Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore
Florence's cathedral is more than the symbol of the city. Together with the Campanile and the Baptistery it forms one of the most magnificent works of art in the world. Florentines could not live without a glimpse of the dome of their cathedral. It would seem that when Michelangelo created the dome of St Peter's he was seeking to transplant Brunelleschi's masterpiece from his native city of Florence to Rome.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore Map
Official site: www.duomofirenze.it
Address: Piazza del Duomo 17, I-50122 Florence, Italy
Opening hours: 10am-5pm; Sun: 1:30pm-4:45pm; Thu: 10am-3:30pm; Sat: 10am-4:45pm
Entrance fee: FREE
Useful tips: No access to the dome on Sunday. The first Saturday of every month opens from 10 to 3:30pm.
Transit: Bus: 1, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 23.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore Highlights
The main feature of the exterior of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the rich articulation with colored marble - white from Carrara, green from Prato and red from the Maremma. There is marble everywhere - on the façade built in the medieval Gothic style, on the sides of the aisles leading to the nave, on the buttresses, the small side domes and the massive main dome. The alternating colors show rectitude and beauty, the two basic principles of Florentine art.The exterior has an abundance of sculpted figures: on the top spandrel of the façade "God the Father", with, immediately below, busts of famous Florentine artists; below a hugh rose window "Virgin and Child" and statues of the apostles; below that in the niches of the four pillars are bishops of Florence and Pope Eugene IV who consecrated the church in 1436. The bronze doors have reliefs of Mary and allegorical figures of the Christian virtues.A walk round the cathedral should include a look at the four portals. On the right-hand side near the Campanile is the Porta del Campanile, with "Christ giving a Blessing" in the gable and "Madonna and Child" in the lunette, both in the style of Andrea Pisano. Next comes the Porta dei Canonici with, above the "Porch of the Canons", a "Virgin and Child" by Lorenzo di Giovanni d'Ambrogio. Nearby are the memorials to the architects Arnolfo di Cambio and Brunelleschi and a stone with the inscription "Sasso di Dante" marking the spot where the poet is supposed to have watched the cathedral being built.On the left side the "porta della Balla" (late 14th century) has a polychrome "Madonna and Child and two Angels". The twisted columns at the sides are supported by lions. Also on the left, the "Porta della Mandorla", the finest portal in the church, was designed by Giovanni d'Ambrogio and Nanni and completed by various artists (Donatello, Niccolò di Pietro Lamberti and Ghirlandaio). Above the door in the almond can be seen the Virgin borne up by angels (1421, by Nanni di Banco); in the lunette is a mosaic of the "Annunciation" by Domenico and Davide Ghirlandaio (1491).
In his building of the dome Brunelleschi gambled on creating a structural masterpiece (with modest wisdom he commended it to the protection of the Virgin) which is both powerful and aesthetically pleasing. The white ribs that meet at the lantern clearly outline the contours of the red covering of the dome.The streets behind the apse offer an impressive view of the marble mount that is the cathedral, with Brunelleschi's dome. At this point there is a gallery on the drum of the dome. This was built at the time of Michelangelo who was intensely critical of it, voicing the opinion that it looked like a "cricket cage".In the pavement in front of the apse can be seen a marble slab marking the spot where on January 17th 1600 the gilded ball from the dome hit the ground and shattered after it had been struck by lightning. It was replaced by a larger one below the cross.The lantern, too, was often a victim of lightning but was constantly repaired. Today it is protected by a modern lightning conductor. (Visitors may climb up inside the dome as far as the lantern; the stairs start from the left aisle.)
Rectitude and beauty are also the theme of the interior of the cathedral which makes its impact through its Gothic forms, its soaring arches and pillars, untrammelled by gaudy ornamentation to detract from the feeling of spaciousness (later additions were removed during restoration), while the sense of severity is heightened by the earthy hue of the stonework.The ground plan of the cathedral is a Latin cross with a nave and two aisles; the space beneath the dome is enlarged by its extension into the three surrounding apses.Despite its altogether austere decore, the interior has some rich and precious figures.
The three stained-glass windows above the main portals depicting St Stephen (left), the Assumption of the Virgin (center) and St Laurence (right) were designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti and executed by Niccolò di Piero.Above the central door is a mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Virgin (c. 1300, by Gaddo Gaddi) together with the famous clock with hands that move anticlockwise. The heads of prophets in the corners were painted in by Paolo Uccello in 1443.Right of the main portal is the Gothic tomb of Bishop Antonio d'Orso (d.1321) by Tino da Camaino (incomplete; various parts in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, see Palazzo del Bargello).
In the first marble recess of the north aisle of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore stands a statue of Joshua (early 15th century) by Bernardo Ciuffagni, Donatello and Nanni di Bartoli. Opposite the second pillar is a fresco transferred on to canvas by Niccolò da Tolentina (1456). To the right of this is the equestrian figure of John Hawkwood (Giovanni Acuto in Italian), commander of the Florentine mercenary army, painted by Paolo Uccello (1436) to imitate sculpture. The next marble recess contains the statue of King David made for the facade by Bernardo Ciuffagni (1434).Below the window is a painting by Domenico di Michelino glorifying Dante (1465), a late rehabilitation of the poet by the city that once sent him into exile.The staircase that leads up to the dome starts from the point where the aisle joins the apse. There is a marvelous panoramic view from the lantern.
