The Cathedral or Duomo of Florence as we see it today is the end result of years of work that covered over six centuries of history. Its basic architectural project was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio at the end of the 13th century; the cupola that has made it a symbol for the whole of Tuscany was created by that genius of the Renaissance, Filippo Brunelleschi, while the facade that completed it was carried out as late as the late 19th century.
In 1293 the flourishing republic of Florence decided to set a status symbol and to build the most beautiful and biggest cathedral of all time. Florence Dome was begun in 1296 as the third and last Florentine cathedral and it was given the name of Santa Maria del Fiore (Holy Mary of the Flower) in 1412 in clear allusion to the lily symbol of the city. It was built on top of a second cathedral, which early Christian Florence had dedicated to Santa Reparata and which remained in activity for nine centuries, until orders were given to demolish it in 1375.
The construction of the fully self-supporting, octagonal ribbed cupola with a height of 91 metres (114.5 with lantern) and a span of 45 metres by the ingenious architect Filippo Brunelleschi was one of the most challenging and imposing tasks of the Renaissance. The construction was begun in 1420 and took 14 years to complete. Two years later the lantern was placed in position and the church was consecrated. The elaborately decorated marble facade dates from the 19th century.
A whole series of structural and decorative interventions to both the exterior and the interior that were to enrich the history of the Cathedral of Florence were carried out throughout decades: these range from the construction of the two sacristies to the 16th century marble flooring, and from the execution of the sculptures to the frescoes, signed by Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno, Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari (the Last Judgement in the cupola).
When Giotto was nominated overseer for the building site in 1334 and was commissioned to continue the construction, instead of concentrating on developing Arnolfo di Cambio’s project for the Cathedral, Giotto preferred to create something of his very own: the Belltower.
The artist worked from 1334 to 1337, the year of his death, and Andrea Pisano took over, to be replaced in his turn in 1348 by Francesco Talenti, who completed the tower in 1359 and delivered it to the city as we see it today.
Andrea Pisano also carried out the first of the three great bronze doors of St. John’s Baptistery (one of Florence’s oldest buildings located in front of the Cathedral), while Lorenzo Ghiberti designed and made north of doors and east doors known as the “Gates of Paradise”, between 1401 and 1452.
The final touches that still awaited completion of the Cathedral were the lantern (mounted in 1461) and the external revestment in white Carrara, green Prato and red Siena marble, which, according to the directions of Arnolfo, was to repeat the facings of the Baptistery and the Belltower and give uniformity to the style of the square, and, last of all, the facade.Â However it was necessary to wait until 1886 before this was carried out.
At its completion in 1436 the Cathedral, with a length of 153 metres and a width of 38 metres was the biggest church in Europe and considered to be one of the most expensive buildings in the world. Today it is, after St.Peter’s Church in Rome, St. Paula’s Cathedral in London and the cathedral in Milan, the fourth biggest church of Christendom.
The magnificent cathedral became a landmark of Florence and from the lantern offers a fascinating view over the city.