Florence has an abundance of churches to see, and it can be hard to choose which ones would be best to satisfy your taste for history and religious art.
However, if you're planning on visiting any church within the city center, the church of Santa Maria Novella is one that should not be missed.
You'll be among good company, too. Generations of artists, important historical figures and visitors have walked within the sacred walls of this Dominican church, the first major basilica in Florence.
The gorgeous facade of the Santa Maria Novella church — Photo courtesy of Alex Schnee
The name of the church means “New Church of Saint Mary.” Originally the site of an oratory, it was given to the Dominican order by the city of Florence in order to make a new church.
Famous architect Leon Battista Alberti was hired to work on the project. It was the beginning age of humanist ideals, and Alberti proposed to bring new expectations to the project – including a design for the facade that is unlike any other in Italy. You'll find curving lines instead of the strict parallels that most architects at the time used, and the result is delightful.
Architecture aside, the church is also one of the best places to see a combination of Medieval and Renaissance works.
Masaccio’s Holy Trinity is one of the highlights; this was one of the first works to be considered part of the Renaissance ideal. In it, Masaccio used the shape of a pyramid in order to convey the sacred. The work serves as a window into the future developments of the Italian Renaissance and what was to come from artists like Michelangelo (whose work is also featured).
Before they leave the site, visitors will want to make sure that they take the time to wander through the Spanish Chapel. It’s a tribute to the wife of Cosimo I – Eleonora of Toledo – and the Spanish retinue that was under her authority at the time.
Featuring scenes by Bernardo Daddi from the early era of Renaissance work, it complements the graceful lines of the redesigned architecture done by the incomparable Giorgio Vasari.
Santa Maria Novella is open most every day from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., excepting Fridays, when it's open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It's also closed on Sundays for services.
Ticket prices are 5 euro for an adult, but there is a discount for those over 65 and those between the ages of five and 18. The ticket office closes 45 minutes before the church closing, so you will want to arrive in plenty of time to do some perusing and enjoy the many works of art on display.