The Florence Cathedral is the centerpiece of the city and has been for centuries. Built with grand ideas, it sat dome-less for nearly 100 years. The builders were sure that someone in the future would have the technological know-how to build the massive dome it required to complete the building. It became an embarrassment for the great city when it sat unused and incomplete for so many years. That is, until Brunelleschi got the job. But that is getting ahead of ourselves…
The Cathedral was initially built in 1298 and is dedicated to the Madonna of Florence – Santa Maria del Fiore. The initial architect was Arnolfo di Cambrio who, after he died, was followed by others. The huge cathedral is complete with niches for statues (now copies since most originals are in the Cathedral Museum). The current façade is actually fairly new, having been redone in 1887 and matches the Baptistry and the Bell Tower.
In 1418, Brunelleschi won the competition to complete the dome. Very secretive and protective of his ideas, he would not divulge how he would do this to the committee overseeing the commission. He stood an egg on end (by crushing the bottom of it) to prove his point – that if he were to show them the plans, the concept would become obvious and anyone could take it away from him.
The dome is an engineering marvel. It is actually a double shell made of brick put together in a herringbone pattern for added stability. Because of the size of the dome, Brunelleschi could not use standard scaffolding (and his contract would not allow it). After 16 years, Brunelleschi proved the doubters wrong and the dome was completed, the church consecrated and Florence the art capitol of the world. (I’ve added a separate tip about climbing to the top of the dome – something I highly recommend.)
Be sure to walk inside the Cathedral and look around. It is huge. Walk underneath the dome and look up. The frescoes on the ceiling are done by Vasari. If you look closely, you’ll see clear acrylic near the stained glass windows and then higher near the frescoes – these are areas that the dome climb will take you to (and beyond) for up close looks at the work.
An interesting and educational video about the dome can be found on the Khan Academy website.
As for Renaissance art, there is a wonderful Paolo Uccello fresco on the left hand side wall after you enter the Cathedral. Actually, you will see two frescoes that look very similar – both are memorials to people and have the appearance of being statues. These memorials are to honor two condottieri (hired mercenaries): the one with the green background is a memorial to Niccolo da Tolentino by artist Andrea del Castagno and the one with the red background is more well known, the memorial to Sir John Hawkwood, a famous English mercenary, and done by Uccello.
If you look behind at the west wall (where you entered the Cathedral), you can see a 24 hour clock that was also painted by Uccello with the four heads of the prophets on it.
Near the altar in the apse and the north and south sacristy’s are works by Lucca della Robbia, Ghiberti, and possibly Giotto (although more likely to his students).
Throughout the Cathedral are portraits of Brunelleschi, Giotto, Dante, and others. Actually, Brunelleschi is buried in the Cathedral and his tomb can be seen from the bookstore on your way to visit the excavations of Santa Reparata, an ancient cathedral.
Open from 10 am - 5 pm
Thursdays: 10 am - 4.30 pm
Saturdays: 10 am - 4.45 pm
Sundays and religious holidays: 1.30 - 4.45 pm
1st Saturday of the month: 10 am - 3.30 pm
January 1, Easter & Christmas: 3.30 - 4.45 pm
Closed January 6.
Admission is free – but be considerate as this is a church.
Of course, once you’ve walked all around on the inside and looked up at the dome, you really should get up there and have a closer look by climbing up to the dome and seeing Brunelleschi’s work up close. Let’s climb the dome…
If you just came from the inside of the Cathedral, then you know how absolutely magnificent and massive this church is.
If you are able to climb 463 steps, sometimes rather steep, and are not afraid of heights or claustrophobic, then I highly recommend you make the trek up to the top of the dome. Not only is the view magnificent on nice days, but you actually walk between the two shell structure that makes up the dome, while having the chance to see parts of how this engineering marvel was built.
As you make the climb, try to imagine being a workman on site and having to make this climb every day! Brunelleschi didn’t allow his workers to go home for lunch – they had to bring their lunch up with them – since he didn’t want them getting too tired after lunch from the climb. And they drank wine for lunch (it was safer than the water in those days – but they did have the wine diluted so they wouldn’t get tipsy at lunch and create a safety hazard).
