The stone jewel of Florence – the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) is the most recognizable landmark in Florence. A magnificently decorated example of Gothic art in Italy and at the same time a symbol of Florence. Its reddish dome and towering bell tower are visible from almost every corner of the city.

Construction of the cathedral took more than a century. It took a number of architects. And not in vain – today the “flower of St. Mary”, as the name of the cathedral is translated, is striking with its royal grace and monumentality.

History of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

As conceived by the architects, the cathedral in Florence was to surpass Pisa and Siena in its magnificence and scale. Thus, to become the main cathedral of Tuscany.

The cathedral was built on the site where the ancient Roman temple and, after it, the Church of Santa Reparata used to stand.

The construction of the cathedral began back in 1296 on the project of Arnolfo di Cambio. Under the direction of this architect, the main part of the building was built.

The bell tower by the architect Giotto

After Cambio’s death in 1302, the work on the cathedral was entrusted to the famous architect Giotto. He built the bell tower and designed sketches of the building’s facades. Unfortunately Giotto could not complete the construction work, because in 1337 he died.

Then a plague broke out in Florence and work on the cathedral was postponed again. Construction began only in the 15th century, when the construction of the walls of the cathedral was completed.

It would seem that finally the cathedral was practically built. But there was still the most important thing – the dome.

Dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

The fact is that it was technically impossible to erect the dome at a great height, and to raise the finished dome upwards was also not an easy task.

A unique at that time method of raising the dome on top of the cathedral was proposed by architect Filippo Brunelleschi. According to his calculations, it was sufficient to use a special system of consoles, consisting of 24 vertical and 6 horizontal belts. At the top of the dome was installed tower-laterna – the work of the architect Michelozzo.

All in all, the work of creating and installing the dome on the cathedral took 16 years! Finally, the octagonal dome, amazing in its size, became the main decoration of the beautiful cathedral.

To visit the observation deck of the dome one has to climb 463 steps. The entrance is on the north side of the cathedral.

However, the construction of the cathedral was not yet finished. After the suspension of work on the interior and facade decoration began only in the 19th century. Completely the cathedral was built only in 1887.

Architecture of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

The cathedral looks very bright and colorful thanks to the richly decorated facade. A large number of sculptural elements, visible from afar, give the temple a special memorable look.

Facade

Emilio de Fabris was in charge of decorating the facades. It was his idea to use vertical and horizontal marble panels to decorate the facade. The main colors were pink, white and green.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Photo: vvoe / Shutterstock.com

The shape of the cathedral resembles a Latin cathedral with two transepts and an apse in the shape of a semicircle, and has three naves. The building reaches 153 meters in length, 90 meters in width and height. Cathedral is truly amazing with its size!

Central entrance

The main entrance itself is a stunning piece of Neo-Gothic art. The main gate is made of bronze and is richly decorated with a variety of relief compositions – scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.

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At the front of the main entrance is a bas-relief of the Virgin Mary on a throne by the sculptor Tito Sarocchi.

The fresco with the Madonna holding the lily adorns the arch above the main entrance.

Interior

Inside Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, the rich interior is eye-catching: compositional elements in the Italian Gothic style predominate. There are various arches, lancet arches, galleries, and numerous pilasters on the walls.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Photo: V_E / Shutterstock.com

The interior space of the cathedral strikes the imagination with its size and simultaneous laconic decoration. There is not such a huge number of decorative and sculptural elements as outside.

The most striking features are the colorful stained-glass windows in the arches of the aisles and transepts. The 44 fascinating stained-glass windows depict scenes from the lives of the saints, Christ and the Mother of God.

The vaults of the cathedral contain unique frescoes from the 15th century. They depict famous Florentines: Giovanni Arcuto, Dante Alighieri, Nicolo da Tollentino. You can also see busts made by Arnolfo di Cambio, Brunneleschi, and Giotto di Bondone.

And on top, under the cathedral’s dome, a real marvel of painting is revealed – a delightful 16th-century painting by Federico Zuccari and Giorgio Vasari. The tiered painting depicts scenes from the Last Judgment, beginning with Hell and ending with a depiction of the Virgin Mary and the saints.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Photo: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

The main religious treasure of the cathedral is the urn with the relics of St. Zinovius of Florence, which was discovered in the 14th century in the ruins of the ancient Santa Reparata Church.

Of particular interest are the original reverse clock made in 1443 by Paolo Uccello.

The floor in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore deserves special attention. It was made in the 16th century by several sculptors.

