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A Special Friend in Florence: Church of San Miniato Al Monte

Margaret Cowan

Ever since I first experienced Florence as a backpacker in 1972, I’ve visited the 11th century church, San Miniato Al Monte, a few steps along the road from Piazzale Michelangelo. It crowns the top of a hill and magnificent panoramas of Florence and River Arno on one side of the ancient city walls and country villas on the other side of the walls extend far beyond.

View of San Miniato from Forte Belvedere in Florence

View of San Miniato from Forte Belvedere in Florence

I first visited San Miniato as an art history stop. I marveled at the white and dark green marble geometric patterns of its exterior, its delicate 13th century frescoes, its light hearted, mythical Romanesque beasts inlaid in marble, brilliant Byzantine mosaics on the dome, crypt with arches reminding me of Cordoba’s Mezquita Cathedral in Spain, and colorfully painted rafters high under the roof.

Early on, after I’d admired the church’s artworks, I discovered another side of San Miniato, another energy. As I was sitting on a pew in the back for about 40 minutes and surveying each piece of splendor around me, I’d find myself feeling calm and relaxed and my thoughts wandering. Soon any questions weighing on me got resolved, foggy ideas became clear, insights I needed appeared and I’d leave feeling lighter in my heart and soul. I felt like I was visiting an all knowing, old friend.

Façade of San Miniato

Façade of San Miniato

Now one of the first things I do every year on arriving in Florence is walk through the city, over the river and up to San Miniato. I sit on the wall outside to marvel at the views, walk inside the church slowly up and down the main floor, up the stairs and down into the crypt to revisit its treasures. I sit down peacefully, when tour groups aren’t visiting, for awhile on a back pew and let my questions and thoughts flow. My old friend always comes through with wise insights for me.

View of Florence from San Miniato

View of Florence from San Miniato

Getting to San Miniato


From Jeff Whiteaker on the Slow Travel Talk forums: my personal favorite route to San Miniato is where, you've just crossed the Ponte alle Grazie and you're now on the Oltrarno side. You head straight up Piazza de Mozzi until it ends at Via di San Niccolo. Turn left at Via di San Niccolo, take that until you hit Via San Miniato, onto which you'll veer right, take that up through the gate/wall, continue up the hill a few blocks until just on the left, you'll see a (very long) pedestrian staircase (Google Maps is telling me this is called Via di San Salvatore al Monte). Head all the way up the staircase, pausing every so often to look back at the view over the city, until it ends at Viale Galileo. Turn right on Viale Galileo and walk up the hill a bit until you see San Miniato on your left.

I think most people simply head up Viale Giuseppe Poggi and stop off at Piazzale Michelangelo along the way, which is really nice.


Bus Line 13 stops at Piazza Michelangelo from there it’s a short walk to San Miniato. Florence taxis can also take you to San Miniato al Monte.


Daily Winter: Vespers at 16:30 (aka 4:30pm) Mass at 17:00 (aka 5:00pm)

Daily Summer: Vespers at 17:30 (aka 5:30pm) Mass at 18:00 (aka 6:00pm)

Margaret Cowan first went to Florence in 1972, lived there in the late 70s and now spends time there every year. She owns an Italian cooking tour company, Mama Margaret & Friends that offers cooking school vacations throughout Italy.

© Margaret Cowan 2009

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