Cultural Italy Blog: Art, Coffee & Love

The Duomo in Florence: a must-see masterpiece


The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower in Florence is one of the most amazing works of architecture in the world. Even if you are not an architect and have no idea about design and building technology, you might have never heard about this astonishing creation. And if you haven’t, it definitely worth to be discovering!

Duomo di Firenze, as it is called in Italy, can impress the most experienced traveler. And the first time in Florence will be absolutely marked by the first impressions about the church.
I still remember my first time in the city.

I was strolling toward the center from the railway station enjoying narrow streets, aromas of Italian cuisine, and unique local townscape, and then the Duomo unexpectedly appeared down the perspective of the street. Although it was quite far and it was supposed to be only a background of my panoramic view, it stood out strongly. It was simply oversized. Indeed! Santa Maria del Fiore is famous for its anomalous dimensions that 700 years ago was such a challenge for Italian masters of construction.

It is said that Duomo di Firenze is the third biggest church in the world. It is 153 meters (502 ft) long, 90 meters wide (295 ft) and 115 meters (376 ft) high. And its dome, which is probably the most famous feature of the Cathedral, is more than 40 meters (130 ft) in diameter. Although today we see this masterpiece completed, the construction of the cupola was a tough task that took centuries to be solved.

The construction of the Santa Maria del Fiore began in 1296 by Arnolfo di Cambio. However, after many decades of intense work, at the beginning of the XV century, the church was still incomplete. No one knew how to finish its dome. The main problems were the size and the weight of the missing element. Simply put, it was too big and too heavy to sustain itself. A further difficulty was given by the fact that there was no chance to find enough timber to build the auxiliary forms for its construction. That means that the edifice of the cupola was supposed to be performed with no temporary scaffolding usually used for such works.

It was illustrious Brunelleschi to solve the cupola riddle. He proposed an innovative solution never seen before to employ a double shell. But a hollow dome was just a part of the clue as a traditional stone dome would still weigh too much. Thus the cupola was eventually built out of bricks, given their lightweight compared to stone.

For travelers coming to Florence, the dome of Brunelleschi is not only an ingenious design solution. It is not only an imminent landmark crowning the city. It is an amusement! It is probably the worldwide only route that brings visitors from inside of the Cathedral to the top of the historic cupola running in-between the two shells. Can you imagine that any one of us can explore today the narrow and evocative Brunelleschi pass inside of the cupola?!

A spectacular 360-degrees view opens up from the top of the Santa Maria del Fiore. In fact, Duomo di Firenze offers a unique opportunity to enjoy a Tuscany panorama from 115 meters (376 ft) height. Rather a unique example in our days in which a Cathedral has preserved its height supremacy and volumetric domination of the rest of the city. Breathtaking emotions and impressions are however difficult to convey with words.
To understand one should visit!

Start planning your trip to Italy! 

Maria Novozhilova

twitter: @NovozhilovaM