Orsanmichele (Chiesa di Orsanmichele)    .    Florence, Italy . 5.5" x 5.5" x 5.5" tall

Orsanmichele was one of the three most important buildings in late medieval Florence.  Built in 1209, the ground floor was originally an open, arcaded loggia and was used as a grain market.  The top two floors were devoted to grain storage, maintained to withstand famine or siege.  In 1380 the open arches were closed off and the building was converted into a church which became a powerful symbol for the city guilds as the official guild center.  The guilds commissioned some of the most talented artists of the day to produce magnificent statues of their patron saints to embellish the niches surrounding the building.  Among the artists chosen were Ghiberti, Donatello, Giambologna, della Robbia, and Verrochio.  The statues they produced are considered the first fully realized Renaissance works of art, with a degree of realism and individuality not seen in Western art since antiquity. 

The building is on the site of the orchard of a Benedictine convent dedicated to Saint Michael - thus the name "Orsanmichele" or "the orchard of Saint Michael".  Connected to the Orsanmichele building via an overpass entrance to the 2nd story, is the headquarters of the Arte delle Lana (The Wool Guild).  The overpass looks somewhat like a strange "flying buttress" which might have been used to "support" the building.  The sculptures seen in the niches today are copies, the originals having been removed to museums.

Today, most tourists  walk right by this important building on their way from Florence's Duomo to the Piazza Signoria.  Very few bother to stop and visit the church.