You can reach Piazzale Michelangelo and the Basilica of San Miniato on Monte alle Croci on foot by taking the wonderful spectacular route that architect Giuseppe Poggi created between 1865 and 1871, during the period in which Florence was the capital city of the Kingdom of Italy.
Poggi's design also included the continuation of the main circular boulevards up into the hills to the south of the city, which he carried out by knocking down what was left of the third circle of city walls of Florence, built between 1284 and 1333. Only a few of the ancient Porte or Gates into the city were saved from demolishment (Porta Romana, Porta al Prato, Porta a San Gallo, Porta a Santa Croce, Porta della Zecca Vecchia and Porta a San Niccolò); Poggi allowed them to remain in the centre of the squares he was creating along the boulevards, where they can still be seen to this day.
The walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo starts out from Porta a San Niccolò (Piazza Poggi), the only gate whose original high tower of defence (1324) is still complete.
Two small neo-sixteenth century palaces, built by Poggi to close off Via San Niccolò, stand opposite it. The first part of the pedestrian ramp that leads up to Piazzale Michelangelo and then on to the church courtyard of San Miniato is situated in the centre.
The Piazzale itself overlooks one of the most famous and magnificent city views in the world: from here you can see the whole of Florence at a glance, from Forte Belvedere to Santa Croce, the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the Uffizi, Palazzo della Signoria and the Bargello, etc. Higher up, on the other side of Florence, you can see the hills to the north, with Fiesole and the tall belltower of its Cathedral (1213) standing out in their midst.
The square takes its name from the great bronze group that Poggi placed in its centre, a real "pastiche" of the work of Michelangelo, composed of copies of his David (now in the Academy Museum) and the four allegorical figures Pope Clement VII commissioned him to carry out for the Medici tombs in the New Sacristy in San Lorenzo (these were for the tombs of Lorenzo Duke of Urbino and Giuliano Duke of Nemours).
Poggi also designed the Loggia which can be seen tucked into the hill behind the sculptures; his idea of using it as a museum to contain all the works of Michelangelo came to nothing; today it is just a coffee bar and restaurant.
If you carry on up the hill, you will come to some steps beside the La Loggia restaurant that lead up to the church of San Salvatore (or San Francesco) at Monte alle Croci, which Michelangelo rebaptized the "lovely little villa". This important Renaissance building is still where most Florentines prefer to go for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; it was almost completely rebuilt over the pre-existent oratory of San Damiano by architect Simone del Pollaiolo, known as Il Cronaca (1499-1504), who was given the commission by the Franciscan monks and the extremely powerful Arte di Calimala, the guild of merchants of woollen cloth and the creators of the wealth of the city so many centuries before.
The facade is both austere and graceful and designed with alternating curved and triangular tympani, like the Baptistery. The interior, with its tauter rythm and the chiaroscuro division created by the two upper orders, shows signs of an attempt to get away from the influence of Brunelleschi.
The Deposition attributed to Giovanni Della Robbia and the Pietà attributed to Neri di Bicci are of particular interest.