Driving around piazza della Libertà the other evening and looking at the 19th-century pinky-orange buildings that ring it, I realized that the columnated logge in front of them constitute surely the most extensive loggia in Florence, but also one of the most ignored. Which prompted me to make a list in my head of all the logge in the city, a perfectly normal activity for a commute, right?
For those requiring a refresher, a loggia (pronounced low-gee-ah, plural low-gee-eh) is an architectural feature involving an open structure, closed on one side by a building, and open on the other with columns. While rainy Bologna’s historical center is almost entirely covered with logge for pratical reasons, Florence tended to use this feature in a more idealistic way. With absolutely no apology for the “listicle”, to follow is my best attempt at a “top” list of this architectural feature in Florence, which make for an unusual itinerary to the city.
Alberti and the function of the loggia
Leon Battista Alberti writes, in his 1430 treatise “On Architecture,” about the usefulness of the loggia, a summary that sums up contemporary thinking on the matter. He says that a loggia should be raised from the ground and be a portico in front of your house; there should be one in every piazza. He says it is useful for both young and old: on one hand, it’s a space for nurses with their children to meet and for youth to exercise. The nurses, upon seeing each other, might grow more neat and less liable to negligence. On the other hand, for the elderly, it’s a place for “old men to sit… the presence of fathers deter and restrain the youth from the mischief and folly natural to their age.” This is the idealistic function of the loggia that characterizes the architectural feature in Florence.
Loggia del Bigallo
The loggia del Bigallo in Piazza Duomo almost does not seem like a loggia since it’s small (just one bay, though it was originally two), and somewhat dwarfed due to the other important buildings nearby. But this “front porch,” built in the 1350s, may be one of the earliest in town. The Bigallo was a charity, sharing the space with the Misericordia – read this article in The Florentine for the whole fascinating history and information about the museum it holds. The loggia had a public function of sheltering lost and abandoned children. A detached fresco, now inside the museum but previously on the facade and reproduced in a copy, shows the restitution of a lost child to his mother in this space.
Loggia dei Lanzi
The loggia dei Lanzi, dated to the 1370s, is that building off to the side of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence that now functions as an open air sculpture gallery. It was initially intended to shelter speakers from the elements while making public proclamations, but due to political unrest, it was never used in this way. As an architectural structure connected to city hall, it becomes a model for citizens to imitate at home.
Loggia degli Innocenti
The facade of the Ospedale degli Innoncenti in piazza Ss.ma Annunziata is composed of a graceful round-arched loggia by Brunelleschi. While Brunelleschi made this loggia before Alberti theorized about it, the ideas behind it were very likely those expressed by Alberti – it’s a recognized space for nurses and children. It also reflects the concept of “family” that the institution (an orphanage) tried to replace.
The Rucellai family built their family home, Palazzo Rucellai, on via della Vigna Nuova in Florence. It’s actually a collection of earlier buildings that have been unified behind a facade by Alberti. The right side is unfinished because they hoped to expand to the neighbour’s property. They wanted to have a loggia, but due to lack of space, had to make theirs just across the piazza out front, an arrangement that somewhat recalls the Loggia dei Lanzi.
Loggia dell’Ospedale di San Paolo
This is one that could easily be missed in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, on the opposite side of the square from the beautiful church with its Albertian facade, along via della Scala. The 13th century hospital has a late 15th century facade in imitation of the Brunelleschi one cited above. It now houses the Alinari photography museum.
Loggia del Grano
Behind the Uffizi is a building commissioned by Cosimo II in 1619 to be the city’s distributor of grain (a role previously held by Orsanmichele, whose open loggia was walled up to make a closed church). Offices and storage were located on the upper floors, while the grain market was held in the open loggia below. It’s a rare post-Renaissance structure of this type in Florence.
Piazza della Libertà
The largest loggia in Florence is an integral part of the design of this square developed by the architect Giuseppe Poggi in the late 1860s, who was responsible for taking down the city walls and building the viali. I am unable to find anything further about the architecture and the logic of this choice, though certainly it has proved useful in modern times as a noise buffer along the very crowded street.
Not a loggia
The Loggia del Pesce at the Ciompi market cannot properly be defined as such because it does not have a closed side. Ditto the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo or of the Porcellino. The 19th century Loggetta Bondi in the Giardino dell’Orticultura also lacks a closed side.
Have I missed any?
Looking for more fun ways to explore the city? Plan a short weekend trip to Florence using this handy Florence Guide by GoWithOh that provides the basics for three days in our beautiful city – combined with this and other posts on ArtTrav, you’ll have your trip planning covered!