Crypt

The crypt of the cathedral contains the tombs of Florentine priests. Here is also the tomb of the creator of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, Filippo Brunelleschi, and the tomb of Giotto, another architect of the cathedral.

Duomo Museum

Not far from the cathedral, the Duomo Museum (Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore) deserves special attention. It is the former workshop of Brunelleschi, the architect of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and was opened as a museum in 1891.

The museum displays numerous models and a design drawing of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore made by Brunelleschi.

Many ornaments and famous Florentine sculptures of the 15th century, transferred here from the cathedral, are also preserved here. Among them is the sculpture “The Prophet Abbacoum” by Donatello. Donatello, the statue of Mary Magdalene penitent, the statue of Pope Boniface VIII by Arnolfo di Cambio, and the unfinished sculpture of the Pietà, on which Michelangelo worked.

How to get to the cathedral

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is located in the central part of Florence at Piazza del Duomo. It is also home to the Baptistery of San Giovanni, built in the 5th century, and the Giotto Bell Tower, which can be climbed.

It’s easy to find the cathedral – it’s visible from a distance and there are always a lot of tourists near it. If you go by bus, any bus that goes to the Cathedral Square will do.

Hours of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

The cathedral is open to the public:

  • Monday through Saturday – 10:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m;
  • Sunday from 13.30 to 16.30.

The schedule depends on the season and may change during special events. Check the official website for specific dates.

The cathedral’s dome observation deck can be reached by climbing:

  • Monday through Friday – 8:15 a.m. to 7:30 p.m;
  • on Saturday – from 8.15 to 17.15;
  • on Sunday – from 12.45 to 17.15.
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The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. every day. Closed every first Tuesday of the month.

Visiting costs

Entrance to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is free! So there is no need to buy a ticket if you only want to see the cathedral. Feel free to stand in line at the entrance, which moves rather quickly, and don’t worry about tickets.

As of 2022, to see the other sights in the square, you need to buy one of the combined tickets, which are valid for 3 days from the chosen date of visit.

The exception is the climb to the Brunelleschi Dome, which is only available at the time designated on the ticket.

Combination ticket types:

  • Brunelleschi Pass : San Giovanni Baptistery, Brunelleschi Dome, Giotto Bell Tower, Duomo Opera Museum and Santa Reparata Church. Cost:
    • 30 Euros for adults,
    • 12 Euros for children from 7 to 14 years old,
    • Free for children up to 6 years old.
    • 20 Euros for adults,
    • 7 Euros for children from 7 to 14 years old,
    • Free for children up to 6 years old.
    • 15 Euros for adults,
    • 5 Euros for children from 7 to 14 years old,
    • Free for children up to 6 years old.

    On the official website of the Duomo in Florence www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it you can clarify the information and buy a ticket in advance, which you will receive by e-mail. Be sure to print it out to show it at the entrance.

    Tours of Florence

    If you want something a little more interesting than a traditional walk around the city on a map, try a new format of sightseeing. In modern times, more and more popular are unusual excursions from locals! After all, who better than a local knows the history and the most interesting places in Florence?

    You can see all the tours and choose the most intriguing on the Tripster website.

    Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

    Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (La Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore)

    Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a Florentine temple, one of the most important monuments of Italian and world architecture. The history of its construction is linked to the iconic names for art – di Cambio, Giotto, Brunelleschi. Conceived as the cathedral of the city at the end of the 13th century it was built and reconstructed up to the beginning of the 20th century. The mosaics, frescos, carved doors and bas-reliefs amaze the visitors with the magnificent Italian marble facade cladding, stained glass windows, mosaics and frescos. Located in Piazza Duomo, along with the baptistery and Giotto’s bell tower, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is among the UNESCO-protected monuments of Florence’s historic center.

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    History of the famous long-lived building

    As early as the fifth century, the church of St. Reparata, who was martyred in the third century, was built on the site of the future temple. Together with St. Zinovius, the martyr became the patroness of Florence. Because of the imperfect building technology by the XIII century the cathedral was just falling apart from the old age, besides, it could no longer accommodate all wishing to attend the service. The main cathedrals of Siena and Pisa had the same problem, and new, more spacious churches began to be built in these cities. Florence, always in competition with its neighbors, immediately entered the race. The project was commissioned to Arnolfo di Cambio, who had already built the Basilica of Santa Croce and who later added Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall, to his list of masterpieces.

