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January 19, 2015

Discovering Florentia

Church of Santa Reparata, a new archaeological site

Beneath the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the heart of Florentia still beats. The new exhibition, inaugurated last October, offers those who enter here the unique opportunity to observe the life of the city from the first century AD to the fourteenth century, seamlessly. This is an archaeological site that, far from being simply a window on the history of the Cathedral, is a vantage point for learning about the history and urban transformations of the lesser known Roman and early Christian Florence. The opening of the new exhibit has also made it possible to carry out some technical work. In particular, this includes some new lighting that emphasizes the key points of the narrative, such as the beautiful mosaic floor from the early Christian era, to geometric figures and an emblem in the shape of a peacock, made by North African workers. The new structure of the Santa Reparata exhibit is part of a series of works carried out by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore to enhance the enjoyment of the monuments of the “Great Cathedral Museum”: in addition to Santa Reparata, the there is also the tour of the Cathedral (already active), the rearrangement of the Bell Tower, and new interior and exterior signage for the monuments. The work was also carried out for the inauguration of the new Museo dell’Opera di Firenze, scheduled for October 29, 2015, fr the Fifth National Congress of the Italian Church, to be held in Florence from the 9th to the 13th of November 2015, where it will be possible to admire the ancient facade of Santa Maria del Fiore and retrace the fascinating events related to its creation.
Returning to the exhibit, to ease the explanation, we continue our description of the succession of various eras.

(in green on the map)
The medieval tradition of the foundation of the Church of Santa Reparata can be traced back to the victory over the barbarian hordes in Radagaiso, defeated in 405 AD near Florence on the day dedicated to the saint. Based on these sources, it can be said that, in the first decades of the fifth century, a short distance from the northern walls, a church of 52 meters long by 25 meters in width was built (or so it is alleged, it lacks the facade), divided on the inside into a three-aisled nave separated by two rows of 14 columns made of plastered pietraforte wedges. The floor was a mosaic carpet arranged in geometric patterns (hexagons, diamonds, and knots of Solomon) with an emblem of a peacock in the centre of the main aisle. It is not surprising that the floor is attributed to African craftsmen, given the context of the city’s economy in the fifth century AD: as demonstrated by the recent excavations at Piazza Castellani, in fact, almost all of the amphorae (and therefore all the pieces there) and tableware (the so-called “sealed African” pieces) used in Florence in this period came from the area of ​​modern Tunisia. Of the original building, important traces of the northern wall are also preserved, made of bordered walls, and the south wall, on which the church of the Romanesque period is directly positioned. In this phase, the church, certainly the ecclesia episcopalis of the city, was probably part of a complex made up of the Baptistery in line with the facade and the episcopal palace behind it, allegedly extending for a total of two city blocks. Lighting makes some of the more important monumental developments immediately apparent, such as the peacock, the inscribed dedication of the mosaic, the plinths of the columns, the remains of the North and South perimeter walls and the overlapping of the three floors (early Christian, Early Medieval and Romanesque), particularly noticeable in the north aisle, near the staircase that led to the raised presbytery.

EARLY MIDDLE AGES, VIII-XI century AD (in yellow on the map)
In this phase, the building maintains the proportions of the previous age although many changes were made, mainly concentrated in the presbytery. Dating to the episcopate of Andrea, between 870 and 890, is the rebuilding of the apse, probably dating to the same period as the building of the new church dedicated to Santa Reparata. Also dating to the same period are the construction of the two bell towers, the southern chapel in the form of a cross (which was also the passage to the rectory) and the transformation of the original columns into pillars in a rectangular plan with pilasters on the opposite faces. The new floor tiles, marble fragments and reused lapidary stones date to a period between the late VIII and IX centuries.

XI century to 1375 AD (in blue on the map)
Inthis phase, the church underwent radical transformations that did not yet change the original iconography. The building was definitely raised and supported by 7 pillars on each side to divide the three aisles of the nave. A northern chapel was created, mirroring the early medieval one, giving the whole a transept plan. The two apses were built on either side of the main one. The new flooring in tile placed about 65 cm above the previous one also dates to this time. There are some controversial hypotheses regarding the crypt: according to the most accepted hypothesis, it had already been built beneath the nave in the XI century, and was later expanded during the XIII century to the point of taking up the side aisles. The church was decorated with frescoes and continued to be a burial privileged place until the end of the fourteenth century, when the construction of the new cathedral was in an advanced stage. 


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