The skyline of Florence
wouldn't be the same without the stunning Cathedral or Duomo that so personifies the grandeur and elegance of the city. The Duomo, which translates to "the Cathedral" or "Dome Cathedral", has a long and regal history dating back to the end of the 13th century.
Near the end of the thirteenth century, the government that oversaw the Republic of Florence decided to replace the their under-sized, rather plain Santa Reparata with a more majestic worshipping house. Architect Arnolfo di Cambio was asked to design the building, sans dome. Residents of the Florentine Republic were to help finance the construction of the cathedral, as a tax was added to all estates of the deceased. On September 8, 1296, Arnolfo di Cambio laid the first brick on the land where The Duomo now stands.
While di Cambio preferred to create structures in the popular Gothic style of the time, his basilica was a wonderful marriage of Gothic and classical styles. With trefoils (fleur-de-lis, to represent flowers of royalty) throughout and a high alter, the partial-completion of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Holy Mary of the Flowers) in 1302 was celebrated by all. The inside was decorated at this time with many statues, some created by Arnolfo di Cambio himself.
After di Cambio died in 1302, construction on the cathedral began to dwindle. In 1334 a new architect and construction manager was named – Giotto immediately took over and began to work on his favorite part of the cathedral, the bell tower. Just three years later Giotto passed away and Andrea Pisano took over. But in 1348, a plague killed half of the city's population and funds had to be spent on other priorities.
In 1349, the project fell under the supervision of Francesco Talenti. Under his watchful eye, the bell tower was completed and plans for the Duomo ("dome") were created by Filippo Brunelleschi, often called the "genius of the Renaissance". Giovanni di Lapo Ghini took over the project from Talenti in 1360 and added two rectangular bays to the structure. Nearly 100 years after it's original design, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was accepted as the new cathedral in Florence when Santa Reparata was demolished in 1375.
Construction of the dome in Florence (Firenze) spanned from 1420 to 1436 under Brunelleschi's direction. In addition to its shear grandness, the dome is also an architectural marvel. It was the very first dome to be constructed, at least in Italy, without the aid of any framework. There are two layers to the octagonal dome, an inner piece that spans 42 meters (almost 138 feet, or about half of a football field) across and an outer shell that provides an amazing external view in addition to protecting the inner dome from weather damage.
Both the domes were built parallel to one another on stone ribs that taper from nearly 7 feet thick at the base of the dome to 5 feet at the top where a stone compression ring brings the ribs together. There are tie rings, oak timbers and metal connectors to help maintain stability of the dome.
Atop the dome is a bronze ball, placed there by sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio and his young apprentice. del Verrocchio and his apprentice used a hoisting machine to raise the ball, a machine designed by Brunelleschi. The apprentice, Leonardo di Vinci, is often credited for this hoisting machines invention.
In 1867, during the height of the Gothic Revival period, Emilio de Fabris designed and carried out construction of the outer façade that is still in place today.
When you visit Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, you'll find it's much more than a pretty dome. There is the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (Cathedral Museum) that offers visitors the opportunity to view statues that once decorated the cathedral. You'll also see some design documents and works of art by the creators and contributors of the project throughout the centuries. At the Mass Sacristy, there is a breathtaking bronze door and above the doors of the main Sacristy there are beautiful lunettes that were created by artist Luca della Robbia. Famed painter Michelangelo contributed a piece called Pietà, though it occasionally is removed for other showings.
Santa Reparata, the Florentine cathedral The Duomo replaced, still exists as an archaeological site on the ground of The Duomo. Take a walk through history nearly a Millennium old.
There are 44 stained glass windows that create dancing light along the marble floor of the cathedral. The windows, and lights, are marvelous.
Brunelleschi was buried in the cathedral and his tomb is open to the public near the main cathedral entrance.
Should you desire to see the cathedral, dome, Santa Reparata site, museum and the Baptistery, you should avoid Sundays and Catholic holidays. While hours for each building and location differ, visiting between 10 am and 5 pm will nearly guarantee you the opportunity to see it all. Wear your walking shoes if you want to see the top of the dome, there are over 450 steps to the top and no elevators.
Admission to the Cathedral is free but the rest should cost you, in all, about $40 US.