Monday, June 18, 2012

San Miniato al Monte

Photo of the Day: San Miniato al Monte (1018 AD, attributed to Bishop Hildebrand)
The previous panorama of Florence was taken from directly in front of the basilica of San Miniato al Monte.  So today it seems fitting to write about this stunning basilica which sits atop one of the highest points in Florence, adjacent to an Olivetan Monestery.

This Romanesque basilica was one of the most surprising and unexpected finds of the trip for me.  We originally hiked up the hill to see this church because we thought that the exterior façade was designed by Alberti during the Renaissance.  This turned out not to be the case, as the façade dates from the 12th century.  
What I was totally unprepared for, however, was the interior space, as shown in today’s photo of the day.  Upon entering the basilica you feel as if you have suddenly entered into a very old space.  The interior is extremely dark, and once your eyes adjust to the light levels you begin to appreciate the detailing of the architecture.  I was fascinated with the age of the interior space, as well as the beauty of the detailing.  I was really struck by the roof detail in particular, with its beautifully ornate painted wood trusses.  In the image you can also see the rounded arch “Romanesque” construction, typical of this style. 

I am interested in how our perception of places is framed by our initial experience of that place.  Part of what made this place special for me was that while we were being tourists, taking photos and admiring the detailing, there was a service going on in the crypt.  The interior spaces has an interesting section, with a raised choir above a partially subterranean crypt, and the monks were chanting and holding mass in the crypt below while the tourists were doing their thing above.  I have no doubt that part of the magic of this space for me is due to the beauty of the architecture, but an equal part of the experience is strongly framed the echoed sound of the service being held within.  This interior space left a powerful impression on me in part due to the ‘atmosphere’ of the space.  The characteristics of light penetrating into the dark interior, the smell of a really old space, the sounds of chanting monks, and the experience of movement through this space all contributed to making this place special.  This space, as unexpected as it was, is one of the highly memorable experiences for me of this trip. 

 (as a bonus, here is an image of the exterior, which I am pretty sure is NOT designed by Alberti.)

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