The San Lorenzo Basilica was founded in 393 and is probably the oldest church in Florence. Until the 17th century it was the cathedral of the city. Later, the Church of Santa Reparata, which would later be converted into the present Cathedral, took over this task. Several descendants of the Medici family are buried in the church, as is the great artist Donatello. The Medici Chapels are the biggest attraction of the basilica. It is considered one of the most important examples of Renaissance art and architecture.
San Lorenzo Basilica Florence
Address, opening hours and entrance fee
Address: Piazza di San Lorenzo, 9, 50123 – Florence (tel. +39 055214042). It is open from Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 17:00. Sunday: from 13.30 to 17.30. Closed: December 25 and 26 and January 1 and 6. Admission Basilica (incl. Sagrestia Vecchia and Museo del Tesoro) + Biblioteca Laurenziana: 8 Euro. Free for children under 11. The library is closed on Sundays from November to February. For the Medici Chapels together with the Sagrestia Nuova there is a separate ticket. The entrance is located at Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini. The FirenzeCard is valid. The basilica is wheelchair-accessible.
History and description
The Basilica di San Lorenzo is hidden behind a large brick wall, which in its turn is hidden by multiple market stalls.
The original construction was inaugurated by Sant’Ambrogio in 393.
In 1059 the present, Romanesque version of the San Lorenzo Basilica was built.
Later it became the family church of the Medici and its history is closely connected with that of this family. The Medici must have spent fortunes embellishing the basilica in the course of its history.
Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici was the first member of the family to put money into the interior of the church. The architect was Brunelleschi, who between 1418 and 1421 worked on its enlargement. The work was interrupted when Cosimo de’ Medici was expelled from the city due to political struggles. In 1442 construction was restarted, but Brunelleschi died four years later. It was not until 1461 that Antonio Manetti succeeded in completing the basilica.
The 17th century saw the addition of the Cappella dei Principi, meant to be a mausoleum fotr the Medici family.
In 2019 the Salone di Donatello was opened. This is an exhibition space dedicated to the development of the science of natural history. The collection consist of around 150 objects.
Highlights San Lorenzo Basilica Florence
The stairs leading to the portal of the basilica were never completed. The design, which was the work of Michelangelo, can be seen at the Casa Buonarroti.
The interior consists of 3 naves, separated by arches.
At the end of the right aisle is a marble tabernacle designed by Desiderio da Settignano.
Donatello made the two bronze pulpits at the end of the aisles. These are decorated with “episodes from the lives of Christ and Saint Lawrence”.
Cosimo il Vecchio, Donatello’s patron, is buried in front of the high altar. A sign (Pater Patrie, “Father of the Fatherland”) marks the spot.
The huge fresco “Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence” (1569) by Angelo Bronzino can be seen along the left aisle. Laurens, as treasurer, was instructed by a prefect of Emperor Valerian to hand over all the wealth of his church. When he showed up with all the arms and cripples of the city, exclaiming “Here is the wealth of the church”, he was roasted alive. Even then, he couldn’t help but ask his tormentors to turn him over after a while, since he “was done on this side”.
Rosso Fiorentino painted the “Wedding of the Virgin”.
The Cappella Martelli contians an “Annunciation” by Filippo Lippi.
Sagrestia Vecchia and Sagrestia Nuova
In the Sagrestia Vecchia, designed by Brunelleschi, near the left transept, stands the sarcophagus of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici and his wife, Piccarda Bueri. The sarcophagus is the work of Andrea del Verrocchio, as is the one of Piero de’ Medici. On the dome of a side chapel, a map of the stars above Florence was painted around the middle of the 15th century. The frescoes in the sacristy are the work of Brunelleschi. He worked from 1422 till 1428 on the Sagrestia Vecchia, which contains works by Donatello.
In the Sagrestia Nuova are the tombs of Lorenzo il Magnifico and Giuliano. This room was designed and furnished in 1520 by Michelangelo.
The Treasury of the complex consists of some forty objects, including liturgical paraphernalia, crucifixes and reliquaries dating from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century.
Through a door to the left of the main entrance you can enter the Chiostro dei Canonici. From this cloister a staircase leads to the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. This library, designed by Michelangelo in 1524, houses the collection of manuscripts of the Medici family.