London, Henry S. King & Co., 1877; Transcribed and Photographed, Carolyn Carpenter




Chapter XVIII:  San Firenze - Palazzo Gondi - Loggia del Grano - Piazza Castellani - Ponte alle Grazie - Vicinity of Santa Croce

The Piazza di San Firenze, south of the Bargello, is in the shape of an irregular triangle.  At one corner is the entrance to the Via de Librai, a continuation of the Via del Proconsolo, which took its name from the book-stalls near the Badia, where the Benedictine monks probably formed the principal reading public of Florence.  Beside the Bargello stood the Church of San Apollinare, long since demolished, which at one time gave its name to the Piazza; here Beccheria of Pavia, Abbot of Vallombrosa, was executed in 1258.  Beccheria was a notorious Ghibelline, whose faction had been defeated, and the leaders, Uberto degli Uberti and Mangia degli Infangati, beheaded in the Orto di San Michele.167 Trusting, however, to the immunity of his sacred office, Beccheria ventured to enter Florence; but was seized, charged with hatching plots against the State, put to the torture, and, in spite of his protests and appeals, beheaded in this piazza.  His name has been immortalised by Dante, who placed him beside Count Ugolino among the traitors in the "Inferno:" -

Se fossi dimandato altri chi v' era,
Tu hai dallato quel di Beccheria,
Di cui seg˛ Firenze la gorgiera.168
The Church of San Firenze is supposed to occupy the site of a Roman Temple of Isis; but, more probably, of a building connected with the Amphitheatre.  The remains of the foundations and of some broken columns were excavated in 1772, when a noble statue of a Roman senator was discovered, which is now in the Palazzo Gondi.  San Firenze was one of the oldest churches in the city; but in 1640 it was ceded to the Fathers of the Oratory of San Filippo Neri, who undertook to enlarge the monastery attached to the church; the families of Magalotti and Mancini pulled down their towers to afford more room, and the work was commenced in 1646; but whilst it was still incomplete the last of the Serragli family died, and bequeathed his vast wealth to the Fathers with one condition, that instead of using it to enlarge their own dwelling, they should include all that had been already built in the church.  The fašade was added in 1732, and partakes of the bad taste prevalent in that century.  The interior of San Firenze is handsome, and contains several modern pictures of merit.

The Palazzo Gondi is a good specimen of the architecture peculiar to Florence.  It was built in 1501, after a design by Giuliano di San Gallo, employed by a wealthy merchant, Giuliano Gondi, who, towards the close of his life, built the noble palace behind the Archbishop's residence, which afterwards became the property of the Orlandini.  The cortile is surrounded by graceful columns supporting arches, but is most remarkable for the staircase, with its fine balustrade, and curious variety of delicate ornamentation in animals and foliage.  At the head of the interior staircase, leading to the principal apartments, is the statue of the Roman senator, taken from the supposed Temple of Isis.  A magnificent chimney-piece, the work of Giuliano di San Gallo, adorns the large entrance-hall, round which are hung family portraits.  The most distinguished of these are: - Maddalena, daughter of Simone Gondi, who married one of the Salviati, and who, by the marriage of her daughter Maria with Giovanni de' Medici delle Bande Nere, became the grandmother of Cosimo I.; Antonio de' Gondi, and his sons Pietro, Carlo, and Alberto were employed in various affairs of State by Catharine de Medici, and by her sons, Charles IS. and Henry III., as well as by Henry IV. of France.  Giuliano, who built the palace, had refused a pension offered him by the King of Naples for services he had rendered that sovereign, because he did not consider the citizen of a free republic could honourably accept money from a foreign prince.  The scruples of Giuliano do not, however, appear to have been shared by his descendants, who were frequently in the pay of France, and were created French generals, admirals, governors of provinces, and even archbishops.  The celebrated Cardinal de Retz was of this family.

