Dominated by the basilica of the same name, Piazza Santa Croce is located in an area which in ancient times was an island formed by two branches of the Arno, which separated near what is now Piazza Beccaria, to join again in front of the walls situated near Via de' Benci. Like Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Piazza di Santa Croce was built to contain the crowds of the faithful who gathered to listen to the sermons of the monks. In the Renaissance period, because of its very large size and regular shape, the piazza became the perfect place for jousting, feasts, shows and popular competitions, like football in period costume, which still takes place every June. In particular, many horseback tournaments took place there in the fourteen hundreds. Towards the end of the XV century, the piazza was chosen as the location for football matches; this custom was interrupted for about 100 years, however, when the statue of Dante Alighieri was placed in the middle of the square in 1865. The statue was moved to its present position after the flood in 1966. When the statue was removed, the piazza was again used as a playing field, to the great satisfaction of the Florentines who live in the historic centre of the city. The piazza is still used today for special events and sometimes for concerts. The buildings constructed here are all rather spectacular. One of the most striking is Palazzo Cocchi-Serristori, opposite the Basilica, with an elegant facade which is the result of the transformations that have taken place over the centuries.
On the south side there is the long facade of Palazzo dell'Antella, which has been repeatedly expanded over the course of time, with the incorporation of several adjacent buildings. In the early sixteen hundreds, the Palazzo passed into the hands of the Senator Niccolò Dell'Antella, who bought the neighbouring building and had both buildings entirely decorated by frescoes depicting the themes of Virtue and Divinity. There are also many sculptures in the piazza, such as the monument in marble to Dante Alighieri by Enrico Pazzi. On the opposite side of the square there is a fountain. The originally baroque fountain was restored in the nineteenth century by Giuseppe Manetti (1816).
The Basilica di Santa Croce (Santa Croce Basilica) is on the east side of the square, with a neo-Gothic facade added in the eighteen hundreds. This church was built in the 1300s by the Franciscans who came to settle in Florence, and thanks to the financial support of the important families of the district, it became one the largest and most beautiful basilicas of the city. Today, Santa Croce is famous above all not only for the artistic works it houses but because it is the burial place of many important people and Italian artists: Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, for example, are buried here. Dante Alighieri was also to have been buried here, but the city of Ravenna, the last destination of the poet’s exile, has always firmly refused.
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