Hidden treasures

Orsanmichele in Florence: church or market?

Historical Curiosities

Orsanmichele in Florence: church or market?

Orsanmichele Church, on top of being one of the oldest churches in Florence, has a rather curious history, starting from its name. The space now occupied by this church, was once the location - until the twelfth century – of an oratory and a church, surrounded by allotments and fields. For this reason, the small church was originally called San Michele in Orto, later Orto di San Michele and finally, to shorten everything, Orsanmichele.

Let's concentrate on its complicated origins: for purely economic issues, the municipality of Florence decided to demolish it to make way for a lodge, destined to become a corn market. While frescoing two columns with images of St. Michael the Archangel and Our Lady, in memory of the little ruined church, the Florentines never knew which function to attribute to Orsanmichele: church or market? On this basis, in the fifteenth century, the market was moved and the building became a place of worship again, still keeping its rectangular plant - most unusual for a church.
The first floor was used as a granary storage whereas the ground floor became the church as you see it today: in the niches on the outside you can admire the sculptures of important artists such as Santo Stefano by Lorenzo Ghiberti, San Marco by Donatelli and San Luca by Giambologna.

Do you want to know some secrets on Orsanmichele Church? Here they are!

  • The church and the opposite building – namely Palazzo della Lana - are connected by a skywalk... a sort of miniature Vasari Corridor!
  • How can you understand how this building could have been used as a granary? After entering, look to your left and you will see that the vaguely floral shapes in the first two pillars are nothing more than slits, connected to the upper floors, filled by the bakers with grain received from the second floor!
  • Carefully observing the external corners of the church you will notice some carved images depicting vines and ears of wheat: this is because Orsanmichele didn't only store wheat, but even various types of food including wine.

Make your way to this site and have fun exploring these little facts... the entry is free! 

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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