Baptistry of San Giovanni is thought to be the oldest monument in Firenze.
The first known mention of it was in a document dated 897, but the exact
date of its construction is not known.
In the Middle Ages, it was believed that it had been a temple to Mars
in the Augustan age, which was then transformed into a Christian church
dedicated to John the Baptist around about 310. This hypothesis has not
been confirmed historically, but it is certain that the "Bel San
Giovanni", as Dante called it in the Inferno, is very dear to the
Florentines' hearts; San Giovanni is the patron saint of the city (celebrated
on June 24), and the effigy of the saint was also reproduced on the ancient
Florentine coin, the florin.
On November 6, 1059, the Baptistry was reconsacrated by the Pope and
Bishop of Firenze, Nicola II, probably while the old building was being
enlarged, with the addition of the third tier and the construction of
the pyamidal roof.
At first, there were steps up to the edifice, but these disappeared as
the level of the street gradually rose.
In the interior of the Baptistry, besides the spectacular marble floor
(partially tessellated with signs of the zodiac), the XIV century baptismal
font of the Pisan school, and the precious mosaics inside the dome, there
are also other extremely significant works of art.
The building has a characteristic octagonal layout, and is known throughout
the world for the magnificence of its three sets of carved bronze doors;
positioned according to the cardinal points, these carvings recount the
history of humanity and of the Redemption.
The central door has scenes from the Old Testament, while the south
door recounts the history of St. John the Baptist. Finally, the north
door relates the story of Christ. These doors, which replaced older ones
in wood, were produced by supreme artists: the south doors (the oldest)
are the work of Andrea Pisano, the north doors (also called the Doors
of the Cross), were created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, as were the east doors,
usually referred to as the Doors of Paradise.
Although it is included in the area of Piazza Duomo, the Baptistry has
another piazza in front of its entrance, Piazza San Giovanni, which was
enlarged many centuries ago with the setting back of the Palazzo dell'
Picture by Sandro Santioli
Translated by Jeremy Carden