Corridor that connects the Uffizi Gallery with the Pitti Palace hosts a rich collection of self-portraits by past and present artists. Built by Vasari in 1565, it passes above the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city, with its many jewelry shops. The same building houses the Contini Bonacossi Collection.


Perhaps already built back in the era of the Roman colony, it is the oldest bridge in the city. It was built in wood on piers of stone and crosses the Arno River at its narrowest point, at the place where…the antique ferryboat for river crossing was found. Ruined in 1117 and later reconstructed, it was destroyed again in 1333 by flooding and rebuilt once again in 1345, perhaps by Neri di Fioravante, but this time in stone making it very solid. Due to the enormous amount of traffic crossing over the bridge, the more enterprising decided to set up shop on the bridge itself.

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

The first merchants consisted primarily of blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners catering mostly to traveling soldiers not surprisingly. When half of the population perished with the Black Plague in 1348 those who survived began to question their old ways of living. Shortly after this period the Medici family moved into Florence bringing with them vast wealth as appreciation for the finer things in life.

When they acknowledged the use of the Arno by the merchants led to a grave degree of pollution of its waters, they decided to take action by replacing them with goldsmiths and artists and soon the number of shops greatly increased. Eventually between the years of 1565 and 1800 an upper level, as well as a back row of shops, was added which crosses the bridge and connects Uffizi Gallery with Palazzo Pitti.

Florence grew rapidly due to this increase of trade not to mention structure and strength given to the bridge. Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge which survived the perils of WWII and the massive flood of 1966 which wiped out the shops on the bridge but whose roaring waters were not enough to crumble the strength of the bridge itself. A precious piece of architecture as well as history making Ponte Vecchio an enchanting site for all those who visit it.


Palazzo Castellani houses the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, containing the Medici collections of scientific instruments that was enriched by the Lorraine rulers, along with Galileo Galilei’s original instruments.



This building dates from 1255, when it was built as the seat of the “Capitano del Popolo”, the commander of the local militia. Later it became the seat of the “Podestá” and then of the Capitano di Giustizia (the magistrate) or “Bargello”, from which it gets its name. Since 1859 it has been the home of the National Museum dedicated to sculpture and the minor arts.

It contains masterpieces by Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Cellini, Giambologna, and Donatello along with priceless ivories, enamels, jewels, tapestries and weapons. The Badia Fiorentina, the city’s oldest monastery (978) is just a short distance from the museum. Here there is a masterpiece by Filippino Lippi. And nearby in the Palazzo Nonfinito is the rich Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology, while the Museo Casa di Dante (Dante’s house) is right behind the Badia.


This building was constructed by Michelangelo’s great-grandson, and since then many descendants of the family have brought together works by the great master, such as drawings, portraits, and early pieces. The purpose of Casa Buonarroti is to collect and enhance Michelangelo’s art and among other items it contains the “Battle of the Centaurs” and the “Madonna of the Stairs”.


This Franciscan basilica was begun in 1295 to plans by Arnolfo di Cambio. It contains countless artworks, including Giotto’s famous frescoes in the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels, and it is universally famous as the final resting place of several great Italians. The most important monuments include the tomb of Alfieri by Canova, the tomb of Leonardo Bruni by Rossellino and the tomb of Carlotta Bonaparte by Bartolini. The Museo dell’Opera contains renowned artworks such as the “Crucifix” by Cimabue, frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi and Andrea Orcagna and the graceful Pazzi Chapel designed by Brunelleschi.

Santa Croce Museum – Photo © rocdam
Santa Croce Museum – Photo © rocdam


This museum contains fine collections of artistic and crafted items dated from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries donated to the city of Florence at the beginning of the 20th century by Herbert Percy Horne. This English antique dealer recreated a noble Renaissance residence in his home; one of the most interesting pieces is a “St. Stephen” attributed to Giotto.


The Byzantine-style Synagogue was built at the end of the 19th century to plans by Marco Treves. The mosaics inside create a sumptuous Eastern atmosphere. The Jewish Museum reconstructs the history of the Jews in Florence through photographs, documents, etc. and it contains a fine collection of ceremonial items.


The Chapter Room of the convent is decorated with Perugino’s famous fresco of the “Crucifixion” (1493-96).

Short Walk In Florence: Piazza Santa Croce

Where to stay in Florence

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