According to tradition, the church was built during the 4th century outside the walls of the ancient city. In 393, it was consecrated to the martyr Lawrence, in the presence of Saint Ambrose and Saint Zenobius.
For the next 300 years, San Lorenzo was the Cathedral of Florence, before giving up the status to the Church of Santa Reparata, where the remains of San Zanobi, the first bishop of Florence, were solemnly transferred.
In 1059, the church was enlarged and rededicated, on the initiative of the bishop Gherardo di Borgogna, when he became pope under the name of Niccolò II.
In 1418, the abbot Matteo Dolfini obtained permission to demolish some houses to enlarge the transept of the church. Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, a wealthy banker, financed the construction and named Filippo Brunelleschi to direct the works.
The sacristy was finished in 1428, but then the works were stopped. After 1441, Cosimo de’ Medici, Giovanni’s son, assumed the entire burden of the construction, and the direction of the works passed to Michelozzo, architect of the nearby Palazzo Medici.
From 1457, Antonio Manetti Ciaccheri was in charge of the construction site, and in 1461, when the works were almost completed, the high altar was consecrated. Three years later, Cosimo de’ Medici died and was buried in an underground crypt, placed exactly below the central altar.
Since then, San Lorenzo became the burial place of the members of the Medici family, a tradition that continued, with some exceptions, until the extinction of the dynasty.
Although the Pope Leo X comissioned Michelangelo to design a facade in white Carrara marble, the project was never implemented and the facade remained unfinished. The small bell tower was built in 1740 by the architect Ferdinando Ruggieri.
The facade of San Lorenzo is simple, with exposed stones and bricks, on which three arched portals open. The right side of the church is in smooth stone, decorated with an order of blind arches and pilasters.
At the top, above the lantern, is the great dome of the Chapel of the Princes (Cappella dei Principi), the second largest in Florence after the one of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
The church has a Latin cross plan with three naves, with side chapels along the walls and the transept. The side walls are decorated with pilasters that frame the round arches of the chapels.
The interior is extremely bright, thanks to the series of arched windows that run along the central nave. The ceiling of the central nave is decorated with coffers, with gilded rosettes on a white background, while the aisles are covered with ribbed vaults.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Basilica of San Lorenzo is located about 550 meters away from the Santa Maria Novella railway station. The closest bus stop is in Piazza Di San Lorenzo, near the church, on the bus Line C1.