Fast Facts

  • Location: Florence, Italy
  • Attraction Type: Cathedral
  • Significance: Architecture, Renaissance Art, cathedral, dome,
  • How to Reach: From Genoa or France, take the A12 Freeway till Viareggio, and then drive along the A11 Railway for Florence. From Rome, take A1 Rome-Milan highway. Exit at Florence South, and then follow directions to reach the center of Florence. By train, take a train from any major Italian city to reach Santa Maria Novella, the historical center of the city. By air, reach Amerigo Vespucci airport, which is close to the historic center.
  • Nearest Airport: Amerigo Vespucci International Airport (Florence)

Basilica de Santa Maria del Fior, or the Florence Cathedral, is more than a place of worship. It is the very site where the contrasting forces contributing to the rich and often turbid history of Florence came face to face in the bloodiest of showdowns. How else can one describe such an irony — the absolute treasure house of the greatest of the Renaissance art and architecture is the place which witnessed the most notorious bonfires engulfed some of the most precious manuscripts and paintings of the classical era under the supervision of the zealous priest Savonarola?

Florence was the heartland of the Italian Renaissance, and nowhere is it better represented than the most beloved architecture of the city — the Florence Cathedral. The magnificent duomo, nearly unsurpassed in beauty, grandeur, and dimensions, has been a matter of pride for every Florentine for the last five hundred-odd years. Many Florentine artists have contributed in some way towards the development and execution of the Cathedral. It has been a constant source of inspiration for many more.

History of Florence Cathedral

A building of such grace and dimensions as the Florence Cathedral was not, understandably, built in a day. The present cathedral is the result of many years of rebuilding and reconstruction, incorporating many changing schools of art and architecture with the passing of time. The earliest 5th-century structure was already in ruins in the 13th century, when the Florentines planned a large scale rebuilding in keeping with the widespread re-building schemes undertaken by many Tuscan cities to rebuild their cathedrals. Arnolfo di Cambio created the initial design on largely Gothic lines and reconstruction started. The foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Valeriana, the first papal legate to Florence in 1296.

Arnolfo’s death in 1302 brought about a temporary lull in the rebuilding process, which again started in 1331, under the supervision of Giotto and Andrea Pisano. Soon after, work was again disrupted due to the Black Plague. However, once the Plague was over, construction work started and continued for much of the 14th century. The interior and much of the faí§ade was complete before Brunelleschi constructed the iconic dome — the largest brick dome of the world. The faí§ade was recreated in the 19th century.

The Dome of Santa Maria del Fior

The dome of the Santa Maria del Fior, looming over the Florentine skyline, is a living memorial to the pride, ambition, achievements and rich heritage of this Tuscan city. Nothing better represents the spirit and charm of the city than the famed ‘duomo’. Designed and built under the direct supervision of Filippo Brunelleschi, the dome is one of the greatest representatives of Renaissance art and redefined monumental architecture through the introduction of new architectural techniques and modes.

Brunelleschi initially planned the structure in imitation of the classical Pantheon in Rome. However, unlike the Roman dome, this was planned to be polygonal and not circular, which needed greater expertise in architecture. One of the greatest achievements of Brunelleschi’s design was that it was built bereft of external scaffoldings and supporting structures. The dome was also built without a wooden center. Over four million bricks were used to erect the dome that rises over 108 feet with glazed coverings on the exterior, facilitating easy maintenance.

This magnificent dome was the result of a competition between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. This was an inversion of fortunes since Ghiberti defeated Brunelleschi for the sculpture on the third door of the Florence Baptistry, located opposite to the cathedral. The lantern mounting the cathedral was built after Brunelleschi’s death.

The Clock Tower by Giotto
There are marks of genius on every construction of the Santa Maria and the clock tower is no exception. Built by Giotto, this magnificent structure seamlessly dovetails with the remaining structure. Giotto, in fact, is also responsible for building on di Cambio’s initial design and expanding the cathedral after the death of Arnolfo in 1302.

The Faí§ade of Santa Maria del Fior

The faí§ade of the Florence Cathedral is a work of wonder, although some think it to be a little overdone. The faí§ade, devoted to the Holy Mother of God, underwent several changes throughout the course of the cathedral’s history. Rebuilt in the 20th century in line with the neo-Gothic style of architecture, this is a considerable departure from the Roman classical architectural mode. The horizontal polychromatic faí§ade built of three different types of marbles (white, red and green) crisscrossed in forming linear geometric patterns. This is completely different from the cathedral’s original medieval faí§ade as well as the 16th faí§ade of Bernardino Puccetti.

The interior of the cathedral is a stark contrast to the opulence of the cathedral’s exterior. The signs of monastic austerity emphasized to an extreme during the times of the Savonarola. Built as a basilica, the interior of the cathedral manifests a Roman cross with a single perpendicular nave and aisles crossing it. The 44 beautiful stained glass windows were one of the most ambitious projects till that time. Painted by the likes of Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Paolo Ucello, those represent various scenes from the New and the Old Testament.

The Interior of Florence Cathedral

A number of splendid artworks decorate the cathedral. Some of the artworks, apart from the magnificent Renaissance paintings on the interior of the duomo and the stained glasses include:

Dante: This painting by Domenico di Michelino, representing the great Florentine epic poet, also shows views of contemporary 15th century Florence, apart from various scenes from the ‘Divine Comedy’, his lasting contribution to the world of letters and culture.

Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood: This monochrome fresco was devised by Paolo Ucello, and was transferred to canvas in the 19th century. The medium used was terra Verde, ostensibly to give a bronze-like feel to the structure.

Equestrian statue of Niccolo da Tolentino: Another wonderful renaissance work by Andrea del Castagno, this was later transferred to canvas very much like the former in the 19th century.

Busts of famous Florentines: The cathedral of Florence was built of public funding. So, along with military and political leaders, who were quite expectedly the biggest financers, there are commemorative statues and busts of major public figures as well. Busts of Marsilio Ficino, Brunelleschi, Giotto, and Antonio Squarcialupi are all beautifully executed by top sculptors of the time.

The Colossal Clock: This is located just above the main door to the cathedral. An excellent Ucello fresco of four Prophets graces the face of this device and is one of the greatest attractions of the cathedral.

Accommodation in Florence

Florence is one of the most visited cities in Tuscany in Italy. Thousands of art lovers and enthusiasts of history and heritage visit Florence all around the year. There are plenty of hotels, inns, hostels and guest houses in Florence that cater to their needs. Some of the most popular hotels in Florence include Hotel Lungarno, Hotel Panorama, and Hotel Continentale.

Apart from hotels, you can opt for holiday rentals, of which there are plenty in the city. Santo Spirito Apt, Villa Florence, Villa Petago and Farmhouse Franceschi are some of the most popular ones.

If you are looking for a budget holiday, you will be pleased to know that there are plenty of cheap and budget accommodations available in the city. Some of the most popular cheap hotels in Florence are Apartment Loggia, Apartment Boboli, Apartment Dante, and Apartment Giglio. Many of them are converted into historic houses that will help you get into the spirit of the city.

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