Passing behind the Palazzo Vecchio, we reach a piazzetta in which is the Loggia del Grano.  This shelter for the corn vendors was built in 1619 by the Grand-Duke Cosimo II., whose bust is in front, and who employed the architect Giulio Parigi, a pupil of the still more celebrated Buontalenti.  The Loggia del Grano is an elegant structure, consisting of a vaulted roof, resting on columns, with an upper chamber, lately converted into a theatre.  The pavement of the loggia is raised a few feet from the ground, and here, until within a few years, was held the corn market.

A narrow street connects the Loggia del Grano with the Piazza de' Castellani or de' Giudici.  At the right-hand corner, facing the river, stood the Castle of Altafronte, which was purchased by one of that name from the Ghibelline Uberti.  The land attached to the castle extended some distance eastwards, and Altafronte bestowed a portion on the Franciscans, who thereupon commenced their church of Sta. Croce.  The descendants of Altafronte sold the property to the Castellani, whose name has been erroneously supposed to refer to the office of ChÔtelain or Governor of the Castle of Altafronte.  In 1558 the Grand-Duke Cosimo I. purchased the Castellani palace, which had risen on the site of the old castle, and removed thither the Tribunal of the Giudici a Ruota, which had previously held its sittings in the Bargello; the lawyers attached to this court had their chambers around the piazza.  In 1860 the piazza underwent another change:  the palace of the Castellani became a Government office, and opposite, where once stood a tiratojo, was built the Banca Toscana - the Bank of Florence.  Several of these tiratoji once existed in the city, which, as the trade in woollen cloth diminished, gradually disappeared.  The tiratojo in this piazza was attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio.  On the parapet beside the river is a small tablet, with a Latin inscription, to the memory of a horse which belonged to the Venetian ambassador, and which was killed during the siege of 1529 by a shell from the Prince of Orange's camp, beyond San Miniato.

View from the Ponte alle Grazie
The bridge higher up the river had once a row of detached houses; it was built in 1235 by Rubaconte da Mandella, a Milanese PodestÓ of Florence.  He employed Arnolfo di Cambio for the work.  This same Rubaconte caused Florence to be paved with large diagonal stones instead of brick.  The bridge is thus alluded to by Dante, when describing the position of the church of San Miniato on the hill above: -

Come a man destra, per salire al monte
Dove sieda la Chesa, che soggioga
La ben guidata sopra Rubaconte.169
The bridge had originally nine arches, but in 1346 two were included in the mill-dam which was on the left bank of the river, but which has now been filled up to form part of the new quay.  The little chapel on the right bank once contained an image of the Virgin and Child, which was held in peculiar veneration, and gave the name "Alle Grazie" to the bridge.  It was founded in 1372 by one of the Alberti family, whose arms - the Fetters - are carved on a shield at the corner of their palace, opposite.  There were likewise three chapels, dedicated to Sta. Caterina, Sta. Barbera, and San Lorenzo, but they have all disappeared.  The small houses at intervals, which give this bridge its peculiar character, were built in the fourteenth century by ladies of distinction, under the direction of one Monna or Madonna Apollonia.  These ladies, scandalised by the loose morality of convent life, immured themselves here, receiving their food through the windows, and were known as the Romite - female hermits - of the Ponte Rubaconte.  Their number increased so rapidly, that they were at length obliged to remove into convent near Sta. Croce, called, from their vows, the Murate, or Immured.  The hermitages, thus abandoned, became the dwellings of poor artisans, and in one of them, in 1646, was born the poet Benedetto Menzini.  He became a priest in Florence, and went to Rome, where he gained his celebrity under the patronage of Queen Christina of Sweden.  He died in 1704.170

From the quay which bears the name of Alberti is seen one of the most lovely views of this neighbourhood:  the weir, the suspension-bridge, and the Porta San Nicol˛ on the opposite bank; beyond, the heights of the Mozzi and Boboli gardens, skirted by the city wall with its Middle-Age towers; and still more distant, San Miniato al Monte and San Franšesco, bounded by the ranges of mountains and forests of pine and beech of Vallombrosa.

