You can spot it from several locations in Florence, yet relatively few seem to venture to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, which stands atop one of the highest points in the city, on a hill that overlooks it from the south side of the river Arno. This year may be just the right time to visit as this Benedictine abbey celebrates 1,000 years since its construction.
Celebrations have officially begun on April 27, the date in 1018 when the church dedicated to the first Christian martyr of Florence, Saint Minias (Miniato), was inaugurated; we know this thanks to the Charta Ordinationis signed by the Florentine bishop Ildebrando. According to legend, Saint Minias was beheaded and carried his head in his hands to the top of the hill where, first a shrine, then the church and a monastery, were built.
The unveiling of the newly restored doors and ciborium kicked off the year-long celebrations, which will include concerts, conferences, theatrical and musical performances.
San Miniato al Monte is considered one of the finest examples of Florentine Romanesque, starting with the green and white marble façade, a masterpiece inspired by the solid and geometric classicism of Roman buildings.
The rearward bell tower was used as an artillery post during the 1530 siege of Florence by Charles V; Michelangelo contributed to saving it and the entire structure from enemy fire.
The interior, which has mostly remained the same since it was built, features a 13th-century patterned pavement that leads to the Chapel of the Crucifix, designed by the Florentine architect and sculptor Michelozzo in 1448 and decorated with panels by the Florentine painter Agnolo Gaddi. The raised choir and presbytery, above the crypt, feature a magnificent Romanesque pulpit and an impressive mosaic depicting Christ and San Miniato to his right.
At the front and back of the church is a cemetery with, among others, tombs of notable men, including Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio.
Besides the spiritual charm of San Miniato, this location provides a breathtaking view of Florence.
You can reach San Miniato on foot, walking up from Piazzale Michelangelo, by bus (#12 or #13) or by car.