Things to do in Florence

The design and architecture of Duomo Florence

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Florence Cathedral, also known as Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, is unlike any other cathedral, standing out for its unique architecture. Constructed during an era of groundbreaking architectural achievements, it could have easily blended in with other grand buildings of its time. However, what makes the Florence Cathedral remarkable is its distinctiveness, especially when it comes to the Florence Duomo. Consecrated in 1436, this Roman Catholic church in Florence, Italy, was once the world’s largest church, capable of accommodating 30,000 worshippers. Noteworthy features include its stained-glass windows, ornate green, red, and white marble facade, a collection of paintings and statuary by Renaissance masters, and notably, its dome, ingeniously designed by Filippo Brunelleschi from 1420 to 1436. The Florence Duomo stands tall as the largest brick and mortar dome in the world, and the first double-dome structure of the Renaissance.

Who built the Florence Duomo?

Statue of the architect Filippo Brunelleschi

Arnolfo di Cambio, a talented architect and sculptor from Florence, made significant contributions as the chief architect of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. He introduced Gothic architecture to Italy, leaving a lasting impact not only on the Duomo Florence but also on other important structures like the Basilica of Santa Croce and the Palazzo della Signoria. His work helped shape the architectural identity of Florence.

Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith by training rather than an architect or engineer, surprised many when he won the competition to design Florence's cathedral dome in 1418. Despite lacking formal architectural education, Brunelleschi's innovative approach and unconventional ideas propelled him to create one of the most iconic architectural marvels in history. Brunelleschi's selection was unexpected, given the public's anticipation for a remarkable dome that had been promised decades earlier. His design faced skepticism and ridicule initially, but his visionary thinking and creative solutions ultimately made the Florence Duomo a symbol of architectural brilliance. This unexpected journey from goldsmith to renowned innovator solidified Brunelleschi's legacy as a pioneer in both art and engineering.

Duomo Florence Architecture

The architectural design of Florence Duomo

Duomo Florence Architecture
  • Brunelleschi devised a unique double-shell dome for the Florence Duomo, with each shell serving distinct functions yet working in harmony. The outer shell, an eight-sided vaulted dome, achieved the desired height and shape for the cathedral.
  • Inside, the inner shell mimicked the exterior's eight-sided vaulted shape but on a smaller scale for cosmetic purposes. However, its structural core was a complete hemispherical dome. Brunelleschi opted for this shape because it could be constructed without the need for centering or scaffolding, meeting the cathedral's requirement to eliminate these supports.
  • A hemispherical dome generates significant lateral thrust, which Brunelleschi countered using compression rings encircling the dome. These rings acted like belts, holding the dome together and managing its outward force.
  • The outer dome features eight massive wooden ribs following the octagonal shape, complemented by horizontal wooden and metal rings functioning as compression belts. This innovative design reduced the dome's weight, lessening downward pressure on the cathedral's drum structure.
  • To address horizontal thrust, Brunelleschi employed a herringbone brick pattern within the inner dome, enhancing resistance against outward forces.
  • The two shells were united by wooden ribs, creating a single structural system with a gap between the layers to reduce overall weight. This space also served as a stairwell leading to the lantern atop the building, offering panoramic views of Florence. Despite the climb, the view makes every step worthwhile.

The exterior of Florence Duomo

Duomo Florence Facade

The Facade

The outside of Florence’s towering Duomo is a wonder of Renaissance design, showcasing pink, green, and white marble. As you approach, notice the detailed statues of saints and biblical figures carved into the stone, created by artists like Donatello and Andrea del Verrocchio.

Neo-Gothic Additions

Between 1871 and 1887, Emilio De Fabris added a neo-Gothic front to the Duomo. This new facade, honoring the Mother of Christ, features a central statue by Tito Sarrocchi showing Mary surrounded by Florentine figures in the pediment's mosaics.

Gothic Rose Window

The Rose Window, designed in Gothic style, sits above biblical statues, symbolizing unity and wholeness. Its intricate stone tracery and stained glass, drawing from Roman influences, allow abundant light in, enhancing the Duomo's elegance.

Brunelleschi’s Dome

The dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, stands tall as a testament to his skill and innovation. It's the first octagonal dome built without temporary wooden support, thanks to Brunelleschi's clever methods like double-shell construction, herringbone brickwork, and embedded iron chains.

The interior of Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo Interiors

The Frescoes

The Duomo's dome, measuring 45.5 meters in diameter and 114 meters high, ranks among the largest ever built. Inside, you'll spot supportive pillars, eight stone ribs, and stunning frescoes by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. These frescoes, illuminated by natural light, create a warm and radiant atmosphere. One standout piece is Vasari and Zuccari's depiction of the Last Judgment.

Stained Glass Windows

The cathedral's stained glass windows, including the rose window above the main entrance, enhance its grandeur. Renowned Renaissance artists like Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia, and Andrea della Robbia crafted these windows using vibrant colors and narratives. Scenes from the Bible, saints' lives, and Florence's history grace these windows.

The Altar

Below the dome, the main altar of Duomo Florence boasts white marble adorned with intricate sculptures and designs. Surrounding the altar are captivating frescoes and paintings, including works by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Alessandro Allori.

Choir Stalls

Dating back to the late 1400s, the choir stalls serve as seating for choir members and clergy. These stalls showcase elaborate carvings and sculptures depicting religious figures, symbols, and scenes. Crafted from walnut wood, they represent exquisite Renaissance woodwork at its finest.