Il Duomo - Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
Santa Maria del Fiore, the main cathedral of Florence, probably is the city's most easily recognizable structure. The big orange dome of the duomo can be seen from quite a few streets away, and as you get closer, you begin to recognize the distinctive white, green and pink marble design on the facade. From the outside, it has to be one of the most beautiful churches in the world - at least, it's the most beautiful one I've ever seen! Construction of the duomo began in 1296 and lasted until 1436. The duomo is huge, measuring 153 m in length and reaching a height of 90 m under the dome; it's estimated that 20,000 people can easily fit inside. In contrast to its exterior design, the interior of the duomo is surprisingly sober, but still very impressive. My favourite features were the mosaics covering the entire floor of the cathedral, as well as the fresco painted inside the dome, which two painters, Vasari and Zuccari, took 10 years to complete.
Access to the cathedral itself is free, which is great, but for everything else - baptistery, campanile, dome, museum, archeological site - you need to pay, for a grand total of 27 Euros (yikes!) per person. Have I mentioned that Florence is expensive?!
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or otherwise known as the Duomo, was begun in 1296 in accordance with the designs of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed in 1436 by the crowning of its magnificent dome.
After winning an architectural competition in 1419 against Lorenzo Ghilberti (and supported by Cosimo de Medici), Filippo Brunelleschi began constructing his dome in 1420 and completed it in 1436. It was the first octagonal dome in history and to this day remains the largest brick dome in the world. Details of its construction are retold in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo and would entertain any architectural amateur such as myself.
Although one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the dome, as one approaches the cathedral, the carnivalesque delight that is the façade quickly becomes apparent. Interestingly enough, the façade had remained unadorned for much of its history even though Giotto had drawn up plans for its decoration. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century when Emilio de Fabris began resurfacing the front of the church in neo-gothic style using the same white, green and red marble to be found on the rest of the cathedral. Begun in 1876 and finished in 1887, it is concentrated to the Theotokos.
When one enters the Duomo, one is struck by its surprising starkness. The greatest exception is the vast fresco of The Last Judgement, begun by Vasari in 1568 and finished by Zuccaro in 1579 which adorns the interior of Brunelleschi’s dome. Also noteworthy are the sporadic frescos and large clock decorated by Paolo Uccello.
Of course a cathedral cannot be complete without its campanile or bell-tower, Florence’s Duomo has had the fortune of being bestowed one by Giotto. I was surprised to discover that the artist, so universally recognised as a master of the art of fresco painting, was also a recognised medieval architect. It’s incredible to see how he was able to transfer his sense of pastel beauty to a much colder medium, that of marble. Nonetheless, his white, green and red marbled masterpiece standing 84.7 m. (or 277.9 ft.), built from 1334 to 1359, and interwoven with lozenges and niches, stands as a proud achievement of this great artist.
Entrance into the Duomo is free, but to climb the stairs of the dome (as well as the Campanile) is €6.00. I very much loved my numerous visits to this cathedral (both as visitor and to attend mass). One cannot help but marvel at the engineering of the dome and the stark contrast between the exterior and the interior of the building. It is of course a must on any itinerary.
Opening hours: 10.00-17.00 (the first Saturday of every month 10.00-15.30); Thursday 10.00-15.30
Holidays and Sundays: 13.30-17.00
There are only a few moments of perfect serindipity in the life of a traveler. One of mine occured on my very first visit to Florence. We arrived late in the day, absolutely starving. After dropping our bags and enjoying a wonderful meal at Toscano we started strolling, on a warm, full moon evening, in search of the Arno.
My travel partner, Janet, was on a roll, ranting about how there would NEVER ever be a site that awed and amazed her as much as the Duomo in Milano. Just as she was about to reiterate her conviction we turned the corner and there it was. Awash in moonlight, and relatively void of people, the marble facades of the Duomo met our gaze, challenging Janet to not change her mind immediately! And change it she did. (Mind you, never again have I seen the Duomo or its piazza as empty of the throngs of tourists that usually crowd the area).
