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The Museum of the Opera di Santa Croce Florence, Italy

Find the who’s who of the nostalgic Renaissance period entombed under magnificent crypts and tombs. Trace a path through the innumerable tombstones that speak volumes with their silence but are eloquent with intrigue and secrets. Move slowly through a maze of pathways and incredible buildings that house the splendour, the pride and the glorious creations of the most famous artists and noble families of an unforgettable era. The Museum of the Opera di Santa Croce draws the mind towards the spirituality, the mystery and the unbelievable talent of the Florentine period.

Structured with grace at the Piazza Santa Croce, the museum was constructed by Arnolfi di Cambio as a Franciscan church of Santa Croce in 1294. The church acquired vast sums of money donated by the rich and noble families so that they could be buried in this beautiful church. Attracting not only the rich, the lovely Capella Pazzi is filLed with tombs of famous learned men, talented artists and great scientists, such as, Machiavelli and Fossombroni, famous in history as the man who figured prominently in Leopold II’s plan to reclaiming Maremma. Designed by Vincenzo Viviani, the tomb of Galileo is another interesting sculpture, which brings out the fact that Prince Giangstone de’ Medici gave Galileo an elaborate funeral in 1737, to establish the fact that the Prince was freeing himself from the shackles of the Ecclesiastical Authorities Council who were responsible for condemning Galileo.

A Mysterious Structure

As an artistic and precious gem, the museum of the Opera di Santa Croce, is a lovely artistic and precious gem which is 138 meters in length and 39 meters in width. Styled with a long 19-meter wide nave with a wooden ceiling reminiscent of the early Christian architecture, the church has two aisles. The church in itself is built like a Basilica by Arnolfi di Cambio, which was started in 1295 and finished in 1442. Bringing the modified Gothic form from the Cistercian church into Italy, the restoration of the west facade with colored marble was done in 1857-63. The gorgeous Pazzi Chapel exhibits the work of Filippo Brunelleschi in Santa Croce bringing out the grand elements of space and style.

Come and lose yourself in the architectural wonder of the Opera di Santa Croce. Feast your eyes on its wonderful paintings and awe-inspiring sculptures. Find 276 tombs lying in peaceful serenity amidst underground corridors and cloisters. Uplift the soul as you cross the church’s T-shaped, Egyptian cross structure, which branches out into three naves measuring 114,45 meters into a chancel and a transept of chancels which was mainly reserved for the noble families of Bardi, Peruzzi, Tosinghi, Pulci, Rinucci and the Alberti families. Though the original Bell Tower was struck by lightning, another one was built to replace the original about the same time as the entire church was completed and consecrated by the Pope, Eugene IV.

Where Talent comes to Life

As you enter the church, you will be drawn towards the frescoes sculpted by Giotto and his pupils who transformed the Opera di Santa Croce into a veritable museum reflecting a Florentine Trecento painting. See the light glow through the fabulous stained glass windows of an era gone by. You will wonder at the thirst for knowledge and the aesthetic sense of the Medici family, of Cosimo ‘the Elder’ de’ Medici and Andrea de’ Pazzi. Next to the Sacristy, the Chapel of the Novitiate was built between 1435-1445 by Michelozzo and the exterior and the interior decorated by Andrea della Robbia and Mino da Fiesole, being commissioned by the Medici family. Andrea de’ Pazzi donated money towards the building of the Pazzi Chapel, in the first cloister, called the Cloister of the Dead which was designed and executed by Brunelleschi, who was also the creator of the second cloister of the Covent or the Greater Cloister with an exquisite door by Benedetto da Maiano. This was not completed in his lifetime and was finished by Bernardo Rosellino after Brunelleschi’s death.

The Opera di Santa Croce is an unbelievable and exotic museum with myriad displays of talent, color and design. Walk across its sculpture-studded interior and discover the Niccolini chapel ensconced in the left transept and styled by the famous architect Giovanni Antonio Dosio. The Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari to re-modernize the Basilica which was finished with immense altars carved into the walls of the side naves and enhanced with a profusion of fabulously rich paintings by the most talented and sensitive artists of Florence.

As one of the most exquisite show pieces, the Opera di Santa Croce opens out an incredible fountainhead of lovely sculptures, paintings, stained windows, carvings and a multitude of designs, seemingly vying with each other for attention. Come and view the evolved Renaissance sculpture and be moved by the Crucifix by Donetello in the Bardi Chapel in the left transept. Turn around to see the noble Anunciation with its gilded sculpture glowing with a cosmic light embedded in gray stone that was restored later by the Opifico delle Pietre Dure. Let your soul be exported with the sculpture of the Madonna of Milk by Antonio Rosellino, which was placed above the tomb of Francesco Nori. As an interesting fact, the story goes that Francesco Nori, who was the Prior of the Republic, died while saving the life of Lorenzo the Magnificent during the Pazzi conspiracy.

