14 lesser-known facts about Florence Cathedral

Discover the iconic Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore, a prominent landmark that graces the Florentine skyline. Renowned not only for its sheer size and beauty but also for its rich history and the groundbreaking dome designed by Brunelleschi. Read more intriguing facts about Florence's celebrated cathedral.

Facts about Florence Cathedral

Florence Cathedral Facts

1. Over 140 years of construction

Conceived in 1293, the Duomo's grand plan, including the dome, took over 140 years to complete. Initially lacking technology for the dome, its construction started in 1420, leaving the dome's roof exposed for years before its remarkable finalization in 1436.

Florence Cathedral Facts
Florence Cathedral Facts
Florence Cathedral Facts

4. The Gates of Paradise

Crafted after a citywide 1401 competition, The Gates of Paradise on the Baptistery were triumphantly designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Judges favored Ghiberti's classical style over Fillippo Brunelleschi's humanist depiction, sparking Michelangelo's later remark that they seemed like the "gates of paradise."

Florence Cathedral Facts

5. Brunelleschi's unconventional path

Despite lacking architectural training, Fillipo Brunelleschi, a skilled goldsmith, harnessed the artistry of aesthetics and practicality intrinsic to goldsmithery. This unique perspective empowered him to revolutionize construction, defying expectations and crafting the timeless masterpiece that is the Duomo's dome.

Florence Cathedral Facts

6. Pantheon's influence

Dissatisfied with Gothic styles and lacking Pantheon's plans, Florentines admired ancient Roman innovation. Disliking prevalent flying buttresses, they sought Roman building techniques. After losing the baptistery door competition, Brunelleschi studied Roman structures, ultimately reshaping Florence's skyline upon his return.

Florence Cathedral Facts

7. Public competition: A clever egg and ingenious wit

In Florence's dire need for a dome solution, Brunelleschi, without revealing plans, won a public competition. To convince judges, he cleverly challenged them to make an egg stand upright. After they failed, he cracked the egg's bottom, making it stand, asserting that shared knowledge could build the dome. This witty move secured his victory, and in April 1420, he began the project with two appointed designers.

Florence Cathedral Facts

8. Third Largest Cathedral

Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, ranks as the world's third-largest cathedral, surpassed only by St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. In the 15th century, upon completion, it claimed the title of Europe's largest cathedral, stretching 153 meters long, 90 meters wide at the crossing, and reaching a height of 90 meters from floor to dome base.

Florence Cathedral Facts

9. Brunelleschi's innovations

Brunelleschi revolutionized construction with ingenious masonry techniques, enabling the creation of a freestanding curved brick structure—eliminating the need for a wooden frame. His inventive tools included a groundbreaking three-cogged wheel system, known as the Reverse Gear, using oxen in a circle to lift heavy objects, surpassing the limitations of human-powered systems.

Florence Cathedral Facts

10. The secret of the Dome

Despite skepticism, Brunelleschi astounded with a groundbreaking method for the Duomo's dome. Using ropes to guide brick placement, he crafted inverted arches, defying gravity. Discovered in a critic's drawing, this ingenious design, featuring a flower-shaped base, has stood the test of time. Poetically, the cathedral's name, "Saint Mary of the Flower," though coincidental, adds to the legacy of Brunelleschi's architectural brilliance.

Florence Cathedral Facts

11. Completed in sixteen years

Brunelleschi defied norms, completing the dome in just sixteen years (1420-1436). In an era where architects seldom witnessed their work's completion, this feat astonished contemporaries. Brunelleschi's swift success marked a groundbreaking achievement, showcasing his visionary brilliance and leaving an indelible mark on architectural history.

Florence Cathedral Facts

12. Duomo's facade's evolution

Originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1294, the Duomo's facade underwent a tumultuous evolution. From drafts to corruption scandals, the facade remained incomplete until 1887. Emilio de Fabris finalized the neo-Gothic design, using diverse marbles from Tuscany and Italy, crafting the mesmerizing exterior seen today.

Florence Cathedral Facts

13. Dual Domes

External tiles mask the inner structure. Climb 436 stairs through the shell and marvel at Brunelleschi's ingenious brickwork. Witness the original herringbone pattern, retracing history step by step.

Florence Cathedral Facts

14. From the Dome to a culinary delight

To sustain uninterrupted work on the Duomo's dome, Brunelleschi imported peposo beef stew from Impruneta. This hearty dish, featuring wine, pepper, and garlic, was served atop the dome. Still enjoyed today in local restaurants, it served as a flavorful fuel for the builders.

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Frequently asked questions about Duomo Florence facts

What is the most interesting fact about the Florence cathedral?

One of the most intriguing facts about the Duomo Florence is the unprecedented construction of its dome by Filippo Brunelleschi. With no prior architectural training, Brunelleschi used a clever rope-guided brick pattern, a mysterious egg competition, and a daring approach to secure the dome's completion in just sixteen years. This architectural marvel remains the largest brick dome ever constructed, standing as a testament to Brunelleschi's ingenuity.

