Things to do in Florence

The interesting history behind Duomo Florence and the Florence Cathedral

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The Florence Duomo, also known as Santa Maria Del Fiore, stands tall as one of Italy's most iconic landmarks. Its colossal red-tiled dome, the largest of its kind globally, symbolizes Florence's rich cultural heritage spanning over 600 years. Learning about its history adds depth to your visit, making your experience more meaningful. Let's delve into the fascinating journey of the Florence Duomo.

Early Days

Duomo Florence

Santa Maria Del Fiore, or Florence Duomo, has a rich history dating back to when Florence was rising as a prominent European city. The old church of San Reparata stood before the current structure, as Florence's wool and banking industries thrived, sparking a cultural and architectural renaissance. The Wool Merchants Guild spearheaded the construction of a new Cathedral, forming the Opera del Duomo to manage the project.

Construction began in 1296 under Arnolfo di Cambio, a renowned architect and sculptor. However, his tenure was short-lived, and subsequent capomaestros like Talenti, Giovanni Ghini, and Brunelleschi took over. In 1366, a model for the Cathedral's completion was finalized, setting the standard for future capomaestros. The design showcased the dome's shape and scale, leaving the technical challenges for later architects to solve. This marked a significant milestone in the Cathedral's evolution and the city's architectural legacy.

Duomo Florence History

Brunelleschi gets the dome project

Brunelleschi's Dome

The construction of the Cathedral progressed steadily, but a significant challenge arose—the missing dome. For nearly half a century, no one could figure out how to build the dome according to the original design. The main hurdles were constructing it without wooden centering or external buttressing.

Traditional domes needed large timber supports during construction, which posed logistical problems due to their size. Additionally, external buttressing, common in Gothic cathedrals, was against the Florentines' architectural preferences.

In 1418, the Opera del Duomo organized a competition to solve this dilemma. The winner, Phillipo Brunelleschi, proposed a self-supporting dome design that eliminated the need for centering or buttressing. His innovative solution earned him the 200 gold Florins prize, although much of his construction documentation is now lost to history. This marked a crucial breakthrough in completing the iconic Florence Duomo.

When was the Florence Duomo built?

Brunelleschi's Duomo

Brunelleschi's renowned dome for the Florence Duomo was conceived in 1420, although it existed only on paper at that time. By 1436, after 16 years of construction, this remarkable architectural marvel was completed, becoming one of Italy's most iconic landmarks.

During the construction, Brunelleschi tackled numerous challenges related to the dome's complex structure. He overcame technical, political, financial, aesthetic, and personal hurdles to bring his vision to life. Despite its completion in 1436, a lantern atop the dome was added a decade later, enhancing its grandeur further.

Interesting historical facts about the Florence Duomo

  • Brunelleschi grew up next to the cathedral while it was being constructed:Growing up near the Cathedral, Brunelleschi was always intrigued by its construction. He trained as a master goldsmith and competed for bronze plates on the Baptistery next to the Cathedral, sparking a lifelong rivalry with Lorenzo Ghiberti.
  • Brunelleschi bagged the dome project using an egg: Brunelleschi stepped up, claiming he could design the perfect dome without traditional wooden support, which was expensive to transport. Skeptics doubted him, so he challenged them to make an egg stand upright on a flat surface without help. When they failed, he cracked the egg's bottom slightly to make it stand, showcasing his innovative thinking. This simple yet clever demonstration convinced the skeptics, and Brunelleschi won the bid with his groundbreaking plan for the dome.
  • Brunelleschi was almost paired with his rival to complete the dome: After being appointed, the administrators didn't fully trust Brunelleschi. To keep an eye on him, they also appointed his rival, Lorenzo Ghiberti, as co-superintendent. Ghiberti, a respected artist in Florence, had previously won a competition over Brunelleschi, adding to their rivalry. This arrangement was meant to control Brunelleschi, but it only fueled more competition and secrecy between them. In 1434, Ghiberti may have tried to have Brunelleschi jailed over a minor issue regarding union dues. However, Brunelleschi was quickly released, and his focus on the Duomo led to remarkable progress, with the dome growing almost a foot per month.
  • Brunelleschi introduced the Peposo beef stew to Florence: Brunelleschi tackled the high demand for bricks by building a large furnace in the neighbouring town of Impruneta, which was also known for its Peposo beef stew. Brunelleschi enjoyed this dish so much that he introduced it to Florence and shared it with his workers, making it a beloved part of the city's cuisine.

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