The building that is now home to the Museo delle Sinopie was founded in 1257 as Spedale Nuovo di Santo Spirito, also known as Spedale di Papa Alessandro. Designed to give shelter to pilgrims, poor and sick people, and unwanted children, the complex and the Church of Santa Chiara marked the southern boundary of the area around the Cathedral, the Tower and the Baptistery, which was beginning to look like a real square. Presumably built over an earlier hospital, the building, which was then also named Spedale della Misericordia and finally Spedale di Santa Chiara, was designed by Giovanni di Simone, who is well known for directing the first building of the Monumental Cemetery, which in 1277, along with the buildings of the new premises of the Opera, would mark the boundary of the opposing side of the square, along the street north of the Cathedral.
Between 1257 and 1286, the architect made the brick church and the large rectangular hall of the Pellegrinaio degli Infermi, enclosed on top by massive wooden trusses and decorated inside with a mock two-coloured marble facing, broken up by small recesses.
During the Medicean age, when, with the opening of Porta Nuova in 1562, the area of the square began to take a new shape, the façade of the Spedale was refurbished too, according to the Florentine canons of the late Renaissance, whereby the openings were altered by the addition of new windows and doors framed in pietra serena. Nearly seven centuries later, in 1979, when it no longer served as a hospital, the sleek, vast architectural construction of the Pellegrinaio was used to accommodate the large preparatory drawings –the sinopie – that had been found underneath the frescoes of the Cemetery when first restoring the building that had been seriously damaged during the Second World War.
The layout, designed by architects Gaetano Nencini and Giovanna Piancastelli, is composed of a system of metal modules on several floors, connected by staircases and by an elevator-tower, offering a perfect view of the works and the Mediaeval building, whose facing, wall decorations and wooden roof have all been restored. To enable the visitors to find their way about the square, its monuments and its museums, the museum has recently been completed by an information and communication area, supported by the latest technology, multimedia systems and 3D graphics.