San Miniato al Monte, between heaven and hearth

A shimmering vision of elegance, the old Benedictine abbey has looked down on Florence from its commanding heights for a thousand years, bestowing peace, wonder and a breathtaking view.

Far from the crowded city centre, on a high point with a magnificent romantic view, stands one of the most beautiful of Florence’s basilicas, San Miniato al Monte. The delicate facade of geometric motifs in white and green marble, a sublime expression of the Florentine Romanesque, is immediately recognisable at the top of a tall monumental staircase. Even more astonishing is the interior, where decorations in two-tone marble share the space alongside 14th-15th century frescoes, the sumptuous gilded mosaic in the apse, and the 13th century inlaid pavement. At the end of the central nave is Michelozzo’s Renaissance Chapel of the Crucifix, in front of the crypt and raised presbytery.

Ever since it was founded, in 1013, the church of San Miniato al Monte has been wreathed in legends and mysteries associated with its special symbology, such as the recurrence of the number 5 in the decor and structures, or the great zodiac wheel marble inlay on the pavement in front of the central portal. Also worth a visit is the Sacristy decorated with a great fresco cycle on the Life of Saint Benedict by Spinello Aretino (1387) and the tranquil monumental cemetery, the Porte Sante. Since 1018 a small community of Benedictine monks have lived in the adjacent monastery (not open to visitors) where they run a Pharmacy in which you can find herbal remedies and pastry products made by the friars.

You reach San Miniato al Monte by the road climbing up from Piazzale Michelangelo. To immerse yourself in the near-mystic peace of the place, come at 7am to take part in the morning lauds and mass, after which it is closed until 9.30am.