Surrounded by elegant buildings, is dominated by the monastery and the Basilica di San Marco, from which it takes its name. The church was built in 1437, when Cosimo il Vecchio (Cosimo the Elder) commissioned Michelozzo to build the church and the monastery for the Silvestrine monks, although the complex was later taken over by the Dominicans. In ancient times, the area was called San Marco al Cafaggio (faggio = beech), because of the fenced-in wooded area which once existed here. The square and the San Marco complex were the centre of violent clashes during the years when Girolamo Savonarola was the prior. The church was consecrated in 1443, in the presence of Pope Eugene IV, although it remained without a facade until 1780, when the present neo-classical facade was added. The church and a part of the monastery are still occupied by a community of Dominican brothers.
In the corner opposite Via Battisti, the Accademia di Belle Arti (Fine Arts Academy) is located, formerly Ospedale di San Matteo (St Matthew’s Hospital). It originated from the first cooperative groups of artists, among whom the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Art of Drawing) developed in 1563, perhaps the first institute of the kind in Europe, founded under the patronage of the Grand Duke Cosimo I and under the superintendence of Vasari. The first academic rectors were Cosimo I himself and Michelangelo, and the fellows included, among others, Benvenuto Cellini and Bartolomeo Ammannati. One of the scientists who obtained scientific instruction here was Galileo Galilei.
In 1872, Michelangelo’s David was taken to the Academy, and the Academy made a copy to be placed in Piazza della Signoria; Michelangelo Buonarroti's statue is generally considered a masterpiece at world level, and in particular of the Renaissance period, as well as being Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture. The David represents the biblical hero just before facing Goliath. The statue in white marble is 5.16 metres high and was commissioned as a symbol of the Republic of Florence.
In 1873, because of its precarious state of conservation, it was decided to transfer the statue to Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia (Accademia Gallery), where it has remained. When the Accademia di Belle Arti (the Fine Arts Academy) was founded in 1784, by the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo di Lorena the Galleria dell’ Accademia (Accademia Gallery) was also built. The museum, at 58-60 Via Ricasoli, was destined to house the works of art owned by the art school. At the end of the XIX century and in the early years of the XX century, the Gallery was subjected to a gradual reorganisation which led to the transfer of the ancient paintings to other museums and the modern art collection to Palazzo Pitti. New rooms were opened to house the collection of paintings on boards, dating back to the XIII, XIV and XV centuries. Since 1996, thanks to an agreement with the Conservatorio musicale Cherubini (Cherubini Music Conservatory), the Museo degli strumenti musicali (Museum of Musical Instruments) is also housed in the Gallery.
Photo: Pietro Ricciardi