History of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo in Florence Italy

Standing tall at the heart of historic Florence, the spectacular Duomo marks the spot for Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Featuring beautiful terracotta roles, this dome is the most iconic symbol in Florence and one of the largest churches in Europe.

Also known as the Duomo Cathedral, this majestic structure set the scene for the Italian Renaissance and went on to inspire a legion of architects and artists on the continent. Moreover, the cathedral was built in dedication to the Virgin of Flowers and remains an important landmark for both locals and tourists. In fact, the nearby bell tower and baptistery are both among the most visited attractions in the city.

The Duomo is the most recognizable building in Florence and a must see on a visit to the city.

History of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Santa Reparata Cathedral once stood in the place of this magnificent structure which was eventually built on top of the 4th century remains. Arnolfo di Cambio designed the initial building back in 1296 and as you might have guessed, an immense dome was to be the main feature. However, Filippo Brunelleschi won the commission of the original construction after fending off a number of prominent artists and architects in ancient Florentine.

Featuring red, white and green polychrome panels, the initial cathedral was a unique sight to behold but this was eventually replaced in 1874 with a new facade designed by Emilio Fabris. During the 14th and 19th century, this design was complete and the majestic dome has been infamous ever since.

Incredibly, this marvelous duomo stretches for just over five hundred feet in length, and 295 feet in width, while the tallest point of the dome is 295 feet high. In fact, this was the biggest church on the planet until St Peter’s Basilica was constructed back in 1615.

Now, that’s not to say size is the most impressive aspect of the dome, for this was also one of the most incredible feats of engineering and architecture at the time. Many experts believed it would be impossible to construct a dome of this size but Brunelleschi had a wealth of knowledge and experience to get the job done. In fact, the architect was a genius when it came to geometry and physics and his brilliant was enough to convince authorities to proceed with the commission.

il Duomo: Controversy Over Construction

Filippo Brunelleschi had very ambitious plans for il Duomo but the truth is, these were mostly seen as controversial. For example, the outer and inner shells were to be bonded together using a rib and ring system, with a herringbone pattern to stop bricks of the dome from falling apart. Although these techniques are common in modern construction, this was revolutionary at the time.

Work eventually commenced on the dome in 1420 and a beautiful lantern was placed on top of the conical roof but it was not until after Brunelleschi died that the dome was finished. Later, Andrea del Verrocchio added a copper sphere and cross with holy relics and in 1579, a beautiful fresco was started by Giorgio Vasari called “The Last Judgement”.

Tips for Visiting Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (il Duomo)

The Best Time to Visit – The Duomo is open most days but you should check for more information on opening hours and buying tickets. What you should know about the Duomo is that this is still a place of worship and the correct clothing is recommended for a visit. In case you might be asking yourself, this means no short skirts, no shorts, no hats and no bare shoulders inside the building.

Buying Tickets – As mentioned, you should buy tickets prior to your visit and make a reservation for climbing the Duomo. Tickets cost €18 and this includes the dome, the baptistery, the campanile and the crypt.

Climbing the Duomo – Believe it or not, you can climb the Duomo and this not only offers great views of the city but also an opportunity to properly appreciate this magnificent piece of architecture. With 463 steps, the narrow corridors evoke images of ancient times and a truly unique encounter in the city of Florence.

Getting Up Close to the Last Judgement – After climbing the Duomo, you can walk around the base of the dome and get up close with the Last Judgment, the famous fresco mentioned above.

Visiting the Crypt of Santa Reparata – Step back in time and visit a 20th century archaeology site where the remains of the previous cathedral now sit. Although now in ruins, this is an incredible visual of early Christianity in Florence. Just so you know, access to the crypt is included in your ticket.

Check Out Saint John’s Baptistery – Construction of the baptistery began in 1059 which makes it one of the most ancient structures in Florence. Inside, you can explore the many mosaics and ancient furnishings, and witness the bronze doors that Michelangelo once called the “Gates of Paradise”.

Climb the Campanile – You will find this bell tower right next to the baptistery. The Campanile was designed by a famous artist named Giotto and was first constructed back in 1334. However, you will need to navigate 414 steps to the top via a very narrow staircase.

Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – More than one thousand works of art can be found in this fascinating museum and multiple exhibitions about the Duomo. Whether you yearn to see pieces by Michelangelo, Ghiberti, or Donatello, this work is entirely original and admission to the museum is sometimes included in the price of the ticket for il Duomo.

Duomo Resources:

Final Thoughts

Visiting the Duomo Cathedral is an absolute must-do in Florence, and is one of the first destinations of our clients who hire our services to obtain Italian citizenship. Whether you appreciate architecture or not, climbing the dome is a unique experience and it’s hard not to appreciate the sheer grandeur of the structure. At the same time, this attraction gets very busy so be prepared to mingle with other tourists and for the best experience possible, make sure that you buy your tickets in advance.