The street leading from the Ponte alle Grazie to the Piazza di Sta. Croce was formerly composed of the palaces, towers, and loggie of the Alberti family, who were regarded with especial favour by Cosimo de' Medici and his descendants; the most celebrated was the author Leon Battista, who was also an artist, and constructed the fountain of Trevi at Rome for Pope Nicolas V.  In the adjoining street, the Borgo Sta. Croce was the residence of the painter and author, Giorgio Vasari.

The Canto delle Colonnine, at the corner of the Borgo Sta. Croce, was originally part of a loggia of the Alberti; its projecting roof, resting on columns with quaint old capitals, was at one time the workshop of Nicol˛ Grossi, surnamed Caparra (pledge), so called by Lorenzo de' Medici because he refused to undertake any commission without receiving a part of the payment in advance.  His delicately-wrought iron fanali, which adorn the external corners of some of the Florentine palaces, are among the finest works of the kind in existence.  Near this spot was the Porta dei Buoi, in the second circuit of walls, called thus from the cattle market which was held here.

Opposite this loggia is the former church of San Jacopo tra Fossi, which stood between the ditches of the city walls, but which has long ceased to be used for sacred purposes.  It was built on part of the site of the Roman Amphitheatre, which extended from San Jacopo to San Firenze.  San Jacopo had three Gothic naves, and the principal entrance was in the alley leading from the Piazza dei Peruzzi to the Canto dei Soldani.  In 1170 the church was bestowed on the Vallombrosian monks of San Salvi, whose monastery was outside Florence; but in 1531 they were deprived of San Jacopo, which was transferred to the Augustinians, as a reward for their adherence to the Medici.

Between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza de Sta. Croce are houses belonging to the family of the Peruzzi.  They were built on the site of the Roman Amphitheatre, whose circular form is retained in the piazzetta, where shields bearing six pendant pears mark the former residences of the Peruzzi.  In this amphitheatre, San Miniato, to whom the Lombards dedicated not less than thirty churches, was twice exposed to wild beasts in the reign of the Emperor Decius.  The Via delle Burelle, or dungeons, immediately behind San Firenze, was so named for the dens of wild beasts which were kept here for the games of the circus; and as the dens were not destroyed till many centuries later, they were occasionally hired by the Signory from the Peruzzi and other families to whom they belonged, and used as State prisons, when there was an excess of prisoners.  After the battle of Campaldino, in which Dante took part, seven hundred and forty human beings were thus immured.  Yet, Dreadful as this may sound, these caverns could not exceed in horror the prisons of the same, and even a later period, of the Tower of London, and of other European countries, where torture and cruel executions were as common as in Florence.

At the corner of the Via de' Cocchi, near the Via Anguillara and of the Piazza di Sta. Croce, was the Porta delle Pere, alluded to by Dante in the sixteenth canto of his "Paradiso:"  the remains of a hinge on one side of the Palazzo Cocchi marks its exact position.  Part of the quarter of the Peruzzi bears the name of Borgo de' Greci, and is supposed to have been so called when the Byzantine Emperor and his brother, the patriarch of the Greek Church, were lodged here in 1436; in which year Pope Eugenius IV. held a Council at Florence in the hope of reconciling the differences between the Greek and Latin Churches; which Council is commemorated on a marble tablet in the choir of the cathedral.  The Emperor and patriarch were met by the Signory at the Porta San Gallo, and conducted hither with great pomp and ceremony.  This supposed origin of the name Borgo de' Greci has, however, been disputed, as the street is said to have once been inhabited by a family of the name of Greci.

