Basilica Santo Spirito, Firenze

Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and many other important artists have major works within this Renaissance architectural masterpiece in the Oltrarno that is so easy to miss.  The church’s facade is so unimposing,  it is almost invisible.

But step inside and behold: Brunelleschi’s lovely basilica.




Brunelleschi began designs for this interior as early as 1428. The first pillars to the building were delivered in 1446, ten days before his death.  After his death, his plans for the church were carried on by his followers Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole, and Salvi d’Andrea; the latter was also responsible for the construction of the cupola.

Unlike the Basilica of San Lorenzo, where Brunelleschi’s ideas were thwarted, his designs were carried through here with some degree of fidelity, at least in the ground plan and up to the level of the arcades.

The Latin cross plan was realized and the contrast between the nave and the transept, that caused such difficulty at S. Lorenzo, was here also avoided. The side chapels, in the form of niches, all the same size and 40 in number, run along the entire perimeter of the basilica.

Brunelleschi’s facade was never built and left blank. In 1489, a columned vestibule and octagonal sacristy, designed by Simone del Pollaiolo, known as Il Cronaca, and Giuliano da Sangallo respectively, were built to the left of the building. A door was opened up in a chapel to make the connection to the church.

Dominating the interior of the basilica is a Baroque baldachin with polychrome marbles, by Giovanni Battista Caccini and Gherardo Silvani, and placed over the high altar in 1601.

The church remained undecorated until the 18th century, when the walls were plastered. The inner façade is by Salvi d’Andrea, and has still the original glass window with the Pentecost designed by Pietro Perugino. The bell tower (1503) was designed by Bacio d’Agnolo.

The exterior of the building was restored in 1977-78.


The Augustinians had begun building the church and the convent in 1252.  It was originally dedicated to Mary, All Saints and the Holy Spirit, changing by the end of the century to Mary, the Holy Spirit and Matthew.

The churches and convents of various mendicant orders were constructed with the financial support of the commune; the same is true for Santo Spirito beginning in 1267, and then again from 1292 to 1301.

The convent of S. Spirito became a center of scholarly activities and was recognized as Studium Generale of the Augustinian order in 1284. The first Rule and Constitutions of the Augustinians were approved in 1287 by the general chapter of the order that was held in Florence.


Santo Spirito was associated with the early humanism in Florence. One of the groups, led by Bocaccio, gathered there in 1360s and 1370s. Upon his death in 1375, Bocaccio bequeathed his library to the convent.

In the 1380s and early 1390s another circle of humanists met daily in the cell of Luigi Marsili (1342–94). Marsili had studied philosophy and theology at the Universities of Padua and Paris. He came into contact with Petrarch at Padua in 1370 and later became a friend of Bocaccio. This group included Coluccio Salutati  (1331-1406), Chancellor of Florence from 1375. He soon became the central figure of the circle.

The most important of Salutati disciples was Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444), a future Chancellor of Florence. Another member of the circle was Niccolo de’ Niccoli,  a humanist and an associate of Cosimo de Medici.




It was after the Florentine victory over the Milanese in 1397 during the second Milan war on the feast day of Saint Augustine (28 August), that the Florentine signoria decided to rebuild this church to honor the saint, and placing it under the patronage of the city.

Despite this decision, nothing much happened until 1434, when the operai retained the services of Filippo Brunelleschi. Work on the new church progressed slowly until March 1471. During the Descend of the Holy Spirit sacra rappresentazione organized by the laudese in honor of the visit of Galeazzo Maria Sforza the old church caught fire and was heavily damaged, together with parts of the convent.



The walls of the cloister to the left of the basilica are lined with tombstones from all nationalities and eras.

The convent attached to Santo Spirito has two cloisters; they are known as the Chiostro dei Morti (cloister of the dead) and Chiostro Grande (Grand Cloister). The former takes its name from the great number of tombstone decorating its walls, and was built c. 1600 by Alfonso Parigi.  The latter was constructed in 1564-1569 by Bartolomeo Ammannati in a classicistic style.

The former convent also contains the great refectory (Cenacolo di Santo Spirito) with a large fresco portraying the Crucifixion over a fragmentary Last Supper, both attributed to Andrea Orcagna  (1360–1365). It is one of the rare examples of Late Gothic Art which can still be seen in Florence.

The room also boasts a collection of sculptures from the 11th-15th centuries, including two low reliefs by Donatello, a high relief by Jacopo della Quercia (Madonna with Child) and two marble sculptures by Tino da Camaino (1320–1322).


The central courtyard of the cloister is lovely and green.


The bellower, as seen from within the cloister.



A fountain graces the center of the garden within the cloister.



