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History of the Duomo in Florence

A History of Florence's Cathedral

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florence duomo photo

Florence Duomo

© 2010 by Barbara Molini

Florence's cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo, is the city's symbol and most recognizable building. This iconic church also has a fascinating history.

Florence's Duomo was built upon the remains of the fourth century cathedral of Santa Reparata. It was initially designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296, but its main feature - the massive dome - was engineered according to the plans of Filippo Brunelleschi. He won the commission to plan and build the dome after winning a design competition, which pitted him against other Florentine artists and architects, including Lorenzo Ghiberti. Work on the dome began in 1420 and was completed in 1436.

Brunelleschi's dome was the most ambitious architectural and engineering projects of its time. Before Brunelleschi submitted his design proposal, the construction of the cathedral's dome had been stalled because it had been determined that building a dome of its size was impossible without the use of flying buttresses. Brunelleschi's understanding of some of the key concepts of physics and geometry helped him solve this problem and win the design competition. His plan for the dome included inner and outer shells which were held together with a ring and rib system. Brunelleschi's plan also employed a herringbone pattern to keep the bricks of the dome from falling to the ground. These construction techniques are common practice today but were revolutionary during Brunelleschi's time.

Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the largest churches in the world. Its dome was the world's largest until the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (Vatican City), which was completed in 1615.

The eye-catching façade of Florence's Duomo is made of polychrome panels of green, white, and red marble. But this design is not the original. The exterior that one sees today was completed only in the late 19th century. Earlier Duomo designs by Arnolfo di Cambio, Giotto, and Bernardo Buontalenti are on view at the Museo del Opera del Duomo (the Duomo Museum).

Visiting Florence's Duomo

What to See in the Duomo
Duomo Opening Times and Visitor Information

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