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).

Via della Condotta

Via della Condotta, that lines the building where the Sangalli Institute is located, was, from the Middle Ages to recent times, the street of the stationers and the parchment shops. In fact, the angle between the street and the place was indicated as the Canto dei cartolai. At the end of the street, before entering the place, there was the Porta del Garbo, named from the Islamic sultanate of al-Garb, the region from which came the fine Florentine wool. That special wool gave also its name to one of the merchant families of Florence, the Del Garbo.

Gondi Palace

Since 1490, the place was enriched by Palazzo Gondi, one of the jewels of the Italian Renaissance, abuting with the location of the Sangalli Institute, with its bow gates, its mullioned windows, and its three orders of bosses. The architect was Giuliano da Sangallo the Elder. The left side on Via de’ Gondi was re-built in 1871 by Giuseppe Poggi, the maker of the changings of Florence capital of Italy, when the Municipality decided to enlarge that narrow street. But, in that occasion, the house where Leonardo lived (and painted the Gioconda, according to an unfounded tradition) was demolished.

The convent of San Firenze

During the first half of the seventeenth century, the nobleman Giuliano Serragli supported, with the agreement of pope Urban VIII, the construction of the Convent of San Firenze, based on a plan of the architect Ferdinando Ruggieri, after the demolition of the ancient houses and towers of the Magalotti and Mancini families. The convent hosted the fathers of the Oratory of saint Filippo Neri. You can see it just in front of the windows of the Sangalli Institute, with its characteristic façade, two churches tied by a civil palace. It is probably the most important Baroque building in Florence.

The Florentine Agricultural Union

In 1867, the Comizio agrario fiorentino was created to buy and sell the agricultural products. Its warehouses were located in the basements of Palazzo Vecchio, with entrance from Via de’ Gondi. The agricultural crisis of the 1880s, and the need to find some remedies to the diseases of the viticulture, revitalized the Comizio, that in 1889 created also the Consorzio agrario. His first president, count Ferdinando Guicciardini, since 1901 tried to find a new central location, in order to simplify the carriage of the agricultural products for the market on Friday. He chose then the Palazzo della Condotta e della Mercanzia, on Piazza della Signoria: the Palazzo della Condotta was the location since 1337 of the Municipal Guards, and after the fall of the Florentine Republic in 1530 of the Gabella dei contratti; the Palazzo della Mercanzia hosted the tribunal that helped the Florentine merchants in their businesses and controversies (today it is the location of Gucci Museum).

The Municipality buyed the Palazzo della Condotta e della Mercanzia in 1878 and then sold it to the Consorzio agrario in 1902. The restoration was finished in 1906. So, from 1907 to 1986, it was the central building of the institution. In 1915, the Consorzio buyed also the building in Piazza di San Firenze 3, that hosted the Sangalli Institute.

That decision was made, together with the purchase of another building in via dei Magazzini 2-4, to widen the spaces of the central location on Piazza della Signoria 10. Marquise Gondi allowed to host the archives of the Consorzio in the basements of its palace, but the ruinous flood of the Arno on 4th November 1966 caused the irreparable lost of the documents. The water was 3,85 m high in Piazza di San Firenze that terrible day.

At the beginning of 2000s, the Consorzio was forced to sell the palace, maintaining only a flat as its legal location, till recent times. The palace hosted today also the Consulates of Peru and Ivory Coast.

The Sangalli Institute

The Sangalli Institute is hosted in the ancient houses of the Raffacani family. The medieval origins of the building is proved by remains of a medieval tower, in one of the rooms of the Sangalli Institute. During the late Middle Ages, those houses were buyed by the Sacchetti, a family of bankers and merchants. It was the same family of Franco Sacchetti, who composed at the end of the fourteenth century the Trecentonovelle, a book inspirated to the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.
The Sacchetti transformed the building in an aristocratic house and they continued to be the owners till the seventeenth century.

Bibliography

G. Carocci, Firenze scomparsa. Ricordi storico-artistici, Istituto professionale Leonardo da Vinci, Firenze 1977-78

Consorzio agrario provinciale di Firenze, 1889-1989. 100 anni di vita al servizio dell’agricoltura, Tipografia Latini, Firenze 1989

J. Del Badia, Comizio agrario di Firenze. La nuova sede nei palazzi della Condotta e della Mercanzia, Stabilimento tipografico dei minori corrigendi G. Ramella e C., Firenze 1907

G. Fanelli, Firenze, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1980

Le strade di Firenze, I-IV, a cura di P. Bargellini, E. Guarnieri, Bonechi, Firenze 1977-78

Help the Sangalli Institute DONATION