One of the hundreds of tombstones within the cloister walls.


Michelangelo’s Crucifix


The young Michelangelo was allowed was allowed to make anatomical studies of the corpses coming from the convent’s hospital; in exchange, he sculpted this wooden crucifix,  which was originally placed over the basilica’s high altar. Today the crucifix is in the octagonal sacristy that can be reached from the west aisle of the church.

Frescoes Crucifixion and The Last Supper were painted by Andrea Orcagna and his workshop in the 1360s.

I’m going to Arezzo today and I cannot wait! Non vedo l’ora!!

  • Musa - 0



From the Etruscans to the Romans, then on through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Arezzo has been home to many illustrious names, such as the poet Petrarca and many great artists, including Piero della Francesca, Giorgio Vasari, Masaccio, Michelangelo, Luca Signorelli and Pietro da Cortona, who all helped the city achieve a splendour that has remained unparalleled over the centuries. Even now, Arezzo is honoured to be the custodian of several unquestioned artistic masterpieces, in particular:

  • The Basilica of St Francis, with frescos by Piero della Francesca. The Bacci Chapel constitutes one of the masterpieces of all Renaissance painting, the cycle of frescos of the Legend of the True Cross painted by Piero della Francesca between 1452 and 1466, which depicts historical episodes from the lives of the emperor Constantine and his mother, the empress Helena, including the world-famous Dream of Constantine.
  • The Vasari House Museum was the family home of the painter, architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari. It now houses a small but priceless collection of works of art and above all the magnificent frescos executed by Vasari himself in some of the rooms.
  • The Gaius Cilnius Maecenas National Archaeological Museum and Roman Amphitheatre, housed in the building that was previously the Monastery of the Olivetan Benedictines of St Bernardo Romano and is now home to an important collection of Etruscan and Roman artefacts, including the world-famous “coralline” ceramics known as sealed Arezzo ware. Every summer, the Roman Amphitheatre hosts an important programme of live music, theatre, performances and other events.
  • The State Museum of Mediaeval and Modern Art houses works by Arezzo’s leading artists (Margarito, Spinello Aretino, Luca Signorelli and Giorgio Vasari), a coin collection and one of the most interesting collections of Renaissance pottery wares.
  • The Ivan Bruschi House Museum was established in Arezzo as a tribute to Ivan Bruschi, who first devised the celebrated City of Arezzo Antiquities Fair back in the 1960s. Now housed in a venerable mediaeval building, the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, it contains artefacts that date from the prehistoric period to late antiquity. The Banca Etruria established the Ivan Bruschi Foundation, basing it on the bequest of Bruschi’s own priceless collections and the labour of the Banca Etruria manager. Its purpose is to make Ivan Bruschi’s dying wish come true: to spread a love of art and of the culture of antiquities.
  • The Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici, completed by Bernardo Rossellino in the sixteenth century in the Renaissance style, is the home of the Secular Fraternity, a body whose 750 years of history is peppered with important events that determined the development of the city of Arezzo. The Fraternity has a special focus on assisting the needy and on cultural undertakings, whose aim is to preserve its artistic heritage and make it accessible and enjoyable.


  • Piazza Grande, with the Vasari Loggias, is the city’s oldest piazza and one of the most beautiful in all of Italy. Although the buildings that line it date to all sorts of different periods, the overall effect of the piazza is incredibly harmonious. The buildings along the southern and eastern sides are mediaeval (Palazzo Tofani and the Làppoli Tower), while the northern side is occupied by a sixteenth-century building with the Vasari Loggias and the west is graced by the Parish Church of St Mary, the Court Building and the fifteenth-century Palazzo of the Secular Fraternity. Twice every year, Piazza Grande, which the world came to know and admire in Roberto Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful, provides the setting for the traditional Saracen Joust, as well as hosting the Antiquities Fair on the first Sunday of every month and the preceding Saturday.