In the following days we took cool shelter in the huge cathedral, we explored the interior, gazing at the walls, ceilings, and the magnificent dome. We climbed the campanile and climbed up into the dome to get a better look at the fabulous Dantesque murals. (I love those murals with devils and demons taking the evil to hell!). But nothing will ever rival that first glimpse of this beautiful Cathedral.
An interesting story is the history of the Duomo is the competition to determine who would build the actual dome. When Brunelleschi was asked how he proposed to build it he replied "If I told you how, then you would know how to do it". An archeological wonder in its time (or OUR time), the dome was open for over one hundred years, while Masses were conducted with birds and rain falling in.
Santa Maria del Fiore (also known as the Duomo) is the cathedral noted for its distinctive dome and arguably the most recognized symbol of Florence. The Duomo is the 4th largest in the world.
For days the lines to enter the cathedral were endless. Finally on a rainy afternoon we were able to get into the cathedral. The cathedral itself was nice enough. It was either that I had already seen so many cathedrals on my trip at that point (some much nicer) or that it’s hard to live up to expectations, but this wasn’t one of my favorites. That being said, of course it’s a must-see in Florence!
The Cathedral and Dome are (normally) so beautiful from the outside but the inside didn’t seem to match. I said normally because they were so dirty – in desperate need of a good cleaning. The inside was simple and stark, although huge.
Get there early to avoid the many tour groups and general crowds. Make a trip to Piazza Michelangelo (or some other place outside the city) for spectacular views of he Duomo rising out of the city.
I also recommend climbing to the top of the Dome or the campanile (bell tower) for great views of Florence. Bring water, wear comfortable shoes, and try to go when the sky is clear.
Church Mon-Wed and Fri 10am-5pm; Thurs 10am-3:30pm; 1st Sat of month 10am-3:30pm, other Sat 10am-4:45pm; Sun 1:30-4:30pm.
Cupola Mon-Fri 8:30am-6:20pm; Sat 8:30am-5pm (first Sat of month to 3:20pm)
Cost: Admission to church free; Santa Reparata excavations 3€; cupola 6€, free for children under 6
Please note that all visitor information is correct as of this writing.
Well, THIS was different.
With a few exceptions, I’d come to expect most Italian churches to be hiding fantastic interiors and oodles of priceless art behind plain, unassuming facades? The Duomo blew that notion all to smithereens. Florence’s cathedral is a massive, mind-blowing, polychrome riot of white, rose and green marble, ornamental carvings, reliefs and statuary - which is probably why it took 600 years (1296 - 1887) to finish the thing. Zowie, if it’s this crazy on the outside, what’s inside the doors must be just INSANE? It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust to the gloom and then you see a huge, echoing expanse of... not much at all: a few frescoes; a couple of tombs; a scattering of paintings. Its only abundance is the gaggle of tourists desperately trying to find something, anything to point their cameras at. They have to do some digging but they’ll find some treasures if they persevere:
• 44 beautiful windows - some of them designed by Renaissance notables such as Donatello and Ghiberti (of the baptistry’s famous doors)
• Rare, 15-century clock that records the hours of the liturgical day (‘midnight' being sunset)
• Lovely Vasari-designed fresco of “The Last Judgement" in the cupola; unfortunately only partially visible from behind security ropes
• Gorgeous 16th-century marble pavements - if you can see them under the hundreds of tourist-cluttering feet
Throw in some touches by Della Robbia and Gaddi and, well, there ya go. So why the baffling lack of painted/chiseled/gilded fandangles in this most famous of Firenze’s churches? One reason is that the great flood of 1966 destroyed or badly damaged many of its former decorative objects. Another is that it is a supposed reflection of the infamous Savanarola's - he of the "Bonfire of the Vanities” - austerity reforms of the 15th century. Maybe, but that wouldn’t account for the curious lack of extensive frescoes so prevalent in other Renaissance-era churches.
