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History of Duomo Florence | Santa Reparta to Building of the Brunelleschi's Dome

The history of Duomo Florence is a fascinating journey that began before 1296 with the replacement of San Reparata church. Spearheaded by the Wool Merchants Guild, the construction faced challenges, leading to innovations by architects like Brunelleschi. From its origins in the 13th century to its completion in the 15th century, the Duomo has been of religious and cultural significance in Florence and beyond.

Brief timeline of Duomo Florence

  • 1296: Arnolfo di Cambio submits designs for Duomo Florence, and construction begins. 
  • 1418: Filippo Brunelleschi is awarded the project of completing the dome.
  • 1420: Construction of the dome begins. 
  • 1436: Construction of the cathedral, including the dome, is completed. The cathedral is consecrated by Pope Eugene IV.
  • 1601: Duomo Florence loses its bronze ball in a raging thunderstorm. 
  • 1871-1887: Decoration of the external façade of the Duomo Florence is completed. 
  • 1982: Duomo Florence is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Duomo Florence history explained in detail

Duomo Florence

The beginnings & growth

Before 1296

Before the iconic structure of Santa Maria del Fiore took shape, an older church called San Reparata stood on the site. Florence, emerging as a major European city, experienced a cultural and financial renaissance, fueled by thriving wool and banking industries. The Wool Merchants Guild spearheaded the construction of a new cathedral to replace San Reparata, forming the Opera del Duomo to oversee the project. The undertaking marked a period of unprecedented urban transformation, requiring the demolition of existing structures and rerouting of streets.

Constructing the Basilica

Construction challenges & Capomaestros

1296 - 1366

In 1296, construction commenced with Arnolfo di Cambio as the first capomaestro. However, the capomaestro role witnessed instability, rivalry, and corruption over the centuries. After Cambio's death, figures like Talenti, Giovanni Ghini, and Brunelleschi took charge. In 1366, a model competition was held to determine the final design for the cathedral. The winning model, focusing on shape and scale, laid the foundation for future capomaestros.

The Bell Tower - Campanile

The Bell Tower - Campanile

1359 Onward

Adjacent to the cathedral, the 280-foot-tall Campanile, or bell tower, stands as a complex engineering feat. Completed in 1359 after nearly two decades of construction, it features octagonal buttresses, graduated orders, and openings for bell operation.

Filippo Brunelleschi

The missing Dome challenge

1366 - 1418

Despite decades of progress, the cathedral faced a significant hurdle – the missing dome. Challenges included constructing it without centering or external buttressing. In 1418, the Opera del Duomo organized a competition, seeking realistic solutions. The winning proposal came from a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi, presenting a self-supporting dome design that adhered to the 1366 model. His ingenious solution secured the competition victory.

Bronze Ball Duomo Florence
The Baptistry - San Giovanni

The Baptistry - San Giovanni

Before 1059 - 15th Century

Preceding the cathedral, the Baptistry symbolized faith in Florence. Initially built in 897, it underwent reconstruction in 1059. The structure's white and green marble skin likely followed the reconstruction. While the interior referenced the Pantheon, the dome's unique design comprised eight curved segments.

Critique of the Florence Cathedral

Critique of the Florence Cathedral

Post-Construction

Despite being an engineering marvel, the Florence Cathedral faced criticism for its underwhelming interior space. The emphasis on exterior aesthetics surpassed interior considerations. The dark and dimly lit interior, coupled with seemingly flat finishes, raised concerns about the overall atmosphere. The architectural focus on eliminating buttressing may have compromised natural light, contributing to a less impressive internal environment.

Cracking of the Dome

Duomo Florence

Almost immediately after the dome was constructed, cracks started to appear in it. Since 1989, four fissures that run from the top of the dome to the church foundations have been observed. This startling discovery prompted three hundred monitoring devices to be attached to the dome of the Duomo Florence, making it the most carefully monitored structure during that time. 

In 1934, Pier Luigi Nervi discovered that the cracks in the dome of the Duomo Florence opened and closed with the season. During winters, when the dome’s stone and bricks contract the cracks widen. During summers, as the material expands, the cracks in the dome get closed. 

Duomo Florence & Renaissance architecture

Renaissance Architecture of Duomo Florence

Discovery of the Santa Reparata

Santa Reparata at Duomo Florence

An archaeological excavation beneath the Duomo Florence from 1965 to 1973, led to the discovery of the remains of the Santa Reparata — the most tangible evidence of early Christianity in Florence. 

One of the major complexes of early Christianity in the Tuscia region, Santa Reparata's importance was accentuated due to its proximity to the baptistry. It is believed that the foundation of the Santa Reparata was laid as a result of a vow that was made after the victory of the Christians over Radagaisus, King of the Goths, around 405 AD. 

The church suffered extensive damage during the war between the Goths and the Byzantines, owing to which it was rebuilt during the Carolingian times. After this, the Santa Reparata was eventually demolished to make way for the present Duomo in Florence. 

Restoration and Preservation

Duomo Florence
  • Restorations on the Duomo Florence started in September 2021 and have now been completed. Extensive restoration and preservation works were carried out on the Porta Dei Cornacchini of Duomo Florence.
  • The Porta doorway located on the north side of the nave of the Duomo and its surrounding sculptures underwent a series of works. Since the marble of the lion sculpture was severely damaged, they had to go through a rigorous and intense restoration process.
  • During the restorative works, extensive traces of color were found on the 1359-1360 sculpture of Madonna with Child and Adoring Angels that is situated directly above the door. This extensive damage can be attributed to natural degradation and previous restoration interventions. Investigations of the sculptures at the Duomo Florence revealed that a layer of brown oxalate was in touch with the marble sculptures, which was further covered by a coating of fluorosilicates, in the 1950s. The brown layer was protective and played a significant role in maintaining and preserving the marble sculpture at the cathedral. 

