Overlooking the city of Florence, even higher than Piazzale Michelangelo, the small church of San Miniato al Monte sits. One of the oldest churches in Florence, it’s the perfect way to escape the busy city and enjoy a spectacular view that you won’t find anywhere else.
The view isn’t the only stunning part about this church, however. The exterior hides an intricate, late-Byzantine interior that makes it worth the hike up to the top of the hill.
The facade of San Miniato — Photo courtesy of Alex Schnee
The church is named after Saint Minas, who was said to have been a Roman prince before choosing to become a Christian. He was decapitated, but his legend states that he picked up his severed head and carried it to the top of Mons Fiorentinus, where the church now stands.
San Miniato has been passed from Catholic sect to sect, originally belonging to the Benedictines. Now, it’s maintained by the Olivetans, who live in the adjoining monastery. If you're interested in bringing back a little bit of their history, you can purchase some of the honey, teas or liqueurs that they make on the premises.
Friday night mass is an event at San Miniato that you do not want to miss. The echoes of history can be heard here, as the monks chant some of the beautiful Gregorian compositions that they have kept for hundreds of years.
It’s incredibly eerie, but also unlike anything you will hear in larger basilicas across Italy. The size of the building makes the church seem even more sacred than some of the larger, looming cathedrals that Florence boasts.
Like many other churches in Europe, San Miniato is a conglomeration of many different styles. You’ll find floor mosaics dating back to the early 13th century, but the façade of the church is even older. It was continually renovated for close to 300 years after the initial design.
The interior is also a result of several different remodels, creating a comprehensive history of Florentine history within its architecture.
The church is one of the few in Florence that is free to enter. You will want to first arrive at Piazzle Michelangelo before you make the climb up several flights of stairs.
Keep in mind that you will want to be respectful of the resident monks: this is their home, so staying within the areas designated for visitors is extra important (no matter how tempting climbing over the fence to the adjacent cemetery may be).
You also might consider making the hike close to sunset so you can see Florence truly at its finest.