The Palazzo della Signoria or Vecchio, the Santa Croce and the Piazza Santa Croce

As was custom for that time, the layout was in alignment with the building line of the street. The foundations of the old tower on the west side were used for the new campanile. The palace resembles a sleek, rising block with bifore windows and rustication across the entire facade. Above the first two floors is a parapet that protrudes from the bottom large block.

Youtube Google Earth Piazza della Signori
Palazzo Vecchio Florence

The new tower rises harmoniously from the parapet. Atop the tower, a bell frame was placed on columns that is reminiscent of a canopy, but one with a marvellous viewpoint with sturdy parapets and battlements. From here, you could see the enemy coming from miles away.

Campanille Torre di Arnolfini and the top     View from the tower
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Palazzo Vecchio Campanille Torre di Arnolfini

The Palazzo della Signoria has all the hallmarks of Florentine city castles, like:

1. Rustication as if they were rough stones from which an authentic keep is erected.
2. A rectangular layout with a centre courtyard.
3. Acornice to separate the floors
4. A strongly overhanging ballatoio with battlements.
5. Bifore windows.
6. A clocktower.

Originally, the main entrance was found on the northside, because here used to be a square. From the Via dei Cerchi you would directly approach the entrance. The windows at the entrance were placed symmetrically and the door is exactly in the middle.

Side Palazzo della Signoria presently Palazzo Vecchio Florence
side Palazzo della Signoria presently Palazzo Vecchio Florence

The first building plot came from the Uberti family. They were followers of the Ghibelines. This group comprised the old nobility who had moved to the city, but still erected a casa torre (residential tower) to protect their family. These residential towers would later give rise to palazzi. The Ghibelines would later be defeated by the Guelphs in 1250. The Guelphs were traders with significant investments in the city. In 1268, after a treacherous rebellion of the Ghibelines, the land of the Uberti’s was confiscated and their palace left in ruins.

The family was banned from Florence. The plot of land of the Uberti family was paved and that is how the current Piazza della Signoria started out.33 Piece by piece, more land was procured, houses torn down and a sizeable square arose on the west side. The Piazza della Signoria largely received its current shape around 1356.

On the west side of the square, straight across from the current entrance was a small row of houses that were all but impressive. A wall was erected right in front of these homes to make the square ‘look as desirable as possible’.34 What’s more, the Via Cerchi and Via dei Calzaiuoli (the new cardo that went from the Duomo to the Palazzo della Signoria) were widened. Several houses had to be demolished to do this. And all this just to make the square look nicer for the passer-by.

Baldassare Lanci Via dei Calzaiuoli (new cardo) Duomo towards Palazzo della Signoria
Uffizi Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe
Baldassarre Lanci  Via dei Calzaiuoli (the new cardo) Duomo towards the Palazzo della Signoria Florence

Naturally, the tower was to be given the largest clock. The very best bronze caster was hired to do just that. His name was Lando di Pietro, from Siena. The clock was named the ‘lion’. The lion was the symbol of Florence and represented the proud and independent Republic of Florence. Since the thirteenth century, lions were caged at the Commune’s expense; first in the Bigallo across from the Baptistery and later at the Palazzo della Signoria. Donatello also made a lion, albeit from stone. When Florence became a Duchy under Cosimo I in 1540, the ‘lion’ is removed from the clocktower. The largest clock is destroyed. This was to set an example, so the citizens knew who ruled the city from now on. The lion cage is also removed, allegedly because Cosimo could not stand the smell of these predators. In addition, Cosimo commissioned Giambologna to make an equestrian statue of him. Such a statue, long used to depict rulers, was purposely placed on the Piazza Vecchio.

The city board also needed a place to make important announcement or hold speeches. To do this, a rhingiera was constructed at the west side of the palace in 1323. A rhingiera was a stone, raised platform that served as a lectern for orators. Under Napoleon’s rule in 1812 the rhingiera was torn down. This stone platform proved insufficient rather quickly. It offered little protection against the elements, and worse, each orator seemed puny compared to the enormous rustication wall. The city board decided to erect a better alternative, and this became the covered Loggia dei Lanzi. The masons and builders of the Opera del Duomo constructed the gallery.

