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Piazza del Duomo is located in the heart of the historic center of Florence, Italy and is one of the most visited place in the Europe and the world. Kelly Saunders on a historical mission for Qompendium.
Envision a structure so distinctly dominant in size and meticulous in detail that it draws you toward it with a spellbinding pull, the slate streets all lead in its direction and it commands a jaw dropping reaction. It’s the focal point and you’re constantly sentient of it. The Duomo winks at you from around corners, over the bridges and standing on the hilltops of Piazzale Michelangelo. This is how one would convey the dramatic persuasian of the Duomo in Firenze (Florence), Italy.
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the official name of this edifice, appropriately positioned in the heart beat of Florence city center. The cathedral itself was started in original Gothic form by Arnolfo di Cambio and worked on by countless sculptures for centuries until one particular goldsmith/sculpture submitted a conceptual brick model and accompanying blueprints which inspired the Florentine’s to rethink the existing technique and create a structure based on Roman influence with a chic Renaissance flair.
Filippo Brunelleschi’s proposal was accepted and initiated in 1420, which means from the birth of this massive project to present day has been approximately 675 years ago. Brunelleschi’s dome was built on a two layer shell system shielding it from weather conditions and giving it the impressive domed appearance. A tour is currently offered which allows you to climb within the stone walls, up the winding staircases to the top enabling you to view such structural design techniques and incredible city views.
The secrets of the cupola are apparently out and documents depicting the different phases of construction are being published online for the public to view here. Produced after fifteen years of passionate research by Florentine scholars this massive collection of over twenty-thousands documents shows us how the building was constructed, the detailed precision behind the project and possibly the architect’s conceptual ideas.
Giorgio Vasari was commissioned by Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany to paint the elaborate frescoes on the ceiling of the Duomo in 1572 and decided to depict an original portrayal of the Last Judgment. Vasari was also known for the Ponte Vecchio in which he created secret tunnels for the Duke to pass through allowing him to travel from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Ponte Vecchio undetected. These secret passageways were also the rendezvous point for Hitler and Mussolini whereby creating the Pact of Steel between Germany and Italy. After only completing the uppermost level of the ceiling, Vasari passed away in 1574 leaving an incomplete project in the hands of Federico Zaccari. Their styles differed immensely but the result was the same…impeccable drawings with a deep history behind them.
Brunelleschi was not the only notable designer on the project. The Baptistery, located opposite the Duomo, showcases the famous bronzed doors of Lorenzeo Ghiberti also known as the Gates of Paradise. Ghiberti was an Italian sculptor, goldsmith, writer and architect who ingenuously formed the famous bronze panels which painstakingly took twenty-seven years to complete. Each panel was carefully modeled in the “lost” wax process, covered with a liquid plaster and clay mixture, baked until the wax dripped down, leaving in its stead a perfect mold to pour the bronze into. After several days of cooling, the clay and plaster were removed and the bronze shape buffed to a beautiful shine. They were then ready for the intricate carving to begin, which took many years of detailed chiseling to complete. They would then be ready for the gold-mercury solution which was applied to each panel and the fumes were baked off giving them the golden appearance they have today. Each panel details certain pivotal biblical moment such as Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, David & Goliath and more. The original slats are now housed in a museum but the replicas standing in their place are striking nonetheless.
Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower) was designed by Giotto di Bondone when he was sixty-seven years old and finally finished by Freancesco Talenti. This impressive tower soars to the heavens at 276 feet tall and getting to the top is equally as remarkable with an impressive view of the Duomo. Giotto’s Tower was more decorative than functional and the marble meticulously designed and placed to give the tower an airy, light effect but still retained the Gothic style.
Donatello, one of the most influential artists in the world, created many elaborate sculptures which adorn the chapel, basilica, campanile and square to this day. It is said that Donatello and Michelangelo were rivals and Donatello was commissioned for these projects as Michelangelo was not. There is the head of the bull oddly placed on the left side of the Duomo and legend says that this was positioned there by the workers to signify the burden and heavy weight endured. But many young architects today are told that as a prank Michelangelo and some friends placed the bust of the bull on the Duomo. There was a celebratory party to mark the end of one phase of the Duomo project and Michelangelo arrived. Since he was not invited, many people asked…Why are you here? You were not invited? You did not work on this project. And to that Michelangelo replied …Yes I did …see there, and pointed to the bull.
Every aspect of this magnificent dome has a significant influence and impact on the Florentines and everyone who is lucky enough to find themselves in its presence. There are countless secrets, legends, discoveries and historical moments locked in the stones. Being one of the most monumental structures I have ever encountered in my world of travels the Duomo stayed with me and I can still feel the pull and desire to return.
Words and Photography by Kelly Saunders