The Santa Croce complex has always been closely connected with the Franciscans, who established themselves here around about 1227.
Soon after the death of St. Francis, they built a small church on the site of the present-day Santa Croce, which they enlarged in 1252. The remains of this first building came to light in 1967.
In May 1294, work started on the new church designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, who managed to produce the Florentine ideal of the beauty of simple forms in a vast space; in fact, Santa Croce is 115 metres long and its central nave 195 metres wide, about the same size as the first church of St. Peter's in Rome.
Building was completed in 1380. After the collapse of the first bell tower in 1512, another one designed by Niccolò Baccanti was finally erected in 1842. The marble facade of the church was built by Niccolò Matas between 1853 and 1863, and was apparently based on a 15th century design by Cronaca.
Santa Croce is the richest Florentine church in terms of works of art; inside, for example, there are wonderful frescos by Giotto, a marble pulpit by Benedetto da Maiano, the Vittorio Alfieri monument by Canova, and Donatello's high-relief Annunciation…
The rich 13th century Florentine families donated vast sums of money to the Franciscans in order to obtain the privilege of burying their family members in the chapels of the choir, and thus to display their family stems. At the end of the 14th century, the church also became a burial place for illustrious figures. There are also monuments to Dante Alighieri, Galilei, Machiavelli, Foscolo, and Rossini.
In the Santa Croce complex there is also a museum including such masterpieces as Cimabue's Crucifix, frescos by Orcagna, and a bronze by Donatello.
The basilica of Santa Croce faces onto a vast piazza, which was built to complement it; it is known throughout the world because for centuries it has hosted the traditional "calcio in costume" competition.
At Piazza Santa Croce, 21, one can admire the Palazzo dell'Antella, the facade of which was frescoed in 1629 in just twenty days by a team of skilled painters commissioned by Niccolò dell'Antella. It subsequently became known as the "Palazzo degli Sporti" because spectators used to watch the "calcio in costume" matches from the windows.