Rising above the heart of the city, this richly decorated cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore) and its massive dome have become Florence’s most famous symbols. Typical of the Florentine determination to lead in all things, the cathedral is still the Tuscan city’s tallest building, and Europe’s fourth- largest church. The Baptistry, with its celebrated bronze doors and host of mosaic panels inside, is one of Florence’s oldest buildings. The Campanile, designed by Giotto in 1334, was finally completed in 1359, 22 years after his death.
This informative museum consists of a series of rooms dedicated to the history of the cathedral. The main ground floor room contains statues from Arnolfo di Cambio’s workshop, which once occupied the cathedral’s niches. Nearby is Donatello’s St. John and Michelangelo’s Pieta can be seen on the staircase. The upper floor contains two choir lofts from the 1430s by Luca della Robbia and Donatello. The haunting statue La Maddalena is also by Donatello.
Lorenzo Ghiberti’s famous bronze Baptistry doors were commissioned in 1401 to mark the city’s deliverance from the plague. Ghiberti was chosen for the project after a competition involving seven leading artists of the day, including Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia, and Brunelleschi. The trial panels by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi are so different from the Florentine Gothic art of the time, notably in the use of perspective and individuality of figures, that they are often regarded as the first works of the Renaissance. Michelangelo enthusiastically dubbed the East Doors the “Gate of Paradise.” Ghiberti worked on them from 1424 to 1452, after spending 21 years on the North Doors. The original relief panels are now on display in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
A stunning feat of technical as well as artistic skill, the cathedral’s dome is the epitome of Florentine Renaissance architecture. Construction took more than 14 years, and only began after a lengthy period of planning and model-building, during which the dome’s architect, Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), worked hard to convince the sceptics that the project was feasible. At one point, he even built a large- scale model by the river to demonstrate that the dome was technically achievable. The dome spans 140 ft (43 m) and is not buttressed, instead, a double wall of spirally laid bricks was strengthened by the use of stone chains. Despite his brilliance as an engineer and architect, Brunelleschi was not made chief architect until 1445, a year before his death.
At 278 ft (85m), the Campanile is 20ft (6m) shorter than the dome. It is clad in white, green and pink Tuscan marble.
Colorful 13th century mosaics depicting the Last Judgment decorate the ceiling above the octogonal font, where many famous Florentines including Dante, were baptized. The doors are by Amdrea Pisano (south) and Lorenzo Ghiberti (north and east).
Chapels at the East End
The three apses have five chapels each and are crowned by smaller copies of the dome. The 15th century stained glass is by Ghiberti.
Neo-Gothic Marble Facade
This echoes the style of Giotto’s Campanile but was only added in 1871-87.
Brunelleschi’s dome, finished in 1436, was the largest of its time to be built without scaffolding. The outer shell is supported by a thicker inner shell that acts as a platform for it.
In the late 16th century, the dome’s interior was covered in frescoes depicting scenes from the Last Judgment. They were started by Giorgio Vasari and completed by Frederico Zuccari.
These were set between marble ribs in a self-supporting herringbone pattern – a techinque Brunelleschi copied from the Pantheon in Rome.
Dante Explaining the Divine Comedy
This painting (1465) by Domenico di Michelino shows the poet outside Florence against a backdrop of Purgatory. Hell, and Paradise.
The colorful, intricately inlaid floor (16th century) was designed in part by Baccio d’Agnolo and Francesco da Sangallo.
Copies of reliefs by Andrea Pisano on the Campanile’s first level depict the Creation of Man, and the Arts and the Industries. The originals are kept in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
c. 1059-1150: Probable construction of the current Baptistry in the Florentine Romanesque style.
1294-1302: Building work begins on the cathedral to a design by Arnolfo di Cambio.
1334-59: The Campanile is built, supervised by Giotto, Andrea Pisano and Francesco Talenti.
1875-87: The Neo-Gothic facade is added, designed by Emilio de Fabris and Augustino Conti.
1982: The cathedral and Baptistry are declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.