Loggia dei Lanzi
Loggia dei Lanzi Florence

They used to the same columns as in the Santa Maria del Fiore. Furthermore, the distance between the columns is identical to those in the Duomo.35 Several famous sculptures were placed in the loggia, but we will discuss this further on the days we cover Florence sculpting.

The Santa Croce
 

We now walk for the Piazza Santa Croce that is home to the church of the same name. This basilisk is devoted to the Holy Cross and was constructed around 1295 by the Franciscan Order.36 There were two important Mendicant orders, namely the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Mendicant orders moved towards the cities where they procured affordable plots on the edge of the city to found their churches.

Santa Croce now and before and a  video Santa Croce Google Earth
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Santa Croce Florence

The two most important churches in Florence are the Santa Croce of the Franciscans and the Santa Maria Novella of the Dominicans.37 What’s novel and remarkable about the Mendicant orders that arose in the thirteenth century is that the monks did not retreat behind their monastery walls, but preached for the common folk and lived off charity. Humility and frugality was their motto. One year after construction of the Duomo and the Palazzo della Signoria, the slums of Santa Croce saw the start of the construction of a simple, yet sizeable basilisk: the Santa Croce. There is no consensus on who the architect was, but we know he likely came from Siena.

Santa Croce La Veduta della Catena
Santa Croce La Vedutas della Catena Florenceo

The church was given an approximation of the dimensions of the old St. Peters in Rome. Francis, the founder of the Mendicant order, left Bologna right when a stone house was constructed instead of a wooden one. The basilisk is fairly simple if you leave out the burial tombs and ornaments that were added later. For instance, an open timber roof truss crowns the nave, which is considerably cheaper than the crossed-ribbed vaults in the Santa Maria Novella, the basilisk of the other Mendicant order.

Before you enter the church, you can tell by the facade that this church was named after the Holy Cross. Above the entrance it reads: ‘In Hoc Signo Vinces’ or  ‘in this sign shallt thou conquer.’

Constantine saw this text around a cross at the firmament right before he battled his Roman rival Maxentius. Constantine offered the Christians in the Roman Empire freedom of religion. Constantine’s mother, Helena, is depicted in the recess above the left door. Helena discovered the holy cross. Constantine can be seen to the right above the entrance. In the middle, above the door, the faithful is reminded that when the End Times are upon him, he or she shall be judged during the Apocalypse: his soul scrutinised by Gabriel. The top of the facade, naturally, has a crucifix.

The marble facade, like the one in the Duomo, is from the nineteenth century. The neogothic design does trace back to a seventeenth century design. And that design, in turn, is based on the work of Arnolfo di Cambio.

Santa Croce facade      In Hoc Signo Vinces
façade Santa Croce Florence

As we enter the church, we can see how wide and high the gothic arcades really are. The inside of the clerestory has two windows per bay, allowing for a lot of natural light. The pink and yellow masonry gives the incoming light a pinkish hue. Straight across from the entrance, the church ends with a square chevet.

Interior Santa Croce nave view on the main altar
 Santa Croce nave view on the main altar

picture: adelina_tr

 

Santa Croce view on the main altar
Santa Croce view on the main altar  Florence
 
S. Croce main altar Master of Figline crucifix
S. Croce main altar Master of Figline crucifix Florence

 

Timber roof truss and the interior
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Santa Croce timber roof truss and the interior Florence

pictures: Ray Streeter

Like the old St. Peters, the layout is T-shaped. Aside from the square apse with the main altar, there are five chapels on either side. We will look at some of these chapels on the day of painting, including the Cappella Peruzzi with frescos by Giotto. The current church certainly doesn’t look too shabby. The main reason is that the church looks like one big cenotaph. Many important people lie buried here, including Michelangelo Buonarroti to the right of the entrance (for Michelangelo’s grave, click here).

Construction of the church was not just financed by sums paid for the graves, but also included revenues from public tasks entrusted to the Franciscans. These included:

  • The inquisition (ecclesiastic court that tracked down heretics and executed them). The possessions of heretics, often Ghibelines, were divided as follows: one third was spent on constructing the large city walls, and the rest funded the Santa Maria Novella and the Santa Croce. Much to the anger of thedominicans, they were not the ones appointed to track down and eliminate the heretics.
  • Drawing up electoral lists and safeguarding ballots in bags, the so-called ‘borse’.
 

