The Franciscan Basilica di Santa Croce, with its striped green-and-white marble facade, dates from about 1294. Inside are the tombs of many celebrated early Florentines, including Dante, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Among the many art treasures are radiant frescoes by Giotto and his pupil Taddeo Gaddi, which decorate the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels, and the newly restored Cappella dei Pazzi, a Renaissance architectural masterpiece designed by Brunelleschi.
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Basilica di Santa Croce: The Origins of the Stendhal Syndrome
When French writer Stendhal saw Giotto's frescoes in Florence's Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross), he wrote:
"Ero giunto a quel livello di emozione dove si incontrano le sensazioni celesti date dalle arti ed i sentimenti appassionati. Uscendo da Santa Croce, ebbi un battito del cuore, la vita per me si era inaridita, camminavo temendo di cadere."
Stendhal's quote about passion, a pounding heart, and a fear of falling became the beginning of the Stendhal Syndrome. This seeks to explain the symptoms sensitive humans experience when they encounter magnificent art. It's no wonder it all started with Santa Croce: Giotto, Cimabue, Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi, Giorgio Vasari, and many other masters contributed to the austere, yet majestic, gothic basilica.
The Franciscan church is also known for hosting the tombs of—or monuments to—Ugo Foscolo, Vittorio Alfieri, Michelangelo, Galielo, and Machiavelli.
The Basilica di Santa Croce remains a historical gem that can better help us understand Stendhal, and a testament to the power that devoted artists can have on humanity.
If you are only going to visit one church in Florence, it should be Santa Croce. Not only is it the burial place of choice for some of the city’s historical VIPs (Michelangelo, Galileo, Vittorio Alfieri and co.), but it is also decorated with some fabulous frescoes, most notably those by Giotto in the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels. The adjacent museum houses a famous crucifix by Cimabue which was badly damaged in the flood of 1966 and you should also visit Brunelleschi’s Cappella dei Pazzi, an exercise-in-miniature of Renaissance symmetry and precision.
The church stands on a wide, open square lined with ancient buildings. This is the lowest area of the city and it was particularly badly hit during the great flood of 1966. If you look carefully, you will see a series of small marble plaques set high on some of the buildings that surround the piazza marking the level that the water reached that November 4th night.
Experiencing Dante's Inferno in the Poet's Birthplace
Eighteen high-relief marble panels, each depicting two scenes from Dante's Inferno, stand in the cloister of the Basilica of Santa Croce. If Santa Croce hadn't already been my favorite church in Florence, this work of art bringing to life such an important literary masterpiece, would definitely have done it for me.
The one in the photo portrays Paolo and Francesca—sent to hell for the kiss that betrayed Paolo's brother and Francesca's husband—in Canto Five, continuously flying naked, but unable to be together as their torture.
Next to the lovers, sculptor Robazza shows us a scene from the circle of gluttons in Canto Six.