To climb the dome, you enter from the north side of the Cathedral – if you are standing in front of the church and looking at it, walk around the building to your left – you will see the entrance clearly marked. Enter that side door and go around to the inside. The cashier is inside the Cathedral (€8 for this great exercise – at least that was the price in January 2012). After that, start the climb!
Initially you walk up spiraled steps that are squared off – wide and you are thinking: this isn’t too bad. A short rest break can be taken at a little stop along the way to look at some old statues. No problem. Keep going and you find the steps do get narrower and the spiraling becomes circular. Before you know it you come out to the first part of the dome, the lower part where the stained glass windows are. You walk partially around this – there is acrylic so that you can see down but there is no way you can fall. Take your time and admire the windows. Be sure to look up at the frescoed ceiling, although later you will be much closer to it.
You exit this portion through another door on the other side and continue to climb upwards. As you go upwards, you will begin to see the two sections of the dome, beams, and the brickwork. It is amazing to think how this was made so long ago and still stands. You will come to the level with the frescoes, but this is actually the exit – so bypass this door and continue to head up to the top of the dome. The steps get narrower and steeper and a ladder at the very top that takes you to the lantern and outside at the top of the dome. Feel free to walk around the lantern and enjoy the view of Florence! Obviously, if you can save this for a clear day, you’ll have a wonderful view of the region.
When you are finished looking at the city, you head back down the ladder and follow the exit signs. After a short descent, you come back to that exit door on the fresco level – go through that door and enjoy the frescoes painted by Vasari up close. Notice how huge they are, not highly detailed and in places exaggerated so that the paintings would look right from the ground level. Be sure to look down (if you dare) at how small the people are below! When you are finished with this level, continue around to the door and take the steps down. Along the way will be a display of tools used in the building process.
Eventually you end up back in the Cathedral, tired and with possibly sore knees and legs, but satisfied that you conquered the dome climb and saw something that people could only marvel at centuries ago. There is a door right there to exit the building, which brings you out on the other side of the Cathedral.
Open from 8.30 am to 7.00 pm
Saturdays: 8.30 am – 5.40 pm
1st Saturday: 8.30 – 4.00 pm
May 1st: 8.30 am – 5.00 pm
Closed January 1, January 6, Thu-Fri-Sat Holy Week, Easter, April 25, June 24, August 15, September 8, November 1, Mon-Tue of the first week of Advent, Christmas, December 26
Note: If you are interested in an interesting book that explains the building of the dome without too much technical details - meaning it is easy to read for a non-engineer - then grab a copy of Ross King's Brunelleschi's Dome before you head to Florence (or pick up a copy while there - I saw it in the Cathedral Museum bookstore).
Wasn’t that spectacular?!? The weather on the day I was there was perfect and I was able to get some great photos of Florence and the surrounding areas. Speaking of photos, there are a number of places where one can get good shots of 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.
Florence is an exceptionally beautiful city from above so we decided to climb Giotto’s Campanile (the cathedral bell tower). We had a choice of either that or the Dome but chose the bell tower so we could see the Dome.
It had been rainy or overcast for our first few days in Florence. We finally got a break and a little sun and headed to the bell tower. It was 414 steps to the top (and 414 back down!). It was broken into 4 levels and the climb really wasn’t so bad. At each level the views got better and we had fairly nice views of the city from the top.
For any climb, I recommend taking water, wearing comfortable shoes, and if at all possible, going when the sky is bright!
Hours Daily 8:30am-6:50pm
Prices Admission 6€
Please note that all visitor information is correct as of this writing.
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.
The magnificent Cathedral of Florence, dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, is the fruit of the commitment of a large number of artists who worked on it over a period of centuries. In 1294, the Art Guilds, that supported the government of the city, decided that Arnolfo di Cambio should construct a new cathedral of Florence. The old cathedral, Santa Reparata, was too small to house the citizens since in the 13th century commune of Florence was already flourishing. Santa Reparata continued being the cathedral until 1375.