The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or “Duomo” for the Florentine people whose symbol is the lily, is one of the most impressive architectural expressions of the many tourist attractions related to a city intrinsically tied to the past, which invites you to lose yourself among the narrow streets of the old town, including shopping and tasting the local cuisines. In its own Cathedral, it meets the city’s symbol, a project which was defined gradually.
As the great Florentine director Franco Zeffirelli said many years ago:
‘When I feel depression overcoming me, I go back to Florence to gaze at Brunelleschi’s Dome: If the genius of man came to this, then even I can do it and I try to create, to act, to live‘.
How much truth lies in the words of a sensitive and romantic artist…We can only agree with him, admiring the Dome as the ultimate masterpiece of a construction which began more than seven hundred years ago.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore stands on the foundation of an earlier and important church, dedicated to the cult of Santa Reparata. Recent excavations have uncovered the underground foundations: even though they do not agree completely on a precise date, the team of archaeologists has determined the initial beginnings around the fifth century A.D., more or less during the Ostrogoth Barbarian invasions. The dedication to Santa Reparata seems to derive from the victory during the years of the early Middle Ages by the troops of Emperor Honorius, who was able to stop the barbarians, particularly during the day dedicated to Santa Reparata, and it was then that she was elected as the guardian and protector of this place of worship. Afterwards, it was built according to the dictates of Romanesque architecture.
For much of the Middle Ages Santa Reparata was chosen as the main place of worship in Florence and around the end of 1200, the Florentine Signoria decided to begin construction of the main cathedral of the city while maintaining the same venue, not because of superstition, but as a desire to rely on a positive energy and a cult still remaining in the chromosomes of the citizens dedicated to their archaic patron.
The works lasted throughout 1300: the date of conclusion is around 1436, because subsequent modifications and structural interventions would bring important assets to the religious building, and this date is confirmed by various documents.
The building team was led by the wise architect Arnolfo di Cambio, in some documents also called Arnolfo di Lapo, born around the beginning of 1230 (the date is unsure due to approximate studies given the lack of reliable sources). He died during the most important stages of construction. The architect’s idea remained around which later builders and masters added their art and energy.
How can we not mention Giotto, who grew artistically in Florence and died in the city which exalted his avant-garde artistics of his time which were truly great innovations of style and color. Together with him, Francesco Talenti, a skilled stonemason grew up in the shops within which extolled the Gothic in the Florentine style, and Giovanni di Lapo Ghini, who came after Maestro Talenti.
Especially Francesco Talenti worked on the great works of the structural and sculptural embellishment of the bell tower dedicated to Giotto, together with the well- known Cupola, the most typical characteristic part of the structure at the time and was seen as the most imposing church in Italy.
Certainly, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore does not obtain the exaltation of the Gothic in those years extolled by French architects in Paris, Rouen, Reims and Amiens but you cannot deny the Florentine cathedral as a beauty that identifies and captures Italian taste. Even though its structure is not lifted up to the sky, according to the dictates of French Gothic, its Dome determines the female roundness and kindness, which makes the structural exterior graceful. It is an assembled harmony enchancing the Florentine taste, which is parallel to the “trans-alpine” school which was not secondary because it is addresses the flowering blooms of the frescoes, which was the particular art already found in Florence which was ready to welcome its bright future.
It was there on the Cupola where artistic embellishments were focused in the following centuries, until 1500, thanks to the Medici family: the Santa Maria del Fiore was for years a key laboratory in exalting local artists.
It is precisely the interior of Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes that enhance the pleasure of an Florentine Art inside the Dome, in his poignant religious iconography, emphasize the pictorial art of the Medici’s Florence, perfect mannerism and harmonized colors with textures.
Filippo Brunelleschi and Giorgio Vasari: the architectural structures and color finishing.
What a lucky combination of minds there was that time, a key in the affirmation of Art consecration of Italy as a whole. It was Brunelleschi’s painful determination as an architect; he was not directly in charge of religious and civil administrative policy, but his idea was examined by many in a public competition. The Church and the Bell Tower, then the Dome: finally, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore has a final finishing, in the years to close to 1500. America had been recently discovered and Leonardo da Vinci had astonished the world with his scientific and artistic visions. Florence displayed its granduer in the Western world, a splendor never before seen. It was suffered, and yet built brick by architectural brick during a long history and still is able to amaze. Until now Brunelleschi’s Dome is the most impressive masonry dome in the world. Not even the most impressive mosques, or magnificent domes of the Taj Mahal, come close to it, this being a proud result of a great Italian man of the Renaissance.
The visit to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore takes considerable time. Of course you simply must go to top of the Dome by taking the stairway, which was built by Baccio d’Agnolo in the early 1500s, made in marble but not completed. It was the authoritative opinion of Michelangelo Buonarroti to stop the pending perimeter, which he described as ‘a cage for crickets’, but by climbing the 463 steps, you can, , admire the ‘Last Judgment’ for much of the octagon, painted by Giorgio Vasari and completed in 1579 by his prestigious student Federico Zuccari.
It is a journey among art and beauty, but we also invite you not to underestimate the importance of the Great Cathedral Museum, a key attraction to spread Florentine art knowledge expressed through seven centuries memorabilia, 750 works of art leading you from the early Middle Ages until the Renaissance Medici containing three floors and twenty-eight rooms. It is a very important museum, so much desired to the artistic glories of Florence convey to the world. The prestigious shops in which they the great Florentine artists were formed. The museum is totally dedicated to religious art, the maximum expression of that age. On the three floors, you will have the opportunity to meet the Great Masters: starting from the Salone del Paradiso, in a well-defined circuit and supported by audio-guides in different languages, this defines the concept of the Florentine ‘Paradiso’.
There are two important ancient Roman sarcophagi, a collection of five statues, a first path which, for obvious reasons, is the Sala della Maddalena where we may see the pictorial works for depicting the presence Santa Maria Penitent Magdalene by Donatello and the immortal ‘Pieta’, obviously Michelangelo. The immortal names of Italian art will be offered throughout the floors, especially designed with the desire to offer a historical and cultural pathway defined within historical parameters. The enormous spaces are also impressive, where exhibits are choreographically placed, almost unique in their metaphysical presence and are the most representative works of the Great Maestros.
The visit to the Santa Maria del Fiore is structured according to different times of access to facilities the Cathedral opens in the morning at 10.00 am up to 4.30 pm, while the dome is open from 8.30 to 19.00. The Baptistery instead is divided into two times with intervals: from 08:15 until 10:15 and then reopens at 11.15 am up to 7.30 pm. The crypt has the same hours of the Cathedral: from 10.00 am up to 4.30 pm, the Campanile from 8.15 am to 7.00 pm. The Museum offers a practical card which allows entrance to all facilities, well-planned routes according to the opening hours of the individual floors for each visit, and can easily be obtained at checkout allowing you to avoid queues which can sometimes very long, especially in popular tourist seasons. The cost, compared to the overall beauty of the offer, is 50 Euros, but on the Great Cathedral Museum website you will find various solutions for individuals or groups. Enjoy your trip into an immortal history!