The Piazza di Sta. Croce was formerly the theatre for all public games, probably derived from old Roman days, when the games of the circus were exhibited in this neighbourhood.  Here in the fifteenth century a famous tournament was held, which has been immortalised by Politian in a poem in honour of the feats performed by Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici.  But the Piazza di Sta. Croce was especially used by an author of the seventeenth century:  "The games of the Florentine youth in spring are the palla and the pome - throwing the ball and wrestling; in summer, swimming; in autumn, the chase; and in winter, the calcio - football.  The calcio is supposed to have been an ancient Roman game, since a Greek author, Julius Pollux, in a book written A.D. 177, and dedicated to the Emperor Commodus, describes it precisely as it has since been played in Florence.  Though the name calcio - a kick - may lead to the inference that the game was played with the foot, the great force with which the ball had to be hurled obliged the player to use his hand.  The number of players was fifty-four, young and active men, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, as both strength and agility were required.  All the ladies and gentlemen of Florence, as well as the populace, assembled to witness these games.  The players adopted a costume which, whilst graceful, allowed the free use of their limbs.  The season for the calcio was from January to March, both because the temperature was cool, and because it was the time of Carnival.  When the two parties into which the fifty-four players were divided were ready for the onset, the Tuscan trumpets sounded; the balls were made of leather, and filled with air."171

This game was of sufficient importance to be noticed in various works of prose and poetry.  During the siege of 1529, the Florentines, in order to defy the enemy, held the calcio here as usual, and even placed the trumpeters on the roof of Sta. Croce, exposed to the hostile missiles.  Luckily for them, the unskilled gunners of those days vainly sent their shot in this direction from the Giramonte, or circle of hills beginning with the Poggio Imperiale, where the Prince of Orange had his camp.  The last game of calcio was played in the Piazza di Sta. Croce in 1739.

The piazza was not always the scene of amusements.  Here, in 1250, the first Parliament or meeting of the people was held; and here, in 1342, Walter de Brienne, Duke of Athens, when sheltered by the monks of Sta. Croce, convened a meeting of the populace to rouse the poor against the rich.  The Priors of the Republic took alarm, and offered de Brienne greater power and privileges on condition of his swearing not to infringe their liberties, and to hold the proposed meeting in the Piazza della Signoria, under the supervision of the Government; and Walter de Brienne accordingly rode forth, leaving his retreat among the friars, and with a hundred and twenty armed followers at his back, he started for the Palazzo Vecchio, there to commence his reign of terror.

Pavement of Piazza 

The last great public spectacle in the piazza was held at the fifth centenary of Dante's birth, in 1864, when the statue of the poet, by the sculptor Pazzi, was unveiled in the presence of the King of Italy and of the assembled Florentine people.  Deputations from all parts of the peninsula, carrying banners, paraded the piazza - the Lion of Venice and the Wolf of Rome draped in mourning, because then forming no recognised part of the Italian kingdom, and none could anticipate that in less than six years their deliverance would be accomplished.

The fountain in the piazza derives its waters from a source near Arcetri, and is carried to Sta. Croce across the Ponte alle Grazie.  Around the piazza are palaces which once belonged to distinguished families - the Barberini, one of whom, Maffeo, was elected Pope in 1623, under the name of Urban VIII.  He was the persecutor of his countryman Galileo, and was guilty of nepotism to as great an extent as any who ever occupied the pontifical chair.

The Serristori Palace was built after a design by Baccio d' Agnolo, for one of the Cocchi family.  The ground-floor has three arches resting on little rustic columns; the upper storeys are adorned with columns of the Doric order.

The Palazzo Stufa, once Antellesi, when it belonged to the Antella family, was designed by Giulio Parigi, and is covered with frescos which were all executed in one month.  Among the artists employed were Domenico Passignano, Matteo Rosselli, and Giovanni di San Giovanni.  Their work is almost effaced, which may partly be attributed to the hasty execution.  Traces may be discovered of three children supporting the shield of the Antella family over the door, which was painted by Giovanni di San Giovanni; an amorino with a swan, by the same artist, has been greatly admired, as well as an old man in the centre of the lowest tier of paintings, who is supposed to represent the father of Nicol˛ da Antella, the first owner of this palace.  Within, are paintings by Pocetti; and in the garden behind, a statue by Giovanni Bologna.  A marble disk outside, below the third window, counting from the Church of Sta. Croce, marked one of the extremities of the line which divided the parties engaged in the game of calcio.  In an apartment beneath the roof of this palace, once in close proximity to the Inquisition which held its sittings in the Monastery of Sta. Croce, is now a Protestant school, established on principles of the British and Foreign Schools of England, admitting the children of members of all persuasions.