A Memorable Journey

Gape in awe at the magnificent Pulpit carved with innate talent and the essence of style by Benedetto da Maiano. Pass by the memorable monuments, prototypes of the Renaissance tomb monuments, in memory of Leonardo Bruni, the great humanist and Chancellor of the Republic by Bernado Rossellini and Desiderio da Settignano, and imagine the veteran of freedom resting in peace. You can even find the tombs of Taddeo Gaddi and the Count Ugolino della Gherardesca. Look around and actually see the works of the old maestros of art in splendid array in the Basilica. See the appealing tomb of Michaelangelo by Vasari and Galileo’s tomb by Foggini and Vittorio Alfieri by Canova. Considered as the city Pantheon, the Basilica is the final resting place of the greatest in Florence. The illustrious poet, Ugo Foscolo has described the Basilica and its fabulous tombs in his work, ‘Sepolcri’.

Bedazzle your senses

As a fine example of Neoclassical and Romantic sculpture, the Basilica lets you explore her cavernous underground corridor with many tombs found in the first cloister under the loggia in the church. Interestingly enough, the cloister can also be used as the entrance to the Museum from the Square. Have you heard of the ‘Stendhal’s disease”? Almost a hundred years back, the illustrious Stendhal was totally entranced by the Church of Santa Croce that he almost went mad! This is a mysterious disease that afflicts some of the visitors to the Church of Santa Croce! About twelve visitors reel under the symptoms of culture shock and are bedazzled by the sights around them.

The most interesting and mysterious stories surround the Basilica. The façade of the church is covered with large slabs of green marble with its chapels inside are frescoed by the awe-inspiring works of Giotto and della Robbia. The Church of Santa Croce was built so that it would stand totally apart from its rival, the immense church of Santa Maria Novella built by the Dominicans in the opposite side of the city. The walls of the Church are lined with tombs of the who’s who in the Florentine society and to your surprise, if you look hard enough you would find the tomb of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of the ‘Prince’ and the Crucifix by Cimabue that was damaged badly in the floods of 1966. The remains of the great composer Gioacchino Rossini are also interred here. Stroll through the long hall of the Refectory and on your right Cimabue’s Crucifix reflects the fusion of Byzantine heritage and the evolving style of the Renaissance. Cimabue even taught Giotto to paint!

Walk through the Church’s wide interiors and aisles and listen to the muted whispers of the past echoing across the huge vaulted stone arches. Towards the right of the entrance of the museum, Michaelangelo’s tomb stands majestic and appealing with the “Pieta’ painted by Michaelangelo himself. Another interesting fact is that though there is a cenotaph to Dante Alighieri, his tomb is in Ravenna and the authorities have refused to give his bones to the Florentines! Covered with tombs, the floor is protected by a hard plastic sheet to preserve what is left of the inscriptions on the tombs. Outside, near Santa Croce you will find Casa Buonarotti, which belonged to Michaelangelo. Though he never lived in it, the house stands as a famous museum and you can feel the presence of Michangelo and the tempestuous times of years gone by.

The song of the Angels

Words cannot describe the fantastic art, architecture and imagination of the talented Florentines. The Church of Santa Croce has been built with passion and prayer and to the right transept and right next to the main altar, Giotto has frescoed scenes from the life of Saint John the Evangelist. The Convent at Santa Croce has been converted to a museum with the intention of housing the hapless yet artistic victims of the deadly flooding of the Arno in 1966, which had covered the entire church with loads of mud and water. Landscaped with the flow of art, the open-air courtyard is filled with cypresses and resounds with the trill of birds. Walk slowly down the path and find the rectangular Cappella de’ Pazzi by Brunelleschi. As a signature piece, the chapel is built with light gray pietra serena reflecting the Renaissance touch to highlight the artistically architectural lines that stand out against clear white plaster walls with the porch created by Guilano di Maiano. The chapel itself is designed with glazed terra cotta by Luca della Robbia. The only relief is the roundels of the Apostles and by the time the chapel was finished, the Pazzi conspiracy either kidnapped, murdered or exiled the family who were donating money towards this building.

Come and see one of the wonders of the world that has entranced millions. Come and absorb the spirit of the Renaissance with its tragedies and haunting memories. Come and listen to the music of cosmic galaxies and let it mingle with the song of the birds in the courtyard of the Opera di Santa Croce.

Let your imagination wander down the Piazza Santa Croce, 16, and let the Renaissance come to life at the Opera di Santa Croce. Let the old masters walk into your life and light up the dark corners. Listen to the song of the angels between 9 a. m. to 12.30 a. m. and 3 p.m. to 6.30. The museum remains closed on Wednesdays, so take a break and come back again and again.