The Piazza Santa Croce or the Piazza degli Spettaccoli

The famous Cappella Pazzi and the refectory (Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce) in the courtyard to the right of the church will be covered later.

Two sides of the Piazza Santa Croce
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 Piazza Santa Croce Florence

pictures: Ray Streeter and wtwallace

The squares in front of the churches played an important role as you can still see today. They are still important meeting spots where people gather, chat, play and make music. Dante’s statue even had to make way for football-playing youths, and was placed back on a raised area to the left, in front of the Santa Croce. The church, though it was anything but small, could not house all the people who attended the popular speeches. This is what gave the square its nickname: la Piazza degli Spettaccoli. It was home to jousting games and speeches.

Giovanni Stradano (Jan Van der Straet) ‘Horse joust in Piazza Santa Croce’ google art project
Piazza S. Croce la Piazza degli Spettaccoli Santa Croce G. Stradano Jan Van der Straet

Another important game was the so-called giuoco del calcio fiorentino.

The Calcio Storico, a yearly event held in June-July, hosts a traditional football tournament that is held between four neighbourhoods on the Piazza Santa Croce. All this while wearing historical outfits. The grand prize? A live cow. This event has been hosted since the 16th century. It is not regular football as we know it, but a local variant, the “calcio storico”, a mix of football, rugby and wrestling. To the left of the entrance of Palazzo dell’Antella with number 20 is a marble disc that reads 10 February 1565, which denoted the midline of the playing field. That is the date of the first game.

Source: Henk Woudsma ‘ Het onbekende Florence’

Giuoco del Calcio fiorentino 1688
Piazza Santa Croce Giuoco del Calcio fiorentino

Click here for Wikipedia with more information about Giuoco del calcio fiorentino.

Naturally, the monks of the Mendicant orders preached in the worlds of the simple believer. The lectures by one Franciscan travelling monk are particularly famous: Bernardino of Siena. Whenever he preached, the square would fill up. This monk would always start his popular preaches with …

Italy is the wisest land in Europe, Tuscany is the wisest region in Italy and Florence is the wisest city in Tuscany … [but] where noble deeds go hand in hand with evil, you will see the most nefarious people.’ Eva Borsook

Bellini ‘Bernardo of Siena’

Huge crowds gathered to hear him speak. Rumour has it that opposing parties within the church reconciled because of him and miracles occurred during his preaching. Bonfires of the vanities were lit during his preaching, stimulating gathered folk to burn all objects of desire and temptation. During one stay in Siena in 1425, he preaches every day, for seven weeks. His dedication was such that for one lecture he sometimes prepared up to four different versions. Wikipedia

Cited from [Dutch]: Eva Borsook, ‘Stergids Florence’, Agon, Amsterdam, 1988 p. 151.

His sermon would then turn very fiery, reminding the believer in a powerful and visual way how earthly existence was so very fleeting. Woe was he who lived wrong or sinfully. The burning of books by the Nazi’s in Berlin anno 1333 was not the first book burning. Back in the fifteenth century, this also happened in Florence, at the Piazza degli Spettaccoli. It was done on the advice of Bernardino, but mostly the later religious ruler Savonarola, that pyres were erected on the square. Pyres not just for burning books, but other sinful things like mirrors, wigs and cosmetics. Even Botticelli threw several of his paintings with classic mythological themes in the fire. Afterwards he would only paint Christian themes. Up to 1580, the pyres on the square would still burn worldly baubles and trinkets.

Fra Bartolommeo Savonarola c. 1498 San Marco
Fra Bartolommeo Savonarola ca. 1498 San Marco

The Santa Croce district traditionally has a bad reputation, and not just for its poverty. For instance, Boccaccio writes in his Decamerone about the ‘grey robes’, the franciscans, who regularly visited women of ill repute. Of course, the magistrates intervened. They had bricks constructed in the road with a clear warning against the dangers of visiting ladies who accepted money for love. The Via de’Macci still bears the nickname: Malborghetto, or, the street of lewdness.40

 

The  next day one continuation-5