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Eastern Florence-Santa Croce and Palazzo del Bargello

Santa Croce neighbourhood is dominated by the Franciscan basilica of the same name and is transforming into a fashionable spot with top restaurants continuing to pop up.
The piazza was created in the medieval times when churchgoers were of much greater numbers and so this large space was needed to house them all.It was also the place where those found guilty of heresy and sentenced to death died  were killed back in Savonarola’s times.
It was also a site where joust competitions and festivals were held. The calico storico which is a blend of rugby and football is still played here (www.calciostorico.it). A violent game,  players can head-butt, punch, elbow and choke but cannot sucker-punch or kick heads!
The halfway line is “drawn” by means of a marble stone on the façade of the Palazzo dell’Antella.
The Roman amphitheatre used to be on the site the piazza occupies, including the area of Piazza dei Peruzzi and the zone bordered by Via de’ Bentaccordi and Via Torta.
The stark but beautiful Franciscan Basilica di Santa Croce (Picture 1) (tel. 055 246 61 05; open 9.30am-5.30pm Mon-Sat, 1-5.30pm Sun) features a neo-Gothic façade covered with marble in different shades. The façade and the bell tower were added in the 1800s. Arnolfo di Cambio was the designer and took about a century to finish it. It was named after a splinter of wood of the Holy Cross which Louis of France donated in the mid-13th century.
Among its attractions for visitors are Michelangelo, Galileo ad Ghiberti and Machiavelli’s tombs and Giotto and his school´s frescoed chapel. Saint Francis’ life is represented in the Cappella Bardi. The expert hands behind the frescoes of the Cappella Majeure and Cappella Baroncelli are Giotto and Taddeo Gaddi’s. The theme depicted in the Cappella Baroncelli is the Virgin Mary’s life.
Agnolo Gaddi frescoed the Cappella Castellani taking as its subject Saint Nicholas’ life and painted the frescoes over the altar.
The sacristy is reached through a corridor starting in the transept chapels. This 14th century sacristy is dominated by the Crucifixion by Taddeo Gaddi. In this room Saint Francis´s cowl and belt are on display. The corridor finishes with the Medici Chapel where Andrea della Robbia´s glazed terracotta altarpiece is.
The other cloister was Brunelleschi’s work. The Renaissance Cappella de’Pazzi is a remarkable work, decorated with medallions of the Apostles created by Luca della Robbia. The chapel was commissioned by the rich bankers whose family was killed in the Pazzi Conspiracy to remove the Medici from power of Florence. Even though the 1966 flood reached over 4 m in the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce (open 9.30am-5.30pm Mon-Sat, 1-5.30pm Sun), the Crucifixion by Cimabue was restored as much as possible, rather successfully. Among favourites are Saint Louis of Toulouse, a gilded bronze statue by Donatello, a bust representing the stigmatized Saint Francis by the della Robbia´s workshop, and some of Taddeo Gaddi’s frescoes particularly his Last Supper.

The Palazzo del Bargello (Picture 2) was the first public building which the podestà used to carry out punishments from the 13th to 16th century. At present the palazzo houses the Museo Nazionale del Bargello covering the most complete displays of Tuscan sculpture from the Renaissance period.
The Sala di Michelangelo houses many of his first pieces. At 21 Michelangelo put his Bacchus on show here. Brutus (c 1539-40), David/Apollo (1530-32) and the Tondo Pitti (1503- 05) are also displayed here. The Adam and Eve by Bandinello (1551) and Cellini’s Ganimede are exhibited in this room. Both these sculptors took over sculpting when Michelangelo left Florence.
The Sala di Donatello is on the first floor. It occupies the room which was long ago the Salone del Consiglio Generale. Not only are Donatello’s works on show here but also those by other artists. The Saint George by Donatello (1416-17), which has been placed in the hall, is the piece which adorned the façade of the Chiesa di Orsanmichele and began the move towards perspective and movement in sculpture. Other highlights are the bronze bas-reliefs for the baptistry doors competition.
The two spectacular Davids (Picture 3) by Donatello are also in the museum, one dressed in marble and the other the famous statue in bronze.
The Cappella del Podestà, housed in the palace is frescoed by Giotto with Hell and Paradise as well as events of Mary ‘s life in Egypt, Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist. The vestiges of these frescoes were found in the 19th century when the cappella was used as prison. In this chapel criminals sentenced to death used to be blessed and carried out confession for the last time.
The second floor displays fabulous terracotta works by della Robbia artists. Among them are Ritratto Idealizia di Fanciullo by Andrea della Robbia, Pietà by Giovanni, whose pieces of art are more colourful and detailed.