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"We shall build a cathedral so high and of the most exalted and most prodigal magnificence, in order that the industry and power of men may never create or undertake anything whatsoever more vast and more beautiful." So states the edict issued in 1294 relating to the construction of this magnificent architectural work. While today the cathedral's dimensions have been overtaken by four others (San Pedro in Rome, St. Paul's in London, the Seville and Milan Cathedrals), the fact is that for many years it was the largest cathedral in the world.
However, the first building to be erected on this site was not the Duomo, whose official name is Santa Maria del Fiore, but the ancient Basilica of Santa Reparata. In the 13th century, during a very prosperous time for the city, it was decided that Florence deserved a building that would rise to the occasion and outdo the cathedrals of Siena and Pisa.
The somewhat daunting project was entrusted to the great architect Arnolfo di Cambio, who began work on the cathedral in 1294. However, di Cambio would not live to see his work completed as he died six years later, only to be replaced initially by Giotto di Bondone and subsequently by Francesco Talenti. The building was finally completed in the year 1436, when it was consecrated by Pope Eugenius IV.
In order to truly appreciate the spectacular beauty of the Duomo we strongly suggest you take your time. And what better way to do this than to have a drink in one of the terraces on the square and spend some time contemplating the façade and surrounding elements. The streets around the Cathedral are alive with street performers, postcard vendors and, of course, the multitudes of tourists who come to visit what has become the very symbol of Florence.
The façade is most notable for its attractive, multi-coloured decoration, which combines green Prato, white Carrara and red Maremma marble and stone. It's worth pointing out that construction of the cathedral was not a simple task as the original façade designed by Di Cambio was at the time unfinished, and remained so for several centuries. The façade was finally removed and, after several attempts at reconstruction and calls for tender, was completed in 1887 by Emilio de Fabris.
Without a doubt the most representative element of the Duomo is its enormous dome, a sublime work of medieval engineering. The fact is that at that time no one knew how to build a dome of these dimensions and all the methods employed previously had proven futile. The project was finally entrusted to Filippo Brunelleschi, who went so far as to travel to Rome to study the construction method used in the famous Pantheon. The artist then proposed a solution based on classical Roman technology: the construction of a double shell and framework consisting of eight major and sixteen minor ribs. In conjunction with a series of horizontal rings, this allowed the dome to support itself as it was being constructed.
Construction of the dome began on the 7th of August, 1420, and was completed 16 years later. To properly appreciate this masterpiece a visit to the lantern that crowns the dome is a must. That said, we recommend you to schedule your visit early in the morning when you are still rested, as the ascent is via a 464-step spiral staircase. However tough the ascent, the views from the lantern will make it well worth the effort.
Brunelleschi's feat was of such magnitude that, while the cathedral contains numerous commemorative works, he was the only one bestowed with the honour of being buried here. As an additional tribute, since completion of the cathedral no taller building has been erected anywhere in Italy. Visitors to the interior will notice the decorative frescoes of the "Final Judgment" painted by Vasari and completed in 1579.
The simplicity and austerity of the interior of the Duomo is another feature that will doubtless catch your attention. This is due to the fact that, at the time, the interior was stripped of all offerings and other decorative elements, leaving the structure itself as the only decorative feature. The result is that this temple, while it can accommodate up to 10,000 people, offers few noteworthy interior elements. Among those that are worthy of note are two large frescoes with equestrian images of the English mercenary Sir John Hawkwood and the condottieri Niccolò da Tolentino.
In addition, on the west wall visitors will notice a clock by Paolo Uccello dating from 1443 that marks 'Ora Italica' (Italian Time), which remained in use up until the 18th century and which signalled the end of the day at sunset.
Visitors should also pay attention to "The tomb of Bishop Antonio d'Orso", located to the right of the central portal, as well as what is commonly known as the "New Sacristy". In 1478 Lorenzo the Magnificent took refuge here after the Pazzi tried unsuccessfully to assassinate him during High Mass in an effort to seize power from the Medici.
Make no mistake, this is the most important site in all Florence. It is both the living embodiment of the city's former prominence and the site where most visitors begin their tour. We assume you won't want to feel left out.
Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia (25)
Palazzo Rucellai (40)
Piazza della Repubblica (44)
San Marco (32)
Santissima Annunziata (30)
Mercato Centrale (24)
Palazzo Strozzi (37)
Piazza della Signoria (5)
Santa Croce (8)
Via Tornabuoni (36)
Giardino dei Semplici (28)
Opificio dell Pietre Dure (31)
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi (27)
Santo Spirito (48)