Florence Hotel La Gioconda Monuments
Church of Santa Maria Novella
Towards the end of 1200, a small oratory surrounded by vineyards, called Santa Maria delle Vigne, stood in the place where the present piazza stands today.
Entrusted to twelve Franciscan monks in 1221, it was reconstructed in 1279 and enlarged to its present form that includes the church and convent.
Work concluded in the middle 1300's and included the additions of a bell tower, cloisters, adjoining chapels and a series of arches called "avelli" (sepulchral) that surround an antique cemetery.
The faade was terminated in 1470 and the work, sponsored by the most important family of the quarters, Giovanni Rucellai, was entrusted to Leon Battista Alberti who also designed the large central portal gate and the upper part.
The marble covering, characterized by inlays and white and green marble, inspired other religious edifices of the time like the Baptistery and the Church of San Miniato al Monte.
Saint Thomas taught in this Dominican church and the Council of Florence, where the union between the Church of the East and the Church of the West were ratified, took place here.
The inside is done in a Latin cross. The three naves are divided with polystyle pillars that rise into curved arches.
Numerous works of art bestow the church, among these the Trinità by Masaccio, The Crucifix by Giotto, the Diluvio (flood) by Paolo Uccello, not to mention numerous frescoes by Ghirlandaio and the 15th century pulpit designed by Brunelleschi which the Domenicans hurled for first against the discoveries of Galileo Galilei.
Also splendid are the frescoes found in the green Cloister by Paolo Uccello, called so because of the reddish green color of the walls, and frescoes of Andrea di Bonaiuto that cover the Cappellone of the Spagnoli (Spanish), capitulary hall of the convent and from 1500, assembly hall of Eleonora di Toledo, wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici.
Church of Santa Maria Maggiore
At the corner between via de' Cerretani and Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, you will find the very antique Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, founded before the 11th century and enlarged in Gothic style in the middle 1200s. Being the largest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, before the construction of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, it was given the adjective "maggiore" meaning major or biggest.
The external has a finely lined covering of coarse rock, which was first covered by a simple washing and successively brought to light with restorations in 1912. The bell tower, lowered to the level of the church and the only residuum of the Romantic period, seems almost included in the central body of the religious edifice reconstructed in Gothic form by the Valombrosian monks with the support of the most prominent families of the areas; the Cerratani's, the Barocci's and the Monovelli's.
On the façade of the bell tower that faces via de' Cerretani, encased in the upper wall, you find a small late Roman epic bust which has been given the name "Berta" attributed to a vegetable vendor who, with great sacrifice, donated a bell to the church in order to signal the closure of the doors to Florence to the farmers who worked in the fields, outside of city walls.
The inside of the edifice is characterized by three naves and ogive arches held by uncommon frescoed squared columns. Even the chapels and the apses hold frescoes with the majority belonging to the late thirteenth century with prevalent images of the Madonna. A little column marks the place where the tomb of Brunetto Latini, Florentine literate and notary public, known for being Dante's teacher, is found.
But the masterpiece of the church is a splendid 13th century polychrome wooden bas-relief, portraying the Madonna on a throne with baby Jesus, attributed to Coppo di Marcovaldo.
Recent restorations would make you think more of a Byzantine opera of art of a previous century.
Other interesting frescoes from the early 600's can also be admired in the 16th century cloister behind the church.
Baptistery of San Giovanni (St. John)
Belonging to the same complex as the Florence Dome, this Roman edifice, constructed with an open vault between the 11th and 12th centuries, was once an ancient pagan temple dedicated to the god Mars. In an octagonal plan, it was placed on a base with steps, today extinct following the raising of the level of the piazza. It was named after Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence and didn't hold a baptismal source at first, but instead was built to substitute the cathedral until the nearby Santa Reparata, where upon later, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, was constructed.
