Art and Culture in San Miniato
Such a history could not but leave an important artistic and architectural heritage. A short tour of the town can begin with the central Piazza del Popolo, with its fourteenth century church of San Domenico, rich with works of art such as a fresco of St. Anselmo, attributed by Longhi and Berenson to Masolino da Panicale, and a sepulchral monument by Donatello.
To the left of the church's facade is the amazing Via Angelica, an underground passageway leading from the walls that connected the city to the countryside, where chapels of the ancient convent can be seen. To the right are the convent's cloisters which were confiscated and opened to the populace during Napoleon's rule. Here the Historical Archives are kept, one of the richest in Tuscany with over one hundred thousand documents dating back to 1200, including the ancient City Statutes.
Continuing on, examples of Renaissance architecture can be seen including the Palazzo Formichini, housing the Cassa di Risparmio's art collection (with works by Guercino, Lorenzo di Bicci, Jacopo del Sellaio, Cigoli and Giovanbattista Naldini), and particularly the Palazzo Grifoni, built in 1555 by Giuliano di Baccio d'Agnolo. Proceeding downhill is the octagonal shaped church of the Santissima Annunziata that contains the relics of St. Dorothy, and the Monastery of St. Clare, another museum with works by Cigoli, Deodato Orlandi, Jacopo Chimenti and panels from fifteenth century Sienese and Florentine schools.
Going in the opposite direction from San Domenico you reach the old castle area. After passing the Palazzo Roffia, also by Giuliano di Baccio d'Agnolo, you proceed though the Porta Toppariorum which gives access to the core of the ancient defence complex. Inside the Gate is the Casatorre degli Stipendiari, built by Frederick to house the military contingent, and today an exhibition area. Ahead is the scenic Piazza del Seminario, closed off by the other medieval door called the Ruga.
Through a three-way access from the Piazza, you can go up to the Piazza del Duomo. Ruins dating back to the 11th century of the tower and the Palazzo Imperiale (Imperial Palace) can be seen here, where four Germanic emperors stayed as guests of the Swevian and Othan vicars: Otto I of Saxony in 962, Frederick Barbarossa in 1167 and again in 1178, Otto IV in 1209 and Frederick II of Swabia in 1218, 1226 and in 1240. Facing it is the Palazzo Vescovile (Bishop's Palace), erected in the fourteenth century over three pre-existing buildings. In front of it is the Cathedral, the ancient parish of Holy Mary dating back to 1100 which retains its Romanesque facade.
Next to it is the Museo Diocesano d'Arte Sacra (the Diocesan Museum of Religious Art), which houses many works including a Redeemer by Verrocchio and a Crucifixion by Filippino Lippo. Behind it stands the Torre di Matilde, erected in 1100 and which later became part of the Cathedral as its bell tower. Above it is the fortress and surrounding walls dating back to Frederick II's time. Here, as Dante writes in the XIII canto of his Inferno, Frederick's advisor Pier delle Vigne fell out of grace and was imprisoned and left to die.
The massive fourteenth century convent of San Francesco is located on the slope of the highest hill and was for many centuries one of the most flourishing Franciscan centres in Tuscany. In the fifteenth century it was run by the Blessed Borromeo and Bernard, who later taught at Oxford and the Sorbonne. On the other side of the hill is the Santissimo Crocifisso (Holy Crucifix), an important Sanctuary in the form of a Greek Cross by Anton Maria Ferri in 1705 containing an 11th century wooden cross that is venerated and thought to be miraculous.
In front of the Sanctuary is the Palazzo del Commune (Town Hall), with its frescoed rooms and nineteenth century facade, and the Oratorio del Loretino (Oratory of Loretino), with panels by Francesco Lanfranchi, brother of Andrea Del Sarto, and a wooden altar from 1527. As you descend the hill, amidst early Middle Age churches and palaces, is the historical Piazza Bonaparte with its monument to Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany by Pampaloni and the Oratory of San Rocco, the ancient chapel of the Buonaparte family.
Lastly, continuing towards the ruined Porta di Poggighisi (Poggighisi Gate), from where Francesco Ferrucci conquered the city in 1530, is the Church of Santa Caterina, altered in the 15th century and housing the skeleton of St. Boniface the martyr, and the sixteenth century Palazzo Migliorati, home today of the Accademia degli Euteleti, where the funeral mask of Napoleon is kept.