Piazza Santa Maria Novella

An 18th-Century Race Course

Piazza S.M. Novella

By some twitch of city planning, both of the city’s sacred art galleries of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce dominate broad, stale squares that do not invite lingering, but have proved useful arenas for sporting events.

Although cars have been banned from Piazza Santa Maria Novella, you may find yourself looking over your shoulder for the ghosts of the two horse chariots that once raced madly in the Corsa or Palio dei Cocchi, held on the day before the feast of Florence's patron saint, St John, in honour of royal weddings and on other special occasions. The two stout obelisks set on turtles (inspired by the obelisk in the Boboli Gardens) are by Ammannati and Giambologna, and replace the former wooden ones that just as in an ancient Roman circus, marked the track.

Print of Carriage races at Maria Teresa's wedding

The arcade on the south side, the pretty Loggia di San Paolo once sheltered the entrance to one of the city's oldest hospitals, but now performs the same service for the Museo di Novecento.

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