Duomo Florence today

Today, Duomo Florence is one of the most visited attractions in the city of Florence. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, the Duomo Florence is the fourth-largest cathedral in Europe. 

Home to more than one thousand artworks and forty-four stained glass windows, the Duomo Florence is one of the most popular attractions in Florence. The Duomo an iconic landmark that is considered to be one of the most important churches in the world of Christianity as well as one the most stunning works of Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture.




Book Tickets to Duomo Florence

Frequently asked questions about Duomo Florence history

When was the Duomo of Florence constructed?

Construction of the Duomo Florence began in 1296 and was completed by 1436.

What is the significance of the Florence Cathedral in Italian history?

The Florence Cathedral was built on the site of the seventh-century Santa Reparata Church, which is believed to be one of the earliest Christian churches in the world. Even today, the Florence Cathedral is believed to be one of the most important churches of Christianity.

Are there any historical figures associated with the Duomo?

Yes, several historical figures are associated with the Duomo in Florence. Filippo Brunelleschi, an innovative architect, played a pivotal role in designing the iconic dome. Arnolfo di Cambio, the first capomaestro, initiated the cathedral's construction. These figures, along with others, left lasting impacts on the history and architecture of the Duomo.

How has the Duomo Florence evolved over the years?

The Duomo Florence has undergone significant evolution over the years. Originating with the construction of Santa Maria del Fiore in 1296, the cathedral replaced the older San Reparata. Construction challenges, capomaestros' contributions, and the missing dome dilemma marked its growth. Filippo Brunelleschi's innovative dome design in 1418 transformed its architecture. The addition of the Campanile bell tower (1359) and Baptistry (1059) contributed to its complex evolution, shaping it into the iconic symbol of Florence it is today. Despite critiques of its interior, the Duomo remains a testament to architectural innovation and historical significance.

How old is Duomo Florence?

Duomo Florence is around 600 years old.

How many years did it take to build Duomo Florence?

It took around two centuries, that is two hundred years, to build Duomo Florence.

How did the construction of the Duomo impact Renaissance architecture?

The Duomo Florence is one of the most exemplary examples of Goth and Italian Renaissance architecture. To date, architects still study Duomo Florence to understand the Renaissance period.

What was the Duomo Florence before it was a historical landmark?

Before it became a historical landmark, the site of the Duomo Florence was occupied by an older church called San Reparata. The decision to build the new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, was made in 1296 as a replacement for San Reparata. The construction marked a period of significant urban transformation for Florence.

Who designed the dome of the Florence Cathedral?

The red-tiled and octagonal-shaped dome of the Florence Cathedral was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.

How has the Florence Cathedral been preserved and restored over time?

Repeated restoration and preservation works have been carried out at the Florence Cathedral. The most recent preservation works of the Florence Cathedral include the restoration and preservation of the Porta Dei Cornacchini, the doorway located on the north side of the nave of the Florence Cathedral. 

Where is Duomo Florence located?

The Duomo Florence is located at Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy.

What is Duomo Florence famous for?

Duomo Florence is famous for its Gothic and Italian Renaissance architectural styles. The Duomo Florence is the fourth largest cathedral in the world and is considered to be one of the most important churches of Christianity.

How much does it cost to visit Duomo Florence?

A visit to Duomo Florence can cost you anywhere between €15-€46, depending on the type of ticket that you purchase.

Is it worth visiting Duomo Florence?

Yes, the Duomo Florence is a must-visit attraction in Florence! Duomo Florence is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Florence and should be on your itinerary. Not only is Duomo Florence known for its stunning Gothic and Italian Renaissance architectural style, but it is also one of the most important churches of Christianity in the world.

What events or incidents have shaped the history of the Duomo Florence?

Several events and milestones have shaped the history of the Duomo Florence:
- Foundation and Construction (Before 1296 - 1366): The decision to build Santa Maria del Fiore, replacing the older San Reparata, marked a period of urban transformation. Construction began in 1296, with various capomaestros overseeing the project, including Arnolfo di Cambio.
- Competition for the Dome (1366 - 1418): After decades of progress, the cathedral faced the challenge of constructing the dome without centering or external buttressing. In 1418, a competition was organized, and Filippo Brunelleschi's innovative and self-supporting dome design secured victory.
- Brunelleschi's Dome (1420 Onward): Brunelleschi's groundbreaking design featured a double-shell dome, addressing construction challenges. The exterior mimicked the 1366 model, while the interior utilized a hemispherical dome. Despite multifaceted challenges, Brunelleschi completed the dome by 1436.
- Construction of Bell Tower (1359 Onward): The Campanile, or bell tower, adjacent to the cathedral, was completed in 1359. It showcased complex engineering with octagonal buttresses, graduated orders, and openings for bell operation.
- Evolution of Baptistry (Before 1059 - 15th Century): The Baptistry, symbolizing faith in Florence, preceded the cathedral. Initially built in 897, it underwent reconstruction in 1059, featuring a unique design with a white and green marble exterior.

Are there guided tours explaining Duomo Florence’s history?

Yes, there are guided tours that will tell you about Duomo Florence’s history. You can choose from the Florence Duomo Express Guided Tour and the Guided Tour of Florence Duomo with the Cupola Climb experience.