South of the Church of Sta. Croce, and parallel with the river, is the Corso dei Tintori - the quarter of the dyers, who held horse-races here on the anniversary of Saint Onophrius.  Young lads ambitious of being admitted into the guild were made to ride the horses, as a first step towards initiation.  In the Corso dei Tintori, beside the garden of the friars of Sta. Croce, at one time lived a painter, Il Rosso, a disciple of Michael Angelo.  Vasari relates that Il Rosso possessed an ape, which became a great favourite with one of his apprentices, called Battistino, who employed the animal to steal the friars' grapes, by letting him down by a rope into the garden, and drawing him up again with his paws full of fruit.  A friar who missed the grapes set a trap for rats, but one day catching the ape in the fact, he took up a stick to thrash him; a struggle ensued, in which the ape had the best of it, and contrived to escape; the friar, however, summoned Il Rosso to appear before the judges, and his favourite was condemned to have a weight fastened to his tail.  A few days afterwards an opportunity occurred for revenge:  the friar was performing mass in the church, when the ape was made to climb the roof of his cell, and, in the words of Vasari, he "performed so lively a dance with the weight at his tail, that there was not a tile nor vase left unbroken, and on the friar's return a torrent of lamentations was heard, which lasted three days."



Alberti, Leon Battista 1475-1520
Amphitheatre, Roman, excavated 1772
Baccio d' Agnolo 1462-1560
Beccheria, Abbot of Vallombrosa, executed 1258
Calcio, Game of, played last 1739
Cosimo II. 1609-1620
Council of Florence - Eugenius IV. 1436
Gondi, Palazzo, built 1501
Grano, Loggia del, built 1619
Grazie, Ponte alle, built 1235
Grazie, Ponte alle, two arches diminished 1346
Grazie, Ponte alle, Chapel of the, founded 1372
Il Rosso 1496-1541
Menzini, Benedetto 1646-1704
Parliament of the people in Sta. Croce 1250
Passignano, Domenico 1560-1638
Retz, Cardinal de 1614-1679
Rosselli, Matteo 1578-1650
San Firenze ceded to the Fathers of the Oratory 1640
San Firenze rebuilt 1646
San Firenze fašade built 1732
San Gallo, Giuliano di 1485-1547
San Giovanni, Giovanni di 1590-1638
Urban VIII., Pope 1623


167 See "Or San Michele," chap. xii. vol. i.

"If thou shouldst questioned be, who else was there,
 Thou hast beside thee him of Beccaria,
 Of whom the gorget Florence slit asunder."
   Longfellow's Translation.
"As on the right hand to ascend the mount
 Where seated is the Church that lordeth
 O'er the well-guided, above the Rubaconte."
   Longfellow's Translation
170 These houses were demolished in order to widen the bridge, and the chapel was transferred to one of the adjoining houses of the Alberti.
171 See "Discorso sopra il Giuoco di Calcio - Memoria del Calcio."  Fiorentino, 1688.

Chapter XIX:  Sta. Croce - Architecture


ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING: Embroidering of Pomegranates: Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Courtship || Casa Guidi italiano/English || Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Aurora Leigh || Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Florence: || Preface  italiano/English || Poetry  italiano/English || Laurel Garland: Women of the Risorgimento || Death and the Emperor in the Poetry of Dante, Browning, Dickinson and Stevens|| Enrico Nencioni on Elizabeth Barrett Browning italiano ||

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