The Spedale degli Innocenti was the first orphanage in Europe and one of the very first examples of Renaissance architecture by Filippo Brunelleschi. It was a symbol of modernity, of an era of humanism and it was the first institution in the world to face the problem of the hospitalization, care and education of abandoned children. The building was built in a large garden bordering with the Church of Santissima Annunziata, at the behest of the Arte di Por Santa Maria, Arte della Seta (Silk Guild), which had been responsible for the city's orphans since the end of the 13th century. Filippo Brunelleschi designed a project that included a portico at the front and an octagonal courtyard in the centre. The magnificent portico is composed of nine spans with arches and rounded rib vaults, which rest on pietra serena sandstone columns. The upper part consists of a series of framed windows with a sloping pitched roof with a protruding gutter.
For its construction, the materials chosen had had been used very little until then, such as pietra serena sandstone combined with white plaster, a choice that became very successful at the height of Renaissance architecture.
The loggia is decorated with lunettes with frescoes, the oldest of which is the one on the entrance door of the church, depicting the God the Father with the Innocent Holy Martyrs, painted by Giovanni di Francesco in 1459. The two lunettes at the ends are the work of Bernardino Poccetti. The Spedale degli Innocenti became a model to copy in the future and a symbol of civil modernity, also thanks to the invention and use of the "wheel". The wheel was a "foundling wheel", that is a wooden cylinder connected to a string with a bell that drew attention to the presence of a baby placed there, thus preventing the child from being outdoors too long outdoors and guaranteeing his anonymity. The wheel, located to the left of the entrance, was installed on 5 February 1445. This date was indicated by the chronicles of the time, telling the story of the first "innocent" to be taken in: a little girl who was given the name of Agata, the saint celebrated on that day. The wheel was active until 1875 and today there is a plaque commemorating it.
Also in the building, there is the Museo degli Innocenti, a museum containing objects linked to the children's lives and important works of art by artists such as Botticelli, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio and others.