    The architect designed a building consisting of three nave divisions under an octagonal dome. The central nave rested on the foundations of the Church of Santa Reparata. The first stone of the future temple was solemnly laid by the papal envoy Valerian in 1296. Construction proceeded vigorously until 1310, then di Cambio died, and the pace slowed dramatically for 30 years. Santa Maria del Fiore awaited the fate of the cathedrals of Pisa and Siena, never completed had it not been for a suspiciously timely discovery. In the ruins of Santa Reparata were discovered the remains of St. Zinovius, the city’s first bishop. Immediately, inspired by the miracle, sponsors were found – a guild of wool merchants. They hired Giotto, who had already become popular. He continued di Cambio’s project in the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and built an unusual bell tower with bright marble cladding nearby. After Giotto’s death, his assistant Andrea Pisano carried out the master’s ideas until the pandemic plague swept through Europe. When the continent recovered from the many deaths, the work was carried out by lesser-known specialists.

    Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in the XV century

    Only by 1418 the builders had dealt with the main body – they were left to erect the dome. At the same time the city authorities announced a competition to renew the doors of the XII century baptistery standing nearby. The competition was won by Lorenzo Ghiberti, the bronze doors of the baptistery were the best of the master’s career. Filippo Brunelleschi took part in the competition along with him, but he lost, but later he was allowed to take on a more ambitious project – the construction of the dome over the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction began in 1420. On March 25, 1436, the cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV. The date was not chosen randomly: according to the Florentine calendar until 1750, the Annunciation at the end of March was the day of the beginning of the new year.

    History of exterior decoration and interior of the church

    The building’s facade was decorated from the 15th to the 19th century, while the floor was paved with marble tiles in the 16th century. Finishing material was taken from the best Italian deposits: white marble was brought from Carrara, green – from Prato, red – from Siena. The interiors and facades were decorated by sculptures by Donatello and other Florentines. Paolo Uccello, Donatello and Gaddi were invited to furnish the stained glass windows. Continuous construction work did not interfere with the turbulent church life. In the XV century, the XVII Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church took place in the church of Santa Maria del Fiore, when Western theologians unsuccessfully tried to enter into an alliance with the Orthodox. Savonarola preached his sermons within its walls, here rebels murdered Lorenzo the Magnificent’s brother and nearly stabbed the duke himself.

    Architectural features of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

    The splendor of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which reaches 153 meters in length, 38 meters in width, and 90 meters at the cross, is astonishing. The building’s arches are 23 meters high and the cathedral with its dome and cross is 114.5 meters high. Today the temple is a spectacular building with rich decorations, the visual center of Florence, but contemporaries perceived it differently. Each new stage of construction was a revelation in the history of architecture. Arnolfo di Cambio achieved unprecedented proportions, Giotto rejected medieval proportions and incorporated the first Renaissance elements into the design, Brunelleschi created a huge brick-clad dome without using a complex scaffolding system.

    In contrast, the nineteenth-century architects who completed the facade of Santa Maria del Fiore sought to stay within the framework of tradition and work in harmony with the old masters.

    Facade and main entrance

    The design of the façade is attributed to Giotto, although in fact the decoration work began two centuries later. It is the collective work of several masters, among them Andrea Orcagna and Taddeo Gaddi. They built the entrance part of the temple extremely slowly, in the end the Tuscan Duke Francesco I ordered Bernardo Buontalenti to dismantle the finished wall at all, because it did not correspond to the Renaissance concept of beauty. Some of the sculptures that originally adorned it later ended up in the museum behind the cathedral, some in the Berlin Museum and the Louvre. This was not the end of the misadventures of the front wall: the contractors and the city authorities quarreled over money, and until the 19th century the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore stood bare until Emilio de Fabris began to design it. He created a neo-Gothic façade of white, green and red marble dedicated to the Virgin Mary. His colleagues generally approved of the work, although some found the main entrance to the cathedral overly decorative.

    In the front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, visitors see three massive bronze doors by Augusto Passaglia, installed at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and decorated with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. The semicircular lunettes above the entrances are lined with mosaics designed by Nicolo Barabino, a 19th-century religious artist. In keeping with Renaissance tradition, he included in the subjects of the mosaics not only the figures of Christ, Mary and John the Baptist, but also images of Florentine artists, patrons of the arts, scholars and merchants. A bas-relief by his contemporary Tito Sarrocchi, of the Virgin Mary on a throne with a scepter adorned with flowers, is on the pediment of the central door. At the top of the facade is a series of niches with the 12 apostles; in the center is the Madonna and Child. At the very top of the building, between the rose window and the triangular tympanum, are busts of great Florentine artists.

