Historical notes about the headquarters and its surroundings
The Sangalli Institute for the religious history and cultures is located in the heart of medieval Florence, just beside Piazza della Signoria and the Uffizi Gallery and five minutes walking from the Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore.
The panorama you can enjoy from the Institute on the Piazza di San Firenze surrounds many different architectural styles, from the Palazzo del Bargello, built in the thirteenth century; the Gothic bell tower of the Badia fiorentina; the Renaissance with Palazzo Gondi, near Palazzo Vecchio; the Baroque Convent of San Firenze; till the Hotel Columbia-Parlamento of the nineteenth century, that hosted the deputees and the senators of the Italian Parliament during the years of Florence capital of the Kingdom of Italy, since 1865 to 1871.
The building where the Institute is located was built where the ruins of the ancient Roman coliseum were found.
The Roman town
The Piazza di San Firenze was one of the vertexes of the rectangle of the ancient Roman colony of Florentia, together with Piazza del Duomo, Piazza Santa Trinita and the west side of Via dei Cerretani.
Along the side of the place that looks towards the Arno river, there was anciently the Porta Peruzza (so-called from the della Pera family and its descendants, the Peruzzi), one of the entrance of the fist fortified walls of the Roman colony.
The medieval walls
In the second half of the eleventh century, countess Matilde di Canossa included the place in a new circle of walls, built to defend the city against the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (it’s the “ancient circle” of Dante). The walls began from the Altafronte Castle, which was placed on the Arno to protect the city. On the 4th of November 1333, the castle was destroyed by a ruinous flood of the river and it was replaced by Palazzo Castellani, then Palazzo de’ Giudici di Ruota. After the the Unification of Italy, in 1861, the palace hosted the manuscrits of the National Library and since 1930 the Museum of Science, today Museo Galileo.
The Badia Fiorentina
The most important building in the place, between the tenth and the twelfth centuries, was the Badia fiorentina, founded in 978 by Willa, widow of Uberto of Provence, marquise of Tuscany. The Badia will be the most powerful Benedictine abbey of the city also during the next centuries. Its bells, called squille in Dante’s Paradise, were used to regulate the daily life of Florence during the Middle Ages.
Approximately in 1250, the abbot buyed from the Municipality a part of the walls and destroyed them, in order to build some small stores, just at the end of Via del Proconsolo and the beginning of the place.
According to tradition, the Badia was re-built in 1284 by Arnolfo di Cambio, in order to adapt its building to the majestic Palazzo del Bargello, just in front. The bell tower, demolished in 1307 by the Florentines to punish the arrogance of the monks, was re-built in 1330.
San Firenze and the Bargello
In the middle of the fifteenth century, the piazza hosted two churches: the ancient Byzantine church of S. Apollinare (popularly called San Pulinari), between via della Vigna Vecchia and Via dell’Anguillara; and the oratory of S. Fiorenzo, in Borgo de’ Greci, probably built over a small temple dedicated to Isis. Fiorenzo probably was a Roman soldier and martyr. His name was changed in Firenze, in order to tie his memory to the name of the city: that’s the reason why the oratory, and the place, were called San Firenze.
At that time, the place did not exist in the actual extension. There was a smaller place, called Piazza del Popolo.
The impressive palace that gave the name to the former place was the Palazzo del Bargello. It was the first public palace of the Municipality, built forty years before the Palazzo Vecchio, in 1255. Initially, in fact, it hosted the Capitano del Popolo (and that’s the name of the place). But, after the famous Battle of Montaperti in 1260, when the Florentine Guelphs were defeated by the Ghibellines from Siena, the palace became the location of the Podestà. It was a landmark of the skyline of medieval Florence, especially after the superelevations of the middle of the fourteenth century, with its high angular tower (called the Volognona) and its characteristic crenelated profile. In 1574, the Podestà made over the palace to the Consiglio di Giustizia and then to the Capitano di giustizia, popularly called Bargello, the chief of the municipal police (it was also called the ‘Florentine Bastille’, because of its notoriety as a place of injustice and abuses).