To say there's a wide variety of churches to see in Florence would be an understatement. Although built sometimes within the same time period and with similar styles of facade and architecture, each is unique and all are worth visiting.
However, if you find yourself with the desire to see only one or two, consider checking out the church of Santa Croce, where you'll find some of Florence's most prominent individuals, including Michelangelo and Galileo.
Because of this, the church is often known as the “Temple of Italian Glories,” though there are more reasons to visit besides its famous burial sites.
A view of Santa Croce's unique facade — Photo courtesy of Alex Schnee
The church of Santa Croce was originally meant to be placed outside the city walls. It was given to the Franciscans, who are known for their piety and decision to live in poverty.
The church was consecrated in 1443, and it's the largest Franciscan basilica in the world. The church's large interior and decorative frescoes might be an indication that the Franciscans were willing to make an exception to poverty for the glory of this structure.
Inside, you'll find works by Giotto, arguably the Italian Renaissance's first painter. Though many of them have faded with time and because of various floods from the Arno River, you can still get a glimpse of what they must have looked like when the church was at its finest.
Sixteen chapels make up the interior, and you'll find tricky symbols from multiple sources inside and outside. One of the most interesting facts about Santa Croce is that the facade was not designed by a Christian.
Niccolo Matas, a Jewish architect, was commissioned to work on it. You'll find the Star of David featured prominently in the center of the exterior. Although Matas was allowed to design the facade, he wasn't allowed to be buried inside the church as he had hoped because of his religion. Instead, he was buried underneath the steps that lead up to the doors.
Matas might not have made it inside, but figures like Machiavelli and Gentile did. You'll find a series of elaborate tombs inside– especially those of Michelangelo and Galileo. A trip to Florence wouldn't be complete without paying tribute to some of the Renaissance's greatest minds.
You'll also find works by Canova, Cimbue and Donatello, making this church one with many hidden treasures. You just need to know where to look.
Santa Croce is an easy 15-minute walk from the Duomo. It's open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Sunday, when it's open from 2 p.m. until 5:30 p.m.
Tickets cost 6 euro for regular entrance, but you can get a discount if you have a minor ages 11 to 17 or you're part of a group of 15 or more.