Whatever the case, the exterior is where you’ll be filling up your memory card, and Brunelleschi’s miraculous dome and Giotto’s campanile are often best admired from Piazzale Michelangelo or other high points around the city. Entrance to the Duomo is free but other related buildings and attractions - campanile; baptistry; crypt; dome; museum containing pieces rescued/restored after the flood - are not so see the website for hours and ticket prices. NOTE: for all of the attractions listed, you must follow the dress code required for visiting Italian churches: no bare knees or shoulders. Also, no flash, tripods or cell phone use is allowed.
Photographers, the exterior is especially dramatic at night, and here’s a nice website with some great snaps and a couple of helpful shooting tips.
There is little to say and much to see about this beautiful cathedral.
Here's a curious story: when the church was built, the architects were often faced by strict economic restrictions by the administration. That's why, according to a popular legend, this angel was captioned in stone (facade - right door - detail) not so politely "inviting" the administration to f*off (that's what that gesture means in Italy, keep it in mind).
While today children are baptised in the church, a few centuries ago they
had to be baptised first, before they were allowed to be in a church.
So the baptistry is not part of the cathedral, but close to it.
Forgive me for saying this, but I thought it didn't look much from the outside.
The inside,however , is absolutely stunning.
The large cupola is done in mosaics from 13th and 14th century, against a background of
gold many scenes from the bible are shown.
It's easy to get a cramp in your neck because you keep staring up at the ceiling, it's so beautiful.To me it is more beautiful than the cupola in the Duomo.
We were very lucky to be there in off-season, there were hardly any tourists in the baptistry and we could take our time. It must be terribly crowded in summer.
We had wondered if we were able to get close enough to the famous "Door of Paradise",
but when we went there, there was a sign saying it's being renovated. We were able to see
a few panels of it in the Duomo museum, though, much better actually, as we could walk up really close.
This magnificent structure is the cathedral for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence and is the fourth largest Roman Catholic church in the world. The name translates to St. Mary of the Flower, referring to the lily which is the symbol of Florence. It was constructed over the site of Santa Reparata, a smaller building in poor condition, and designed to compete with cathedrals in PIsa and Siena. It was designed by di Cambio in 1296 with construction beginning several years later and was not finally completed for 600 years. By the early 15th Century construction was complete except for the dome. The red, green, and white marble exterior was created to match the adjacent Baptistery and Belltower. The massive dome dominates the panorama of Florence, designed by the sculptor and architect Filippo Brunelleschi constructed between 1420 and 1436 and financed by a tax on wills and estates. To raise this massive dome, he created a thin outer shell and a more substantial inner shell both based on a drum at the base. This obviated the need to support the dome from the ground. This concept was revoutionary at the time but established Brunelleschi's place in history. The cathedral was consecrated in 1436. The exterior decoration, stained glass windows, statuary and frescoes were created by the greatest artists of the period --too numerous to list. The cathedral was the site of the conference that briefly united the Orthodox and Roman churches, the murder of Giuliano de Medici, and the preaching of Girolamo Savanarola.
Here, the Dome, seen from the Campanile and a little bit or its history...
"The cathedral of Florence itself had been begun in the Gothic style by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. But in 1366 the City of Florence, following the advice of certain painters and sculptors, decided that the Gothic should no longer be used and that all new work should follow Roman forms, including an octagonal dome 42 metres in span to be built at the east end of the nave. The dome was not built until the early 15th century, when Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith and sculptor, began to make statues for the cathedral. He became interested in the building itself and built some smaller parts of it. In about 1415 he prepared a design for the dome that he daringly proposed to build without the aid of formwork, which had been absolutely necessary in all previous Roman and Gothic construction. He built a model of the dome in brick to demonstrate his method; the design was accepted and built under his supervision from 1420 to 1436."
The sheer size of the Duomo will stagger you. Stop you in your tracks. Leave you gobsmacked. What other superlatives can I think of... does their preoccupation with size have any phallic implications I wonder... (giggle).
Its proper, full name is "Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore", or "Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower") whence comes the name Fiorenza (Firenze).
