Santa Croce Florence is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories to honor the brilliant native sons who are buried here. These Italian luminaries have made contributions to the world in the fields of art, architecture, science, technology, astrology, music, philosophy, and literature. Among these great men and women are Marconi, inventor of the radio-telegraph; the composer Rossini; Eugenio Barsanti, co-inventor of the internal combustion engine; astronomer Galileo, whose reputed experiments of dropping objects off the Leaning Tower of Pisa are legendary; Michelangelo, whose works appear in Vatican City of Rome and throughout Florence; and many others.
Santa Croce Basilica
The Basilica di Santa Croce is also one of the finest museums in Italy, with art and architecture rivaling that in the Uffizi Gallery. In the refectory in the convent portion of the great church is an actual museum, the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce that was founded primarily as a memorial to those who died in the 1966 River Arno flooding. Its chapel was designed by Brunellesschi, who designed the dome of the Florence Duomo that revolutionized architecture and helped to spark the Renaissance.
The Basilica of Santa Croce (Holy Cross) the major Franciscan church of the city, and is located east of the landmark Florence Duomo and the extraordinarily beautiful Ponte Vecchio. It is said that St. Francis of Assisi founded the church himself, but the current structure was begun in 1294. Its facade is neo Gothic and dates to the mid-ninteenth century.
The massive Basilica di Santa Croce contains a total of sixteen chapels. A characteristic of Franciscan churches are the frescoes that clearly narrate Biblical and other religious stories. Some of the chapels contain frescoes by the artist Giotto, whose works can also be found in Padua, Assisi, Rome, Bologna, and Milan. Other art works in the Basilica di Santa Croce include a pulpit and door by Maiano, an altarpiece by Andrea dell Robbia, an Annunciation bas relief by Donatello—and more glowing frescoes by Gaddi, Milano, Banco, and Orcagna.
In addition to the chapels, Santa Croce Florence is famous for the sculptures on the tombs of the luminaries. These first appeared in the mid-fifteenth century, and continued to be added until the late nineteenth century when the poet Ugo Foscolo died in England and was reburied here. He had written about the Basilica of Santa Croce tombs, saying they were “urns of the strong, that kindle strong souls to great deeds.”
Admission to Basilica of Santa Croce is available for a reasonable fee to non-worshippers, and it is open daily with more limited hours on Sundays and religious holidays. Photography is permitted, but no flash photography is allowed. Santa Croce Florence is only a couple blocks from the Arno River. Once there, you can turn west to walk along the river for another 500 feet or so and reach the Uffizi Gallery, containing some of the greatest works of art created during the Italian Renaissance. Continue for another 500 feet, and you’re at the historic Ponte Vecchio.