Climbing Florence’s Dome

800px-Il_Duomo_Florence_Italy

Florence’s Cathedral (and dome) at night — from Wikipedia; I don’t have any photos this good!

Although I have now (unfortunately) returned from my forays in beautiful Italia, I still have plenty to post! We took a phenomenal weekend trip to Florence and enjoyed delicious food (far better than Venice, I must say), art at the Uffizi, and gorgeous views from the top of Florence’s famous duomo (“dome”). The climb was a little rough — 463 steps in the most claustrophobic staircase I’ve ever experienced — but the views were well worth it. Some proof:

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binoculars

Florence is a small city — at least compared to Rome — and is nestled in the heart of Tuscany. As a result, the food lives up to its reputation and the city is full of Italian charm. Today, it is a hotspot for high-end shopping as well as art buffs. Historically, Florence was a  vital center of art, and many of the city’s talent painters, sculptors, and architects were pivotal players in the Italian renaissance. (Florence was also constantly in rivalry with Venice, but more on that later.) This history is critical in understanding Florence’s duomo.

uffizi

The Duomo as seen from the Uffizi Gallery.

So a little history, courtesy of my art history class (and because it’s actually an interesting story): Florence’s dome — a massive structure perched on top of the gorgeous church of Santa Maria del Fiore — was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, the winner of a design competition in 1418 (he’s also buried in the church’s crypts). Although the (octagonal) nave of the church was completed in 1380, a dome was never put in place until after the 1418 competition. Why? Because the architects had built a church so large that no engineer knew how to construct a dome so massive.

ingressoSide entrance to the church.

facadeFacade of Santa Maria del Fiore (“Saint Mary of the Flower”).

bell tower

The bell tower of the church — dwarfed by Brunelleschi’s dome, to put things in perspective.

Traditionally, engineers would use a beam from a large tree which spanned the width of the dome’s base. This beam was essential to construct because it gave workers a platform from which to suspend tools. Santa Maria del Fiore’s dome, however, was so wide that no tree could span its width. So construction was halted until 1418, when Brunelleschi surpassed all other architects (including his rival, Lorenzo Ghiberti, who had beat out Brunelleschi for a coveted contract to sculpt the doors of the church’s baptistry) with a genius structural plan: create a double dome. (*Okay, this is a simplification — there were many other architectural features that made Brunelleschi’s plan brilliant. But this is the core of it.) See a diagram below:

Brunelleshi-and-Duomo-of-Florence

Brunelleschi’s dome was finally built, and today a smaller dome is seen from inside the church, while a larger dome faces the outside. This shelled structure allowed workers to climb between the shells of the dome to finish construction — which is how we can climb to the top of the dome today. He also developed a new scaffolding system for workers to build inside the dome, which solved the problem of tool suspension.

buttress

One of the flying buttresses which support the top of the dome.

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The duomo was completed in 1436. At the time, it was the largest dome ever constructed and remains the largest brick dome in the world. It is both an architectural marvel and a testament to the ingenuity of Brunelleschi — and it’s also one of Florence’s greatest (literally) tourist attractions. Although not nearly as popular as the Uffizi gallery or the statue of David, the dome was the highlight of my weekend in Florence and well worth the historic climb.

view2Have you visited Florence or climbed Brunelleschi’s dome? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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6 thoughts on “Climbing Florence’s Dome

  1. Pingback: Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise: Florence Art History 101 | Vino Con Vista Italy Travel Guides and Events

  2. I adore Florence! We went for our honeymoon and climbed the duomo one day. It was definitely a work out but so worth it – such beautiful architecture and view at the top. Loved reading the history above. I liked Florence as a whole more than Rome and Venice. Awesome food like you say, so much charm and, to me, the perfect size 🙂 We rented a car one day and explored Tuscany and the coast as well – definitely the way to do it!

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