Basilica of San Lorenzo


The Basilica of San Lorenzo
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm. Sundays 1:30pm-5pm.

Closing days: Christmas and New Year's Day.

Admission: € 5.00
Concessions available.

The Laurentian library
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 9:30am-1:30pm.

Closing days: Sunday, Christmas and New Year's Day.

Admission: € 3.00

The Basilica of San Lorenzo + The Laurentian library: € 7.50


San Lorenzo church, one of the oldest churches in Florence. In 1418, the Medici decided to begin a serious renovation of the church to turn it into a family temple. The project was given to Filippo Brunelleschi who died, however, before being able to finish it. San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence, in English) has a curious history which you can tap into while you are wandering through the Basilica of San Lorenzo, especially if you come across the dynamic, Michelangelo-inspired fresco by Bronzino depicting the martyrdom of Lawrence (1569). Saint Lawrence was martyred in Rome in the 3rd century AD and is often depicted in art carrying a gridiron to symbolise his martyrdom: he was grilled to death. He famously cried out during his torture, “I'm done on this side, now turn me over and have a bite,” which accounts for him naturally being the patron saint of butchers and chefs.

Once you know how to identify it, one of the most noticeable things you will spot in and around the area of San Lorenzo, and indeed throughout the entire city of Florence, is the Medici family crest. Usually depicted as a shield with six balls on it (but sometimes seven, eight or nine balls), there are two possible interpretations of what this crest symbolises. One idea is that the balls represent medicine pills, as a reference to the name Medici, which literally means “doctors”. The other idea, perhaps more logical, is that the balls represent coins as a reference to the Medici family's most famous and well known profession as bankers. Medieval coins were rounded on one side, forming a semi-circle that could have appeared as a ball. Sometimes you will see this crest with a crown atop of it, symbolising the royal “official” Medici rulers, and sometimes with the addition of the fleur-de-lis, or Florentine lily, symbol of the city.

The Medici have always been buried here and celebrated every important event in this church. In the crypt, which can be accessed through the cloister and is underneath the Laurentian Library, is the colossal tomb of Cosimo the Elder, the first of the Medici political dynasty, grandfather of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Legend has it that his tomb is a supporting column that holds up the entire church – a metaphor for his important role as patron of the arts and as family head. One of the favourite and most loyal of the Medici artists, Donatello, is buried next to him.

Built to safekeep the scholarly collection of the superb books of Cosimo the Elder (1389-1464) and grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492), the Laurentian Library is unique in the world. Giulio de' Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent's nephew, who became Pope Clement VII in 1523 immediately charged Medici favourite, Michelangelo, with the job of designing the library of precious books. Although Michelangelo spent years on the designs the library was left unfinished even after additional work by Giorgio Vasari and Ammanati.

Cosimo the Elder spent immense amounts of money building his collection of rare books, sending his personal shoppers to pursue important manuscripts from the Near East and German monasteries to add to the library. It was really the first of its kind, and even served as a model for the Vatican's library. His grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent had the same passion and appreciation for the rare ancient texts of Greek and Latin authors collected by his grandfather and carried on the tradition with great care.

The library holds 10,500 manuscripts (including 700 of which date from before the 11th century) and some of the most important codices in the world, for example 100 codices of Dante, Benvenuto Cellini's manuscript of his infamous and entertaining autobiography and the earliest surviving manuscript of the Latin Vulgate Bible.