EXPLORE FLORENCE’S GRAND CATHEDRAL AND BRUNELLESCHI’S DOME

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More than 600 years after its construction, Santa Maria del Fiore’s red brick dome remains the tallest building in Florence and stands as one of the most iconic landmarks in both Europe and the world.

Il Duomo

The Florence cathedral, known simply as Il Duomo (the Dome) to locals, is eclipsed in size only by St. Paul’s in London and St. Peter’s at the Vatican. Originally built according to the Gothic-style design of architect Arnolfo di Cambio, Santa Maria del Fiore was finished in the mid 14th century — except minus a roof! It seems di Cambio and the city bit off a little more than they could chew in designing a cathedral of such grand proportions — no one at the time knew how to build a dome large enough to cover it. For decades to come parishioners of Santa Maria del Fiore would have to make do without a roof on their church.

Enter Italian designer and architect Filippo Brunelleschi to solve this architectural conundrum. His solution: two concentric shells, essentially two domes — one seen from within and one on the outside, joined together by ribs. Such was the genius of Brunelleschi that he even invented his own series of pulleys and hoists to carry building materials to such heights, as none were available at the time. After 16 years of toil and labor, the dome was finished in 1436 — being consecrated in March of that year by Pope Eugenius IV. After finishing touches were put on, in the form of the bell tower and lantern, the dome measured 375 feet in height with a diameter of 140 feet — truly a man-made marvel and an astonishing accomplishment for the time.

Facts and Tips for visiting Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo):

Be sure to check out the statues of Arnolfo di Cambio and Filippo Brunelleschi outside and just to the right of the cathedral. Both can be seen gazing upon their handiwork.

The cathedral’s stained glass windows are designs by Donatello, Andrea del Castagno, and Paolo Uccello.

The recently restored frescoes on the interior of the dome depict the Final Judgment, as painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.

Up for a little exercise? Climb to the top of the dome via an internal stairway — all 463 steps of it! It’s quite a haul, but along the way you’ll have a close in view of the frescoes ending with a spectacular view of the city from the dome’s lantern.

Admission to the cathedral is free. Lines can be quite long but they do move fairly quickly.

There is an admission fee (about €3.00) for the excavated site below the crypt. The remains of a much older Roman-era church lay here as well burial markers and artifacts. Filippo Brunelleschi’s tomb is also located in the crypt.

Adjacent to the cathedral is the Opera Duomo Museum. As the cathedral has gone through several renovations over the centuries, several artworks have been moved here. Among the museums collection are masterworks by the likes of Arnolfo, Ghiberti, Donatello, Verrocchio, and Michelangelo.

Explore Florence’s iconic landmarks on a cruise to Europe with Holland America Line.