The Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence, is the dominant structure in the City and its most famous and beautiful landmark. The building is an active Church. But beyond that, words fail to do it justice. The dome of the structure hovers over the Church and the City as a symbol of blessing.

The Cathedral was built over its predecessor, a church named Santa Reparata. The City fathers wanted an impressive Cathedral to the glory of God and to add fame to Florence. The original architect, Amolfo di Cambio, designed the structure in 1296. It was a huge building. But there was one equally huge problem: the distance to be spanned by the eventual dome was so large (42 meters, just under 138 feet) that no technology available could build. In our day, undoubtedly “cooler heads” would prevail and the project would be scaled back to fit. But the City fathers chose instead to proceed, convinced that God would provide the solution when the time came.


Cambio died in 1302. Other architects were brought in to carry on the work. And the work proceeded, except for a period when the black plague struck. The famous architect Giotto di Bondone presided over the works for a time, and is responsible for the campanile (tower) that sits beside the Cathedral. But in 1419, the Wool Guild, now in charge of the building project, held a competition for the design and work on the dome. A largely unknown artist, Filippo Brunelleschi, won the competition and proposed building the octagonal dome which we see today. Brunelleschi prepared for this task by minutely studying the great Pantheon in Rome. Drawing on his studies, he conceived a way to build the dome without the customary supports used in his time to construct domes. In addition, he invented machinery to lift the materials needed to carry out the project. (It is estimated that the Dome weighs 37,000 pounds and contains over four million bricks!)

The whole story of the Dome is told in a surprisingly suspenseful and inspiring little book by Ross King, entitled (not surprisingly) Brunelleschi’s Dome.

Brunelleschi was not alone in bidding on the construction of the Dome. Lorenzo Ghiberti was his chief competitor. Ghiberti was an accomplished artist in his own right and had designed and (eventually) produced the magnificent doors to the adjoining Baptistery (left). But Ghiberti came ultimately to admit that the task was beyond him and that Brunelleschi was the right man for the job.

But, of course, the Dome is not the only thing worth looking at. The façade of the building was originally designed to be somewhat simpler than the dazzling and complex marble work seen today. In fact, the building remained without a façade for generations until it was designed and completed in the 1800s. Emilio de Fabris came up with this design which some think to be excessively ornate. But the effect is marvelous, and has been carried through from the Baptistery located in the square across from the entrance.

Florence is a lovely City, the central portion laid out in a grid of streets and squares. Although surrounded by hills, the center City lies along the Arno River and is basically flat. It still has a medieval feel about it, though it is also, of course, quite modern. Some have called it the City of Stone, because of its imposing buildings and use of stone and marble. But it is busy and friendly as well.
Our hotel, just an easy walk from the Duomo, was named for Brunelleschi. The tower was originally part of a prison that was used in the Middle Ages! The rooms were wonderful and the location was terrific.

Florence (Firenze to the Italians) is the home of the Italian Renaissance. Here is the statue of Cosimo d'Medici, who ruled Florence beginning in 1434. The Medici family produced three Popes over the four centuries they were prominent in Florence.

The list of who's who in the Renaissance includes a disproportionate number of the residents of Florence: Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolo Machiavelli, Galileo Galilei, Savanarol, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, to name a few. The history and the sights of Florence make it a very invigorating place to visit.

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