World ? Europe ? Italy ? Florence

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence. Photo by Paola Ghirotti, ũ Fototeca ENIT

Hours: Mon-Wed & Fri 10am-5pm; Thu until 3.30pm; Sat until 4.45pm; Sun 1.30pm-4.45pm
Cost: Free
Link: Opera Duomo Website
Florence's Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, was begun in 1296 and still today dominates the city centre, topped by Brunelleschi's iconic dome. The vast interior features frescoes, including one of the famed English mercenary, Sir John Hawkwood.
Arnolfo di Cambio directed the construction of the cathedral which was subjected to numerous modifications under the auspices of the Wool Guild and many architects, including Giotto di Bondone (who concentrated on the bell tower) and Francesco Talenti (who finished up to the drum of the dome and in the process enlarged Arnolfo's original plan).

For centuries a symbol of Florence, the dome was described by Leon Battista Alberti as "a structure so immense, so steeply rising toward the sky, that it covers all Tuscans with its shadow". However, at the time of construction, the dome posed a real challenge in that it would have to hold up under its own weight and after several unfeasible suggestions, it was Brunelleschi's proposal to be given the go-ahead.

The key to his revolutionary plan was to built the dome in two shells, with the inner one thicker than the outer, both thinning as they neared the top, thus leaving the centre hollow and removing a good deal of the weight. Brunelleschi also planned to construct the dome of giant vaults with ribs crossing over them, allowing the walls to support themselves as they were built. Such was his achievement that his body is the only one ever buried under his ingenious structure.

The last part of Santa Maria del Fiore to be finished was the facade, completed between 1871 and 1887 to Emilio De Fabris' design, in a neo-gothic style reminiscent of the gothic decoration of the Bell Tower and side portals of the cathedral.

The frescoes inside, designed by Giorgio Vasari and mainly painted by his student Zuccari, have recently been restored, revealing the student's innovative colour palette.
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