The Square of Santissima Annunziata in Florence is located a few steps from the Duomo. You can reach it through the Medieval street Via de’ Servi, that connects it to the Cathedral Square.
Nearby there are many places to eat and drink, but Piazza SS Annunziata itself feels quite empty compared to other Florentine piazze; a regular, elegant, rectangular-shaped space surrounded by porticoes. This rigorous division of space makes it the square in Florence that best represents Renaissance artistic ideals.
Even if it’s often overlooked by tourists, art lovers will find a good deal to get excited about here, as many famed artists worked on the buildings in this square, from Brunelleschi to Andrea del Sarto and his pupils. It was Brunelleschi who set the tone for the architecture of Santissima Annunziata Square, when he designed the Ospedale degli Innocenti in 1419. This famed building is one of the very first edifices designed according to Renaissance theories. The Medieval SS. Annunziata Church was in fact given a portico at the end of 1500 to give the square a stylistic continuum.
Highlights: SS. Annunziata Church with its frescoes, a pantheon of Florentine mannerism – Spedale Innocenti (foundling hospital) Museum – Fountains by Pietro Tacca – Equestrian Statue of Gran Duke Ferdinando I Medici by Giambologna and Pietro Tacca – Archeological Museum
Santissima Annunziata Square, Florence – A bit of history and important buildings
This has been an important site in Florence since the Middle Ages, when the SS. Annunziata Church, of the Servants of Mary Order, became known for a miraculous painting of the Virgin Mary. It was believed that a divine hand helped with the making of it. This prodigious fresco of the “Annunciation” (1252) – still visible today – became a magnet for pilgrims. So much so that the church was enlarged to accommodate the people that use to arrive in droves. Later a monastery was added, and the complex became a religious hot spot in the city, attracting wealthy patrons that filled the church with precious art.
Top Art in the SS. Annunziata Church => the ‘Chiostrino dei Voti’ (atrium), beautifully frescoed by famed Mannerist artists, such as Andrea del sarto Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino.
Thanks to the patronage of the Datini family, Florence also set up the first foundling hospital – right here in Santissima Annunziata Square – to serve the cause of illegitimate, abandoned children. This became not only an important institution in the city, but also an architectural first. The Spedale degli Innocenti was in fact designed by Brunelleschi in 1419, using the local pietra serena (grey sandstone) and white plaster, and served as a ‘model’ for Renaissance architecture style.
As in the Classical period, proportion was the most important factor of beauty; Renaissance architects found a harmony between human proportions and buildings. This concern for proportion resulted in clear, easily comprehended space and mass, which distinguishes the Renaissance style from the more complex Gothic. Filippo Brunelleschi is considered the first Renaissance architect.Britannica
You recognise the Spedale degli Innocenti by the Della Robbia glazed terracotta medallions, the swaddled babies on the typical blue background. They were added in 1489, even if Brunelleschi’s original design intended for the round circles between the columns to be left empty.
Today the Innocenti Museum deserves a visit to discover the history of this institution and the children who lived there. A few steps from it, you find the often overlooked Florence Archeological Museum, with its Greek, Roman and Etruscan artefacts.
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Statues and Fountains in SS. Annunziata Square
Santissima Annunziata Square is also home to a grand bronze statue, with a life size Ferdinando I de’ Medici astride a stallion (1607). It’s a late work by Giambologna, internationally acclaimed sculptor that worked in Florence for a good part of his life, and his pupil Pietro Tacca. It was cast using bronze from cannons on Turkish galleys captured in war, from the Cavalieri di S. Stefano, a military-religious order financed by the Medici family. On the base, you can see the badge of Ferdinando I, a swarm of bees representing him at the centre and the industrious Florentines all around. Legend says it’s impossible to count the bees, just in case you’d like to try!
The two fantastical looking fountains are creations of Pietro Tacca, that showed off the best of his Mannerist style. There are creatures that might have come out of the Black Lagoon, and then fish, shells, spires all combined in a beautifully eccentric manner. The fountains were added to the square in 1641, to perfect the symmetry of the space.
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Festivals in SS. Annunziata Square – Where past and present meet
Santissima Annunziata Square has always been associated with the cult of the Virgin Mary. Remember that the church was originally built by the Order Servi di Maria. That’s why, since the Middle Ages, many religious festivals related to Mary have always taken place here. Starting with the 25th March, the date on which Catholics celebrate the Annunciation -> Annunziata is the Italian word for ‘Annunciation‘, the moment when the young Mary, mother of Jesus, received the word of the Angel Gabriel that she was to bear the son of God.
Florence chose this date as the start of the new year. The so-called ‘Capodanno Fiorentino’ is a Festival that is still celebrated every 25th March, with a historic parade around the historic centre, ending in the SS. Annunziata Church, when people pay homage to the miraculous fresco exactly like pilgrims used to do in the 13th century.
8th September is another Florentine special date. It’s the birthday of Mary following Catholic tradition. People used to arrive from the surrounding countryside, visiting the SS. Annunziata Church the night before, bringing torches with them to light the way. Recalling this tradition, Florence on the evening of 7th September celebrates the Rificolona Festival where paper lanterns brighten up the city.
SS. Annunziata Square in recent years has also become the setting for various artisan and local food markets throughout the year, and concerts during the Summer.