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San Miniato al Monte, Florence

San Miniato al Monte, Florence

San Miniato al Monte in Florence (Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte) is one of the most beautiful religious buildings in all of Tuscany. The church is a true masterpiece of the region’s Romanesque architecture. In addition, a small area in front of it is one of the best observation points in Florence. It offers a wonderful view of the historic center of the city.

History of the basilica

The temple is dedicated to the first saint of Florence. According to legend, Miniato (or Minas) was a wealthy and wasteful secular man. But later, around 250, he became a Christian, and his friend, Emperor Decius, had poorly accepted this fact. After being tortured, Miniato died a martyr's death in a cave where he used to live as a hermit.

In the 4th century a chapel was built on the mountain, where Miniato departed to another world. And in 1018, at the insistence of Bishop Ildebrando, construction of the church began, which was continued by Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor. After that, a convent of a Benedictine order appeared near the church, and in 1373 it was transformed into a male monastery. At that time, the Olivetan Congregation began to dwell here.

Most of the elements of the exterior and interior appeared in the basilica in the 13-14 centuries. In 1530, the unfinished bell tower was used to adjust artillery fire during military actions. In 1535 its construction was brought to an end. In the period 1908-1929, a large-scale restoration of the entire temple complex was carried out.

Architecture of the basilica

The façade of the church is considered to be an excellent example of Florentine architecture.

  • The lower level has 5 arches supported by Corinthian columns. This is a reference to early Christian basilicas with 5 naves.
  • The side slopes frame the second level with 4 columns, that in turn are the supports for a beautiful pediment with 9 arches.
  • Above there is a brass eagle, the symbol of the wool merchants guild who financed the construction.
  • At the second level in the central part there is a beautiful golden mosaic from 1260, which immediately arttracts the eye. It depicts Christ, the Virgin Mary and Saint Miniato.
  • The entire façade is made out of white and green marble. And it is so impressive that even the masters of the Renaissance did not dare to remake it according to their own taste, which already causes respect.
  • A small brick bell tower stands to the left of the church. It has 4 bells, and the weight the largest is about 4 tons.

Interior

  • From the inside, the church has 3 naves. There is an altar at the end of the central one on the lower level, and on top – there is the presbytery and the place for the choir.
  • The inlaid floor and the pulpit date back to 1207, and the elaborate mosaic on the apse dome – to 1297.
  • Columns, arches and vaults are made of white and green marble, but the work itself is much more refined and more beautiful than on the façade of the building.
  • In the left nave there is a chapel, built in 1467 and dedicated to Cardinal Giacomo di Coimbra, the Portuguese ambassador to Florence. According to official information, the relics of Saint Miniato are kept under the altar. And near the altar there are stairs that lead down to the 11th century crypt, under the temple, the oldest part of the church. The crypt has a height of 4.5-5 meters, its vaulted ceilings are supported by 38 columns.
  • Also, the basilica has a gem: one of the oldest functioning sundial in Europe.

Abbey and graveyard

The monastery next to the church is documented from the very beginning of its existence. Later, in the 14th century, it was decorated with frescoes and mosaics by the famous master Paolo Uccello. At the beginning of the 14th century, the Archbishop's Palace was built near it, which was used by the Bishops of Florence as a summer residence. In 1337 it was united with the main buildings of the monastery and part of its premises served as a hospital.

The whole monastery complex was surrounded by walls that were modified into a real fortress in 1553.

Outside the walls of the abbey there is a small cemetery, closed in 1854. Many famous personalities are buried here, including the writers Carlo Collodi, Giovanni Papini, the statesman Giovanni Spadolini and the actor Tommaso Salvini.

How to get there

The San Miniato al Monte is located to the south of the historic center of Florence, on the right bank of the Arno River, on Via delle Porte Sante, 34. There are several interesting museums not far from it:

Nearby there is the San Miniato Al Monte bus stop (routes 12, 13).

Opening hours: November-March – from Monday to Saturday from 9:30 to 13:00 and from 15:00 to 19:00, on Sunday from 8:15 to 19:00. From April to October, it is open until 19:30. Phone number for information (+39) 055 234 2731.

Free admission.

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