Monday, November 21, 2011

Battistero di San Giovanni

Ok, so you know the what is that round building in front of the church?  It's the Battistero di San Giovanni...the Baptistry of St. John the Baptist....and technically, it's not "round", it's octagonal. 

 The Baptistry was built between 1059 and 1128, making it one of the oldest structures in the city of Florence.  It was the place that, up until the end of the 1800s, all Catholic Florentines were baptized, including Dante and the the Medici family.

Perhaps the most well-known aspect of the Baptistry are the doors.  There are three sets of bronze doors, all with relief sculptures.  The south doors were crafted by Andrea Pisano and depict scenes from the life of St. John the baptist.  The east and north doors were crafted by Lorenzo Ghiberti.  The north doors depict scenes from the life of Christ.  The east doors depict scenes from the old testament and were dubbed by Michelangelo as the "Gates of Paradise".  The "Gates of Paradise" that are on the Baptistry are a copy, not the originals.  The original doors are located in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo - the museum that houses artwork and other artifacts from the Duomo - which is located in a building behind the church in the Piazza. 

A few panels of the "Gates of Paradise"
We visited the Baptistry after we toured the Duomo, so when we got ready to walk through the doors, I was expecting another rather boring interior.  Oh, how wrong I was!  Upon walking into the Baptistry, my eyes were immediately drawn up to the ceiling, which is covered in a brilliantly gilded mosaic depicting the Last Judgment, scenes from the Book of Genesis, scenes from the lives of St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Christ, and St. John the Baptist.

The Baptistry also contains the tomb of Antipope John XXIII, which was crafted by Donatello and Michelozzo Michelozzi.

Is it the Pope?  Nope!  It's the Antipope!

It will cost you 4 euro for a ticket to enter the Baptistry, but it's well worth it.  We spent close to an hour in the small building, spending a lot of time just sitting in front of the altar and looking up at the ceiling.  It's something that you really have to see with your own eyes to appreciate.  When the sunlight enters the little windows at the top of the building and it hits the gilded mosaic, it gives the whole room a very warm glow.

The Baptism of Christ - sculptures located above the Gates of Paradise
The exterior is free to peruse...and there's a lot to peruse!  Take your time looking at the incredible panels on the doors and the craftsmanship of the building itself.  Then, think about how long that this building has been around and how it's still in excellent condition.  It's rather impressive when you think about it!

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