Its building took SIX centuries to complete. There was a design contest for the Dome itself in the early 1400s (pre-Savonarola, and at roughly the same time as the ascendancy of the Medicis). The contest came down to the wire between Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi; Brunelleschi won out. There was quite a rivalry between the two men. Ghiberti was assigned to assist Brunelleschi after he had won, but he mocked him at every turn. It was clear Ghiberti was in over his head when Brunelleschi faked illness and left him to his own devices. There was no progress on the Dome until Brunelleschi returned. (it's been said that the huge feud between the two men sparked the best creative genius out of both of them - they apparently despised each other but it also goaded the best to come out of them).
Italians seem to have the biggest and best of everything. Biggest/best wine: Brunello di Montalcino. Best designers - Italian (Prada, Gucci, Ferrari, Lamborghini, everything style... sigh). Best-looking guys, IMHO. (Argentineans are also incredibly handsome, but voila - guess where they came from...)
After leaving the Pitti Palace we decided to stop and have a beer at Ponte Vecchio - postponing a little bit the "meeting" with the Cathedral... It was nice seeing it from everywere and savoring the feeling of "wow, I'm going to see it, at last".
Some may say this is Florence's complete beaten path, but this massive complex is really impressive and full of history.
Dressed in pink, white and green marble and topped with a magnificent dome designed by Brunelleschi, combining gothic style and renaissance elements, the Duomo dominates the city's skyline. Next to the cathedral is the Campanile, a square, 85-metre tall bell tower designed by Giotto in 1334.
Many a long year ago - last century - I saw a postcard of the most beautiful building. A black and green marble church in Florence. It was so beautiful I went home to my flat and my husband and said - Let's board the cats, give up the flat and move to Florence until our money runs out.
Reason prevailed and we didn't.
But as we set out into the streets of Florence I was looking for this black and green church.
What a laugh. It is now a glistening pink and white and green church. They are in the process of cleaning it. You can see the black still on parts of it where the scaffolding is.
Inside it is quite plain and cavernous. Outside it is a riot, almost edible. But it is very beautiful I think. It doesn't quite tip over into kitsch.
Like so many churches in Italy you can't really get back far enough to see it all. As you move around the city, glimpses of Duomo.
Considered the fourth largest cathedral in Europe, Florence's Duomo is big on everything, except the interiors. The rich, dramatic symphony of white, green and pink marble neogothic facade reveals a very sparse interior within (picture 3) - quite an anti-climactic experience for me. The only two areas that possess considerable artistic expressions are the dome with frescoes of the Last Judgment by Vasari and the marbleworks on the floor which were designed in part by Baccio d'Agnolo and Francesco da Sangallo.
But this is not being fair to this magnificent cathedral which took 150 years to complete from the time construction began in 1296 based on the design of a Sienese (yes, from Florence's main rival, Siena) architect Arnolfo di Cambio. The rich marble creations that adorn all sides of the giant edifice are a sight to behold as are some rather interesting figures of the holy and saintly, and the not-so-holy-and-saintly (picture 4). Towering above, of course, is the iconic red-tiled dome by Brunelleschi, which had become quite a symbol for the city itself. While the dome was completed in 1463, the neo-gothic facade is a more recent creation (c. 1880s) by Emilio de Fabris.
The Duomo is the number one must see in Florence.
The building of the Cathedral began in 1296 and took nearly 150 years to complete.
It is a pretty fabulous sight, with its stunning white, green and pink marble facade.
Its huge interior is very sparsely decorated which is quite a contract to the outside.
It is free to visit the Cathedral, with a charge to visit the underground crypt (around 3 euros)
Also as part of your visit you can climb to the top of the Dome (for around 6 euros) , for amazing views across Florence.
Brunelleschi found a way to build it without scaffolding risin up from the cathedral floor but, for support, used the base of the drum that the dome sits upon. He built it by a method he found using varying size bricks in a herringbone pattern that was used in the Pantheon in Rome. There is a inner shell that supports the outer shell.
The result was this impressive huge cupola. If you click on the picture you will see how small people look at the top of it...