On flat ground, a distance equivalent to the one between the centre of the old part of Florence and the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte would probably be considered to be “within walking distance*” by most people who are not particularly mobility-challenged. It would certainly be much farther than a short jaunt around the block, but certainly not a grueling hike either. The problem is that the journey is not on flat ground. The church is on the other side of the Arno River and up a steep hill from the main commercial and tourist area of the city.
It was a guidebook that warned me about the climb, although if I knew sufficient Italian I could have figured it out for myself. As a quick check of Google Translate that I performed while writing this told me, the English translation of the Italian word “monte” is “mountain.” With that information, coupled with the knowledge that the main section of Florence is not on a hilltop, I should have been able to deduce the climb. Finding San Miniato al Monte on a map, looking in that direction and seeing a high hill should should also have given me a clue.
(Despite the name and the Italian translation, I’d call it a high hill, rather than a mountain. However, that’s in comparison to, say, the Rockies of Western Canada or the Swiss Alps. So I may not be using the correct frame of reference.)
Nevertheless, it was the guidebook that led me to take a regular Florence public transit bus up the “mountain”, but walk down after my visit to the basilica. Waling, if you follow the road, the walk would be rather long because it snakes up the hill so cars don’t have to climb too steep an incline. (Or does it snake down the hill? I guess it depends on your perspective. But, never mind.) However, there are footpaths with appropriately placed stairs that create a more direct, shorter route between the basilica and the centre of the city. Like the road, the walking route takes you past one of the guidebook-highlighted sights of Florence, Piazzale Michelangelo, which will be the next post in this series. (Visited on my walk down.)
Number 12 to San Miniato al Monte
The number 12 bus took me from a stop just outside Florence’s central train station to the foot of the San Miniato al Monte basilica. When I was in Florence this time, the Firenze Card included free rides on public transit. The rules for the Firenze Card, or even its very existence, may change over time, so I can’t promise that will always be true. However, if you visit Florence and buy a card, then, assuming transit fares are still included, you can take the bus up to the basilica even if you’re a member of the Cheap Bastards Club, without risking the revocation of your membership. (If you are a member, why the hell haven’t I seen you at any of the meetings?)
The fact that the number 12 bus dropped me off at the foot of the basilica didn’t mean that I got to avoid a step-climbing workout for the day. There is a long set of stairs between the road and the church. If you’re up to it, it’s well worth the climb, not just to see the inside of the church. but also to take in the amazing view of Florence that you get from the terrace at top of the steps. If you’re not up to it, it’s probably not worth heading to San Miniato al Monte at all. There isn’t much to see from the base of the stairs
San Miniato al Monte is a beautiful old church, but the truth of the matter is that I mostly enjoyed the fact that, despite not being air conditioned, it was comparatively cool inside. When I say comparatively, I mean compared to the hotter than blast furnace hot that it was outside on the July day I visited. Obviously, “hotter than blast furnace hot” is an exaggeration, but not as much of one as I would have wished.
As is normally the case with old churches (and probably new churches, but I don’t visit them because, being an atheist, I don’t see any value in doing so) the doors to the basilica are at the back. As you enter, the church is is one tall space. However, about halfway forward, there are two sets of stairs going to an and a lower upper level, making the front half of church is split-level space. I couldn’t help wondering if the lower level contained the cheap seats, with inferior access to God. But I could have been wrong about that.
The Basilica of San Miniato al Monte was less lavishly decorated than other old churches I’ve visited in Florence and elsewhere in Europe, but there were faded frescoes on the walls, beautiful paintings on the semi-spherical portion of roof over the altar and a room off to the side of the front of the church with wall paintings showing alleged scenes from the life of St. Benedict.
* As I found out after having written the above text, when I went looking for a link to attach to the post, the web site for San Minato al Monte says much the same thing. It boasts that the church is within walking distance of central Florence, but because of the steep climb a bus is a good idea.