Florence Cathedral Il Duomo was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi.
Giotto, who was the Florence city architect at the time, designed the Campanile, the bell tower, next to Florence's Dome around 1334, when he was assigned to take voer overseeing all construction as the city of Florence architect. Although the giant Dome was part of the plan neither Cambio nor the great artist, architect & engineer Giotto had an idea how it would actually be built, as engineers in the early Renaissance did not have the experience to build such a Dome like the one atop the Pantheon in Rome, which was built by the Ancient Romans about 1500 years earlier.
The Dome's architecture and design led in 1419 to a contest financed by Florence's Cosimo de Medici to find a great engineer who in the late medieval Italy had the vision to engineer the Dome to completion. The two main competitors were Lorenzo Ghiberti (famous for his work on the "Gates of Paradise" doors at the Baptistery) and Filippo Brunelleschi who was supported by Cosimo de Medici, with Brunelleschi winning and receiving the commission. Although Brunelleschi won, Ghiberti, appointed co-adjutator, mocked his plans and called them unfeasible. Brunelleschi, deeply offended, then pretended a sickness and left for Rome, leaving the project in the hands of Ghiberti. But Ghiberti soon had to admit that the whole project was beyond him. In 1423 Brunelleschi was back in charge and took over sole responsibility.
Brunelleschi had to invent special hoisting machines for hoisting large stones. These specially designed machines and brilliant masonry techniques were Brunelleschi's spectacular contribution to architecture. The ability to transcribe a circle on a cone face within the innermost double-shelled wall makes the self-sustaining "horizontal" arch construction possible, since geometrically, a circular plan is needed for such an erection.
It could be said that the word "creativity" and the end of the medieval period marking the beginning of the Renaissance occurred when men like Brunelleschi, Giotto, Da Vinci et. al challenged their own vision and imagination to accomplish architectural structures and works of art previously thought to be impossible. In fact, creativity was only associated with great minds who attained previously thought of impossibilities, unlike the late 20th century and early 21st century when rap music and inexplicable contemporary modern art are considered creative expression by some opinion leaders and art leaders.
Brunelleschi's Dome was in fact an enormous and revolutionary achievement. Much like the art of frecoes, which was lost around the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in the 1st century, the formula for concrete had long since been forgotten as well. Therefore, Brunelleschi would have to build the dome out of bricks, 7 million bricks in fact, with the inner shell providing a platform for the timbers that supported the outside brick structure. To show what his dome was to look like, Brunelleschi constructed a wooden and brick model of Il Duomo with the help of Donatello and Nanni di Banco, which model may be seen in the Museum Opera del Duomo, next door to Il Duomo. In gthe Museum Opera del Duomo you may also see Donatello's wooden sculpture of Mary Magdellan. His model served as a guide for the craftsmen, but was intentionally incomplete, as to ensure his control over the construction or as we would say today to preserve his intellectual property over the design of the dome.
Brunelleschi's solutions were ingenious and unprecedented: the distinctive octagonal design of the double-walled dome, resting on a drum and not on the roof itself, allowed for the entire dome to be built without the need for scaffolding from the ground, the first large dome ever to be built without centering. But, because the dome rested on a drum with no external buttresses supporting it, there could be no lateral thrusts at the base of the dome.
There are 463 steps to the top, which today travelers to Florence may climb to find some of the best panoramic views of the city. Other highlights include a cavernous interior, many wonderful frescoes, detailed ceiling mosaics that portray Dante's circles of Hell and stained-glass windows created by some of the greatest artists of the time, such as Vasari, Zuccari, Donatello, Uccello and Ghiberti.
The cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on March 25, 1436 (the first day of the year according to the Florentine calendar). It was the first 'octagonal' dome in history to be built without a wooden supporting frame (The Roman Pantheon, a circular dome, was built in 117–128 A.D. with support structures). It was one of the most impressive projects of the Renaissance. During the consecration service in 1436, Guillaume Dufay's similarly unique motet Nuper rosarum flores was performed. The structure of this motet was strongly influenced by the structure of the dome.
Brunelleschi's ability to crown the dome with a lantern was questioned and he had to undergo another competition. He was declared the winner over his competitors Lorenzo Ghiberti and Antonio Ciaccheri. His design was for an octagonal lantern with eight radiating buttresses and eight high arched windows (now on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo). Construction of the lantern was begun a few months before his death in 1446. Then, for 15 years, little progress was possible, due to alterations by several architects. The lantern was finally completed by Brunelleschi's friend Michelozzo in 1461. The conical roof was crowned with a gilt copper ball and cross, containing holy relics, by Verrocchio in 1469. This brings the total height of the dome and lantern to 114.5 meters (375 ft). This copper ball was struck by lightning on 17 July 1600 and fell down. It was replaced by an even larger one two years later.
Piazza del Duomo
Firenze 50122 Italy
+39 055 215 380
Open Hours10am-5.30pm Mon-Sat (10am-3.30pm 1st Sat each month); 1-5pm Sun
Click here for the Duomo Offical Website
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