    The dome of Santa Maria del Fiore

    The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore had been without a dome for more than a hundred years since construction began. There were several reasons for the delay: trivial lack of funds, problems with materials, and, finally, and most importantly, no one knew how to build a dome of such magnitude that it would not collapse and kill the builders and parishioners. Gothic half arches, which took some of the weight, were considered obsolete by this time. The architects wanted to achieve the simplicity and lightness of the dome of the Roman Pantheon, made of cement using lost technology. Brunelleschi studied the experience of antiquity, but came to the conclusion that there would not be enough wood reserves from all over Tuscany to furnish the scaffolding. Relying on his own intuition, he decided to use chain arches of stone and iron, holding the octagonal dome firmly in place. On the inner ribs of the dome, recesses were installed for the platforms that replaced the scaffolding. Facing bricks were also laid unconventionally, herringbone, otherwise the parts would fall down until the mortar would set. The builders needed a total of 4 million bricks, and the architect invented a special machine to lift them to the dome. After Brunelleschi’s death the finishing work remained to be completed. A copper ball from Verrocchio’s workshop was placed atop the dome. It is believed that an apprentice named Leonardo da Vinci took part in its manufacture.

    Interior of the cathedral

    Many elements of the decor have been lost over time or moved to the cathedral museum, including the choir pulpits by Donatello and Luca della Robbia. Some frescoes were transferred to canvases in the nineteenth century to avoid loss, such as the image of Dante reading the Divine Comedy to Florence by Domenico di Michelino. Outstanding tombstones are housed inside the cathedral – these are pictorial equestrian statues of the condottieri Niccolò Tolentino by Andrea del Castagno and John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello. Above the main entrance is a liturgical clock by Paolo Uccello with 24 digits on the dial.

    The walls are decorated with 44 stained glass windows from the 14th and 15th centuries. One of the oldest, by Gaddo Gaddi, depicts Christ crowning Mary and is located directly above the clock. From the nave we can see only one stained-glass window by Donatello, dedicated to the coronation of the Virgin. The dome, according to Brunelleschi’s plan, was to be covered with gilding on the inside, but then they decided to save money and limit themselves to whitewashing. Later its surface was painted by a team of artists, including Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccaro, in various techniques.

    The crypt of the cathedral

    Extensive archaeological excavations in the 1960s and 1970s showed how the cathedral of Santa Reparata with its early medieval mosaic multicolored floor and Santa Maria del Fiore successively succeeded each other. In the crypt, the cathedral’s dungeon, is the simple tomb of Filippo Brunelleschi. In addition to the architect, there are buried in the temple Zinovius of Florence, the first bishop of Florence, Conrad II, medieval king of Germany and Italy, Giotto, who became the first figure of the Proto-Renaissance, and several medieval popes. Incidentally, the legend of Giotto’s burial in the cathedral has held steady since the artist’s death, but his remains have never been found, nor have the graves of Arnolfo di Cambio and Andrea Pisano. Since 1974 the crypt has been open to the public for a fee.

    Information for tourists

    Entrance to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is free, through the right door of the central facade, and is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 19:00, and on Saturday from 8:30 to 17:40. The actual schedule is arbitrary, depending both on the schedule of church services and on the weather – it is forbidden to climb the dome in strong winds. It is advisable to consult the official site of the Duomo for details. Wheelchair users can enter the cathedral from the right side of the building. All facilities – toilets, checkrooms, and cafes – are located in the museum.

    Sightseeing for a fee

    Visit the dome and crypt of the crypt is paid – a complex ticket costs 15 euros, for children 6-11 years – 3 euros. It entitles for 6 days from the date of purchase to see the sights of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the bell tower on the right side of the temple, the baptistery in front of its main entrance and the museum behind it. The ticket is valid for 48 hours from the time of admission to the first site; you cannot see the same thing twice. To climb the 463-step staircase to the dome, you must book a time in advance. If you do not arrive on time, you cannot reschedule your visit – there are too many people who want to be on the best observation deck in Florence.

    How to get there

    Finding the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is not difficult, as it is the most imposing building in the historic center of Florence. To reach it from Santa Maria Novella train station, get off at Via Panzani and then turn onto Via Cerretani. From Florence airport to the train station, take the shuttle Volainbus, that runs from 5:30 to 0:30 (from 5:30 to 21:30 buses leave every half hour, from 20:30 to 0:30 buses leave every hour; travel time is about 20 minutes, ticket costs 6 euro). If you are going from outlying areas, you can take buses number 6, 14, 17, 22, 23, 36, 37, 71.

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