The north apse, or tribune, is divided into five chapels. The stained-glass windows were designed by Ghiberti. In the fourth chapel is an interesting double-sided retable in the style of Pacino di Bonguida depicting the "Madonna and Saints" and "Annunciation and Saints".In the pavement is Toscanelli's gnomon which since 1468 has been used for astronomical calculations such as the summer solstice, indicated by the sun's rays which, on June 21st, shine down through a conical hole in the lantern of the dome precisely on to this metal plate.
On the inner surface of the dome is the great fresco of the Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari (begun in 1572 and completed by Frederico Zuccari in 1579). The stained glass in the round windows of the drum was executed from designs by Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno.
Statues of Apostles
At the foot of the pillars supporting the drum are eight statues of apostles. Against the first pillar on the left stand St James the Greater by Jacopo Sansovino and St Thomas by Vincenco de Rossi, and against the second pillar on the left stand St Andrew by Andrea Ferrucci and St Peter by Baccio Bandinelli. On the opposite side the third pillar on the right has St John by Benedetto da Rovezzano and St James the Less by Giovanni Bandini, and against the fourth pillar on the right are St Philip, also by Giovanni Bandini, and Vincenzo de Rossi's St Matthew.
Under the dome is the choir with the high altar. The octagonal marble balustrade is based on a design by Baccio d'Agnolo; the 88 reliefs decorating it are by Baccio and Giovanni Bandinelli. The high altar (by Baccio Bandinelli) and the crucifix (by Benedetto da Maiano; 1495-1497) are also of interest.
The sacristies are also especially interesting. In the lunette above the door of the new Sacristy can be seen a glazed terracotta "Resurrection of Christ" by Luca della Robbia (1444). The fine bronze door is also by della Robbia (with Michelozzo). Its ten panels depict Mary with the Infant Jesus, John the Baptist, Evangelists and early Fathers. The sacristy is decked out with wooden cupboards and a drinking fountain.This sacristy is where Lorenzo the Magnificent took refuge in 1478 when he and his brother were attacked during a service in the cathedral on the day of the Pazzi conspiracy. Lorenzo managed to escape but his brother Giuliano perished.
A fine bronze urn by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the Cappella di San Zenobio (chapel of St Zenobius) in the central apse contains the relics of the saint.
Above the door of the Old Sacristy ("dei Canonici", "of the canons") is a terracotta relief of the "Ascension of Christ" by Luca della Robbia. In the sacristy can be found a piscina by Buggiano, Lorenzo di Credi's "Archangel Michael", and two terracotta candlesticks in the form of angels, also by Luca della Robbia.
The south apse, or tribune, is also divided into five chapels. The first chapel (after the Old Sacristy) contains an interesting fresco by Giotto - "Madonna del Popolo".The details of the statues against the pillars supporting the drum are given in their own section on the statues of the apostles.
Interesting features here include a bust below the window of Marsilio Ficino (1521), the great Renaissance philosopher, and a medallion depicting Giotto by Benedetto da Maiano (1490; opposite the last pillar).Next to it in a wooden recess is the statue of the prophet Isaiah by Nanni di Banco (1408) and a medallion of Brunelleschi. This is the work of Andrea Cavalcanti, known as Buggiano, who was the heir and favorite pupil of Brunelleschi.
Cripta di Santa Reparata
From the cathedral porch stairs lead down to the tomb of Brunelleschi, first discovered in 1972, and into what is left of the earlier church of Santa Reparata, first built in the fourth/fifth centuries then extended in the eighth and 11th centuries. The cathedral was originally built around the older church which was finally demolished in 1375, apart from part of the crypt of Santa Reparata which was excavated in 1965 and today serves as a museum.
One of the great landmarks of Florence, the Campanile, the cathedral belfry, 82m/269ft high and 14.5m/47.6ft wide, was begun in 1334 by Giotto (di Bordone). After his death in 1337, Andrea Pisano continued the building of the belfry in accordance with Giotto's plans but his successor, Francesco Talenti, deviated from the original design. The tower was completed in 1387.The building is characterized by the harmony of its dimensions, the strength of the octagonal pillars, the delicate articulation of the intervening walls and the intricate alternation of the colors of the marble. It is decorated on the lowest story by two rows of panels containing allegorical bas-reliefs. Most of the hexagonal panels are by Andrea Pisano, who worked to Giotto's designs, and Luca della Robbia. They depict the life of Man, his work and his art.The lozenge-shaped panels in the second row contain allegories of planets, virtues, liberal arts and sacraments.The niches in the second story above these lozenges used to contain statues of saints, prophets and sibyls sculpted between 1300 and 1400 by Florentine artists (including Donatello). Today these are kept in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. There are copies in some of the niches.It is well worth while climbing the 414 steps of the Campanile for the splendid view of the city from the top.
Address: Piazza del Duomo 9, I-50100 Florence, Italy
Opening hours: Apr 1 to Sep 30: 9am-8pm; Sun: 10am-1pm
Oct 1 to Mar 31: 9am-6pm; Sun: 10am-1pm
Oct 1 to Mar 31: 9am-6pm; Sun: 10am-1pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8), Easter - Christian
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