Many famous personages, among whom, Dante Alighieri, were baptized here. The building remained baron up until 1290 when Arnolfo di Cambio was given the job of covering it with white marble from Lunigiana and green marble from Prato. The covering of the vault came later and is enriched by a lantern surmounted by a symbolic ball of gold and a cross. On the west side one can notice a rectangular tribune called "scarsella" which substituted the antique semicircular apses. On the other three sides, three bronze doors with the most noted one being that which faces the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore; the "Porta del Paradiso" (gate of Paradise), the masterpiece by Lorenzo Ghiberti, entirely recovered with gold coverings. The ten decorated panels, (the originals can be found in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo) portray scenes from the Old Testament. Ghiberti himself is portrayed in the right fascia on the left arch. The internals too are covered in geometric motifs in white and green marble adorned with golden weaved mosaics on the ceiling where a large figure of Jesus Christ and the scene of the Last Judgment catch the eye. Other notable works of art are the sepulchral of Pope Giovanni XXIII, attributed to Donatello, and the baptismal fountain from the Pisana school dating back to the second half of the 14th century.
Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of Princes)
The edifice, rare example of Florentine Baroque, looks upon the Piazza Madonna of the Aldobrandini on the apsidal part of the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The complex, by the wishes of Cosimo I of the Medici's, was to celebrate the grandeur of the families dynasty due to the conquest of Siena and the constitution of the grand duchy of Tuscany. But construction only began in 1604, under the Grand Duke Ferdinand I of the Medici's, Cosimo's son, and extended into the next century. In 1640 a cupola was created by Matteo Nigetti, whose form inspired that of Santa Maria del Fiore, but without ribbing and the lantern that characterize the Florence Dome.
The mausoleum follows a vast crypt with ribbed vaults, done in 1580 by Buontalenti, where the tombs of the grand dukes of the Medici and Lorene dynasties are found.
Going up to your right you enter into the Chapel of the Princes. The stately and austere environment, done in an octagonal floor plan, is crowned with an octagonal cupola frescoed with scenes of the story of Genesis and the Universal Last Judgment, done in 1828 by Pietro Benvenuti.
But what has made this monument one of the marvels of that epic is the magnificent covering in precious marble and stones coming from all parts of the world, inserted by the Factory Works of Precious Stones of Ferdinand I, still existent today representing one of the most important national institutions in the restorations sector.
The niches above the grandiose sarcophaguses of Cosimo I and Ferdinand I contain the colossal golden bronze statues of the two grand dukes done by Pietro and Ferdinando Tacca.
Along the floor of the hall, the coats of arms of the sixteen cities of the grand-duchy of Tuscany are placed, inlaid in precious stone, mother of pearl, lapis lazuli and coral.
On the sides of the altar one can find relics and sacred cult objects created between 1400 and 1500.
Giotto's Bell Tower
It was planned and initiated in 1334 by Giotto who was only able to lay the foundation because of his death in 1337. The original design was modified by Andrea Pisano who was given the task of continuing work on the two upper floors. The modifications brought the introduction of two pilasters on each side and sixteen niches where large statues, now found in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, took their place. After a slack period due to the diffusion of the "black pestilence" work was begun again, this time by Francesco Talenti, who bestowed fineness to the massive tower with the introduction of double cuspidate lancet windows and triple lancet windows on the last three floors, completing the building in 1359.
The gothic bell tower has a height of 84.70 meters and a square base of 14.45 meters. The external skin, articulated with geometric motifs, is composed of white marble from Carrara, green marble from Prato and pink marble from Siena.
Sculptures and ornamental motifs not only have a decorative function but are part of the same structure of the bell tower itself. From the bottom looking up, one can admire the hexagonal relief panels, some done by Andrea Pisano and others by Luca della Robbia, that represent the Creation of Man and Human Activity.
On the second floor, find the sixteen niches that hold the statues portraying Patriarchs, Kings, Prophets, Sibyls and the Baptist, not to mention the Abacuc by Donatello, called "Zuccone" (pumpkin) by the Florentines because of its bald head. Following are sixteen blind niches and then the double cuspidate lancet windows and triple lancet windows on the fifth floor. The tower is crowned by a large terrace, that can be reached by climbing 414 stairs, from where one can admire one of the most beautiful panoramas of the city.