Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Santa Maria Novella

(An apology - I was not able to blog while I was in Italy due to lack of time and a less than reliable internet connection.  I'll try to make up for it with more pictures and stories of Italy!)

The first place we visited, a couple days after I arrived in Florence, was the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella.  This is a lovely old Dominican church, located across the street from the train station (which shares it's name).

The word novella means "new", which this church definitely is not, but at the time it was built, it was given the name due to the fact it was built over a 9th century oratory by the name of Santa Maria delle Vigne.  Hence, it was the NEW Santa Maria!  Construction of this "new" church began around 1246 and finished sometime around 1360.

The interior of the church is quite beautiful.  I wish I could show you some photos, but taking photographs in the church is prohibited.  I will tell you though, it is filled with works from a number of renowned artists, such as Filippino Lippi, Filippo Brunelleschi, Nino Pisano, and Giotto.  It is gothic in design with a soaring ceiling.  If you get a chance, do a google search of the church and look at some of the photos.  It is stunning.

There is a small cloister to the right of the church that is open to the public.  It is filled with cypress and has a nice lawn in the center.  It's not as nice as the larger cloister, which is on the other side of the church, and not open to the public.  This larger cloister is actually now part of the Carabinieri training school that is located next to the church.

The small cloister to the side of the church

The upper part of the exterior facade was designed by Leon Battista Alberti, a genius who used mathematics in his artwork.

The church had two remodellings, the first was commissioned by Cosimo Medici I in 1567.  This remodelling also expanded the piazza in front of the church in order to use it for the annual chariot/carriage race, Palio dei Cicchi.  There are two marble obelisks - one on each side of the piazza - that were placed in 1608 to indicate the turning posts of the race.

The top of one of the obelisks in the piazza
Santa Maria Novella is a really lovely church to visit while in Florence.  A ticket to enter will cost you around 3,50 euro, and - as I said earlier - there is no photography permitted.  An hour or so is probably what you will spend in the church, maybe an hour and a half.  On occasion, there is a little market that is set up in the piazza and you can find booths of vendors selling all sorts of goodies.  (When I was there in April, we bought some olive oil and olive spread which was quite delicious!)

If you find yourself in Florence, definitely take time to at least enjoy the exterior of the church and the piazza if you don't feel like coughing up 3,50 for a ticket to see the interior.  Most of the other churches in Florence do not charge admission (however, Santa Croce does charge 5 euro to enter).  If you only are willing to pay to see one church in Florence, then I would suggest Santa Croce over Santa Maria Novella, simply because of all of the historical people who are buried there (I will post about this soon, promise!), plus you are permitted to take photographs inside of the church.

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