Since the 13th century, Florence represented a key point in the roadway system of central Italy, both in terms of ordinary road system and pilgrims’ itineraries, particularly those leading to or coming from Rome.
The strategic position of Florence, one of the largest and richest cities in Europe in that period, has certainly contributed to the birth of a dense network of reception facilities (for pilgrims and more generally all people in need), evidence of a fervent spirit of charity, both religious and secular, that has always distinguished our city.
Many of these structures, including the so-called “Spedali”, were built along the main roadway - both immediately outside and inside the urban fabric - crossing the city from North to South: from the northern gate (Porta San Gallo, now Piazza della Libertà) to the southern one (Porta San Piero Gattolino, now Porta Romana).
The Spedale of Santa Maria Nuova, located in a very central position, is one of the most famous and certainly worth a mention. The structure, still active since 1288, was founded by Folco Portinari, father of Beatrice, muse of Dante. In the fourteenth century, in Florence, there were thirty Spedali with more than a thousand "beds"! During the same period, a new form of institution, called Confraternita (Brotherhood), was very popular in Florence, and many of them were born thanks to the impulse of the well-known Dominican preacher Pietro da Verona (St. Peter the Martyr). He contributed to the foundation of two important institutions: the Misericordia di Firenze, still active today and the oldest in Italy, and the Compagnia del Bigallo. The first was involved in the transportation of the sick people and the burial of the dead, the second took care of orphans. Another important structure in the field of childcare is the Istituto degli Innocenti, whose prestigious headquarters, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1419, are located in Piazza Santissima Annunziata.
Some Spedali – like the very important one of St. Gallo, just outside the homonymous door Porta San Gallo, unfortunately completely razed to the ground during the siege of 1530 – left no traces; others instead - such as the one of San Matteo, current location of the Academy of Fine Arts and its world-famous Gallery - have completely changed their function. Finally, the Spedale di San Giovanni di Dio, in Borgo Ognissanti, also very important, was founded in 1382 by the Vespucci family and reached its maximum splendour in the 18th century; now it’s in need of restoration for a new use.
All sites of this itinerary are accessible: each one was partially turned into a museum, to let visitors know these important institutions, their history and their peculiarities.