Florence's Battistero di San Giovanni was built in the VII century, probably following the conversion of Queen Teodolinda to Christianity. The building, which is octagonal and is faced with white and green marble (the latter from Prato), was erected on the site of a sumptuous Roman structure, possibly a Domus, using a considerable quantity of marble from Roman ruins.
Both the Baptistery and Santa Reparata (Florence's cathedral) were outside the Carolingian walls, but were included within the Matildine walls. The Baptistery was soon surrounded by houses that pressed in upon it from all sides, and was only released from this siege in the XIV century. That square was expanded further, putting the Baptistery at the centre of a geometric space, in the XV century.
The Baptistery proper reached its present form between the XI and XIII centuries, and the doors are extraordinary masterpieces. The Southern Door has bas-reliefs by Andrea Pisano. The northern door, also known as the Porta della Croce (The Door of the Cross) has Lorenzo Ghiberti's scenes from the Life of Christ. The Eastern Door, called La Porta del Paradiso (The Gates of Paradise) by Michelangelo, has Ghiberti's great masterpiece, scenes from the Old Testament.
The Guild that commissioned the work in 1425 told the artist to spare neither time nor expense, and left the choice of subject matter up to him. In working on the panels, Ghiberti was assisted by his sons, and also by Michelozzo and Benozzo Gozzoli.
The inside of the Baptistery has an octagonal cupola with Byzantine mosaics; the walls instead are faced with marble. The funerary monument to the Antipope John XXIII is by Donatello and Michelangelo.
For any information:
Battistero di San Giovanni Piazza Duomo
Piazza S.Giovanni (055 2302885).
Open noon-7 pm; Sun 8.30 am-2p.m.
Admission: 3 euro.