On the “Via dei Calzaiuoli”, in a central point between the “piazzas della Repubblica, Signoria” and the “Duomo di Firenze”, there is a church of an unusual appearance. This is the “Chiesa di Orsanmichele”, now a museum.
Unlike the temples that we usually see, this church has a rectangular structure consisting of three levels. The interior of Orsanmichele is divided into two naves by means of six square pillars. This vaulted space is among the most outstanding examples of interior decoration of the late Middle Ages in Firenze.
The “Chiesa di Orsanmichele” was built by Francesco Talenti, Neri di Fioravante, and Benci di Cione, originally as a grain market. Between 1380 and 1404 it was converted into a church and used as a chapel by the most powerful artisan and merchant guilds in Florence. On the ground floor of the building are the arches of the thirteenth century that originally formed the portical of the market. The second floor was dedicated to the trades, while the third one housed one of the municipal granaries, maintained in case of famines, shortages or states of siege.
By the end of the fourteenth century, the guilds were ordered to commission statues of their patron saints to beautify the church’s facade. Currently these statues are replicas of the originals, which are mostly found in the area of the Church museum. The original statues made by Donatello are located in other museums in the city.
The architects wanted to keep some elements to remember the religious value of the structure. Therefore, 14 tabernacles are built on the outside of the pillars of the arches of the gallery or “loggia” of the building.
It should be noted that the upper levels remained as warehouses of Grain until the seventeenth century.
The name “Orsanmichele” comes from the Tuscan dialect which means “Huerto de San Miguel” (Garden of Saint Michael), since it was built on the land where the orchard of the monastery of San Miguel was located.