  • Piazza Guido Monaco is a circular piazza laid out in the nineteenth century at the intersection of three very important streets: via Guido Monaco, via Petrarca and via Roma. In the centre of the piazza is a monument, the work of Salvino Salvini (1882), to Guido Monaco (also known as Guido D’Arezzo), who first devised modern musical notation and the system of the four horizontal lines used to inscribe it, known as the tetragram.
  • The Petrarca House, in via dell’Orto. It was here that the celebrated poet was born in 1304, although the building that now stands on the site is the result of reconstruction in the sixteenth-century and successive restoration projects. It now houses the Petrarca Academy of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
  • The Medici Fortress was built by the Florentine ruling family of the Medici in the sixteenth century at the highest point of the hill of Arezzo, where it boasts a marvellous panoramic view. The Fortress is now laid out as a public park and the gardens know as the Prato (or lawn).
  • The Cathedral of St Donatus is the home church of the people of Arezzo, whose chequered history it has followed over the centuries. Built on the site of the city’s ancient acropolis, it boasts breathtakingly beautiful stained glass by Guillaume de Marcillat and the Mary Magdalene painted by Piero della Francesca in 1465. The Diocesan Museum next door is home to several masterpieces by Vasari, Luca Signorelli and others. The marble panel depicting the Baptism of Christ that decorates the font in the cathedral has been attributed to Donatello.
  • The Basilica of St Dominic is a must on any itinerary, because of the major attraction of the Cimabue Crucifixion. Standing more than three metres tall, this great cross is the first work attributed to Cimabue, who painted it at some time between 1268 and about 1271. A belfry adorns the otherwise incomplete façade of the basilica’s Romanesque-Gothic exterior. Inside, the single nave is decorated with frescos, most of which have decayed, while the Gothic altar in the Dragondelli Chapel is still clearly visible.
  • The Palazzo dei Priori, or Priors’ Palace, now home to the Arezzo City Council, is located in Piazza della Libertà. Built in the fourteenth century, it has a typical tower on a square footprint and a large loggia on three levels. Inside are frescos by Parri di Spinello and by Teofilo Torri, as well as canvases by Giorgio Vasari and other artists from Arezzo.
  • Visit the Parish Church of Santa Maria Assunta to see a polyptych by Pietro Lorenzetti (1320), as well as a Madonna and Saints and a wooden cross by Margarito (thirteenth century). Features in the original twelfth-century façade include the lunette with a bas relief depicting the Crowned Madonna and two angels and the extraordinary cycle illustrating the twelve months of the year, a masterpiece of mediaeval sculpture that painstaking, detailed restoration has now rendered once again visible.
  • Arezzo’s hinterland is also a treasure trove of incredibly valuable artistic venues. To single out just a few of them, don’t miss the Castle of the Counts of Guidi at Poppi, which looms high above the mediaeval hilltop town of Poppi and now houses the Rilliana Library, with its hundreds of mediaeval manuscripts and incunabula, and the Chapel of the Counts of Guidi, with a cycle of fourteenth-century frescos attributed to Taddeo Gaddi, a pupil of Giotto. Our guided tours also feature a fascinating itinerary that starts from a jewel of the Renaissance, the Piero della Francesca masterpieces in the Basilica of St Francis in Arezzo, and progresses to the mediaeval jewel of Poppi, on a journey that takes in the hills of the Casentino area and also includes a welcome stop to savour some fine foods and wines.

Arezzo also hosts several major events, some with traditions going back a thousand years:

  • The Antiquities Fair was established in 1968 and has been held every month of the year ever since, without a single interruption in over 45 years, on the first Sunday of every month and the preceding Saturday, in Piazza Grande and the adjacent streets in the city centre, where more than 500 exhibitors showcase large numbers of objects.
  • OroArezzo is the event devoted to the art of the goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellery craftsmen that showcases the output of Italy’s leading gold working district. This exhibition of original jewellery work offers an important preview of the stylistic trends to be expected from the forthcoming creations of Italy’s jewellery and gold craftsmen, who are increasingly in tune with trends in fashion. This prestigious event offers its exhibitors an opportunity to present previews of their new jewellery designs and include them in the exhibition’s major promotions and visibility campaign.
  • The Saracen Joust is a competition on horseback that is held in Arezzo in the evening of the last Saturday but one of the month of June (the Joust of St Donatus) and in the daytime on the first Sunday in September (the September Joust). Preceded by a colourful procession, in which more than 350 participants dressed in historical costumes parade along the city streets, the actual tournament takes place in the unique setting of Piazza Grande. The joust consists of a challenge between the city’s four quarters, which are named after its main gates (gate in Italian is porta): Porta del Foro, Porta Crucifera, Porta Sant’Andrea and Porta Santo Spirito. The aim is to hit a target placed on the shield wielded by the Buratto (a dummy that represents the Saracen “King of the Indies” and turns on its own axis) with a stroke of the lance at the end of a fast charge on horseback… all without the rider being struck in turn on the back of the head by the weapon wielded by the Buratto himself: a string of three lead balls that is activated by a spring-loaded mechanism.
  • The Arezzo Wave is a festival, mostly of rock music, that has been held in July every year since 1987. First established to provide a launch platform for young Italian rock bands, it now lasts up to six hours. In recent years, the festival has started featuring multiple stages all over the city, where increasing numbers of non-musical cultural activities also take place.