Florence Cathedral is located in the heart of the city, in the Piazza del Duomo. It is especially famous for the dome designed by Brunelleschi. Its official name is Santa Maria del Fiore. After Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Duomo of Florence is the third largest church in the world. There is space for 20,000 visitors.
Address, opening hours and admission (2020)
The Duomo is open from 10.00 to 17.00 hours. It closes at 16.45 hrs on Saturday, 16.30 hrs on Thursday from November to April and 16.00 hrs on Thursday in May and October. Admission is free. There is a special entrance for disabled people near the Porta dei Canonici on the south side. Florence Cathedral is located in the Piazza del Duomo. The nearest bus stop is Studio (line C1).
History Florence Cathedral
In 1296 Arnolfo di Cambio was commissioned to design a larger Duomo. The Santa Reparata, which up to that point had served as the city’s cathedral, had become too small.
When Di Cambio died in 1302 he had managed to complete no more than the facade. The wool guild got Giotto (who was also responsible for the bell tower) and Francesco Talenti (who had designed the dome’s drum) to finish the work.
The present façade is also the work of Emilio de Fabris and dates from the end of the 19th century.
The dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and built between 1420 and 1436. At the time it was the largest dome in the world. You can walk between the inside and outside wall of the dome. The function of the inside wall is to strengthen the outside one. You need to climb 463 steps to get to the top. The space is very narrow, but allows for a the magnificent views over Florence.
The intention was to build 8 balconies at the foot of the dome. When Baccio d’Agnolo finished the first one (after eight years of work, from 1507 to 1515), Michelangelo was asked for an opinion. He replied that he thought the result looked a bit like a cage for crickets. The work was immediately halted, and never resumed.
The three apses are each covered by mini-versions of the dome. Each apse has five chapels.
Although the neo-Gothic marble facade recalls the bell-tower, it was only constructed between 1871 and 1887.
Santa Reparata Cathedral
The Duomo was built around the already existing Santa Reparata cathedral, which had been built between the 4th and 5th centuries. This meant that to visit the old church one had to first enter the new one. In 1370, when the new cathedral was finished except for the dome, the Santa Reparata was razed to the ground.
On the right you can walk down a set of stairs to see the excavations of the old church. Her you can also see an inscription found in 1792 on the tomb of Filippo Brunelleschi plus ruins of ancient Roman houses and early Christian mosaics of the original church. (Admission to this part of the church is 18 Euros, for a combi-ticket including the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the Campanile and the Dome.)
Works of art Florence Cathedral
The mosaic “The Coronation of the Virgin” in the lunette above the inside of the main entrance is by Gaddo Gaddi (1307).
Lorenzo Ghiberti made the stained glass windows in the façade in the 15th century.
Paolo Uccello painted the large hòra italica clock. According to this “Italic clock”, which was used until the 18th century, the day did not end at 12 o’clock in the morning, but at the time of sunset. The four heads in the corners of the fresco are portraits of prophets.
On the left wall there is a fresco. The English mercenary Sir John Hawkwood (by the Florentines corrupted into Giovanni Acuto) had asked for a bronze equestrian statue of himself . Eventually it was decided that a painting was cheaper and Paolo Uccello was hired to make the work (1436). Lorenzo di Credi added the trompe l’oeil frame during a subsequent restoration.
Next to this you can see a similar tribute to Niccolò da Tolentino, by Andrea del Castagno (1456).
Domenico di Michelino painted “Dante reading the Divine Comedy” (1465).
The ceiling paintings on the interior of the dome were designed by Giorgio Vasari, but painted by his pupil Federico Zuccari (1579). The theme of the frescoes is the “Last Judgment”.
As you near the space underneath the dome you will notice that the 16th century marble pavement is laid out like a labyrinth.
At the back of the sanctuary is the Sagrestia Nuova (“New Sacristy”). When Lorenzo de’ Medici and his brother Giuliano attended Mass here on 26 April 1478, they were attacked by the Pope-supported Pazzi family. Giuliano was stabbed but Lorenzo managed to escape by diving into the Sagrestia Nuova and closing the heavy bronze doors made by Luca della Robbia between 1446 and 1467. The terracotta “Resurrection” (1442) above the door is also by della Robbia, as is the lunette “Ascension” above the southern door.