What are some fun facts about the Duomo Florence?

Here are some fun facts about the Duomo Florence:
1. Secret competition: The construction of the dome began after a public competition, and Filippo Brunelleschi won by keeping his plans a secret until he was awarded the project.
2. The egg challenge: Brunelleschi convinced the judges of his capabilities by challenging them to make an egg stand upright; he then cracked the bottom of the egg, making it stand. This clever demonstration secured his position to build the dome.
3. Hidden flower pattern: To guide the construction without modern tools, Brunelleschi used a rope system forming the shape of a flower at the base of the dome, creating a unique herringbone brick pattern.
4. Name origin: The cathedral's name, Santa Maria del Fiore, translates to "Saint Mary of the Flower," possibly inspired by the lily, Florence's symbol, though it ironically has no direct connection to Brunelleschi's flower-shaped rope pattern.
5. Underground museum: Under the Duomo lies the underground Santa Reparata, the original church on the site. Today, it houses an underground museum showcasing artifacts and the church's history.

How long did it take to complete the Duomo Florence?

The construction of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, spanned over 140 years. Conceived in 1293, the cathedral's ambitious plans, including the iconic dome, faced challenges, leading to a lengthy construction period before its completion in 1436.

What inspired the design of the Duomo Florence?

The Duomo's design drew inspiration from ancient Roman structures. Dissatisfied with the prevalent Gothic styles in Europe, Florentines admired the Pantheon and other Roman innovations. Their goal was to distinguish Florence and showcase it as a prestigious and innovative city in Tuscany. This inspiration resulted in the iconic Santa Maria del Fiore, a masterpiece blending architectural prowess with historical influence.

Who designed the famed dome of the Duomo?

The iconic dome of the Duomo in Florence was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. An ingenious goldsmith and self-taught architect, Brunelleschi won a public competition with his revolutionary design for the dome. His innovative engineering and construction techniques allowed for the creation of the largest brick dome in the world, making it one of the most iconic architectural masterpieces.

What is special about Duomo in Florence?

The Duomo of Florence, also named Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral or Florence Cathedral (Duomo di Firenze), is not only an architectural marvel but serves as the ecclesiastical center for the archdiocese in Florence. Celebrated for its Gothic artistry, it stands as a trailblazer, heralding the onset of the Italian Renaissance and influencing subsequent artistic and architectural movements.

Who is buried in the Duomo?

While many prominent figures are buried in the Duomo, one notable tomb is that of Brunelleschi himself. The architect of the iconic dome found his final resting place within the cathedral, a fitting tribute to the genius behind this architectural marvel.

Can you climb to the top of the Duomo?

Certainly! Climbing 436 stairs, visitors can reach the top of the Duomo and enjoy panoramic views of Florence. Please note that access to the Dome climb requires a ticket.

Is there a dress code to enter the Duomo Florence?

Yes, there is a dress code to enter the Duomo in Florence. Visitors must ensure that their attire covers their shoulders and extends below their knees. The dress code applies to both men and women, and it aims to maintain a modest and respectful atmosphere within the sacred space of the cathedral. Sleeveless tops, mini skirts, shorts, and sandals are not allowed. Hats should be removed upon entering the Duomo. Adhering to the dress code is crucial for gaining entry to the various sites within the Duomo complex, including the interior of the cathedral, the bell tower, the dome, the baptistry, and the museum.

How long did it take to complete the Duomo's facade?

The completion of the Duomo's facade was a protracted process. Emilio de Fabris, the architect, worked on the neo-gothic design from 1876, following a competition, until its final completion in 1887. The facade underwent various design changes and challenges, contributing to its extended construction period.

What is the significance of the Duomo's flower motif?

Despite its name, "Saint Mary of the Flower," the cathedral's name stems from the lily, Florence's symbol, rather than the flower motif used by Brunelleschi.

Why did Brunelleschi win the dome competition?

Brunelleschi won the dome competition with his unconventional and ingenious approach. During the competition, he challenged judges to make an egg stand upright, proving his point with a simple but effective method. This demonstration showcased his innovative thinking and problem-solving skills, earning him the opportunity to lead the construction of the Duomo's iconic dome.

How did Brunelleschi overcome construction challenges?

Brunelleschi overcame construction challenges by introducing groundbreaking techniques. He designed a herringbone brick pattern and utilized a flower-shaped rope system to guide brick placement, creating inverted arches that reinforced the structure. This ingenious approach addressed concerns about stability and contributed to the dome's enduring strength, showcasing Brunelleschi's exceptional problem-solving skills.

Are there tours to explore the Duomo's history?

Yes, guided tours offer insights into the Duomo's rich history, detailing its construction, architectural innovations, and some truly mind-boggling stories behind its creation.

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