The Church of Santa Croce was built outside the circle of city walls in a
poor marshy area, so little populated that it was possible to leave a large
space suitable to welcome the crowds coming to listen to preachers and see
sacred representations, tournaments and other performances. As time went by
the square became the focus of Florentine cultural and commercial life.
Along its perimeter there are prestigious buildings: Cocchi Serristori,
attributed to Giuliano da Sangallo
or Baccio d’Agnolo and Antella,
whose façade was frescoed between 1619 and 1620, are the most important ones.
During Renaissance time festivals and jousts took place in the square:
the most famous one was the one won by Giuliano de’ Medici; the victory was
celebrated in the work entitled “Stanze” written by Agnolo Poliziano.
Nowadays, every year, Santa Croce square turns into a pitch in occasion of
the matches played for the Historical Football Game: in 1565 a rounded piece
of marble was placed on the wall of Antella building to indicate the half of
the field; a mark is also on the opposite side. The game, originally called
“football in livery”, was played in other places as well but Santa Croce was
the venue of the game, performed on February 17th 1530. It became famous
because it proved the fighting spirit of the citizens who participated despite
Florence being besieged by the army of emperor Charles V.
On May 14th 1865, fifth birth-centenary year of Dante Alighieri, a monument
dedicated to the poet made by the sculptor Enrico Pazzi, born in Emilia, was
placed in the middle of the square. In 1910 Giorgio de Chirico wrote:
"in a clear autumn afternoon, I was sitting on a bench located in the middle
of Santa Croce square [...]. In the middle of the square there is a statue
representing Dante, wearing a long robe, holding the works he wrote close to
his body, bowing his head, crowned by a laurel wreath, thoughtfully…the sun of
the autumn, warm and strong, lightened the statue and the façade of the church.
Then I had the strange feeling I was looking at those things for the first time,
and the image revealed itself to my mind. Now, every time I observe this picture,
I see that instant again. Nevertheless, the moment is an enigma to me, because
it is unexplainable. I like to define the resulting work as an enigma".
To allow Historical Football Game to be played, the monument was moved in the
present position, in front of the façade on top of the staircase.
The square continue to be the best place where to organize representations and fairs:
still today many important shows are arranged. Among the most recent events “Tutto Dante”
must be mentioned: in 2006 (from July 25 and August 19) and in 2012 (from July 20 to August 6)
Roberto Benigni read and commented a selection of passages of the Divina Commedia (Dante’s Alighieri Divine Comedy).