The ‘Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore’ which is also known as ‘Florence Cathedral’, is the primary church of the Italian city ‘Florence’. The Basilica is the mother church of the ‘Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence’ & is considered as the most loved tourist destinations in Florence.
This Gothic styled Basilica is considered as the fourth largest Basilica in the world & its magnificent dome holds the record of being the largest brick dome ever built. This Cathedral complex is located in ‘Piazza del Duomo’ & three buildings in this complex are crowned as the ‘UNESCO World Heritage Sites’. The ‘Cathedral of Florence’ dominates the Florence skyline & was named in commemoration of ‘Santa Maria del Fiore’ (St. Mary of the Flower).
History In Brief:
The spectacular Cathedral of Florence was designed by ‘Arnolfo di Cambio’ & was constructed on the site of the early 5th century church dedicated to ‘Santa Reparata’ (Saint Reparata).
By the 14th century, the aging church of ‘Santa Reparata’ had already reached to the miserable condition even after going through many restoration regimes previously. Moreover, the church was falling short to serve the surging population of Florence. Other Tuscany towns had already embarked upon the major restorations of their cathedrals in order to give them a grandeur appearance. These all factors, in unison, made the Florentines to crave for the grand Basilica on the same site where ‘Santa Reparata’ was standing!
The work started in 1294 when the city council approved the designs of ‘Arnolfo di Cambio’ who had experiences of constructing the church of ‘Santa Croce’ & the ‘Palazzo Vecchio’. The cornerstone of the Basilica was laid on September 9, 1296 by Cardinal Valeriana & the work then continued for next 140 years. The massive ‘Florence Cathedral’ is the result of the efforts put by the many generations of workers, artists as well as architects which saw the great expansion of Cambio’s original design although, the basic concept was kept intact.
The work had undergone through the command of a series of the architects. ‘Giotto’ was the first to take the charge after Cambio’s death in 1302 & was assisted by ‘Andrea Pissano’. ‘Giotto’ made his indelible mark in the history by constructing the ‘Campanile’. After his death, his deputy- Pisano took the charge, but an unfortunate incidence called ‘Black Death’ that transpired in 1348 resulted in the brief halt in the work. After resuming work in 1349, the baton of the ‘Chief Architect’ was received by ‘Francesco Talenti’ who passed it on to ‘Giovanni di Lapo Ghini’ followed by ‘Alberto Arnoldi’, ‘Giovanni d’Ambrogio’, ‘Neri di Fioravante’ & ‘Andrea Orcagna’, respectively.
The stupendous octagonal dome of the Basilica was constructed after accomplishment of almost entire construction. The dome was built by the master architecture ‘Filippo Brunelleschi’ who started working on it in 1420 & finished it by 1436. The Cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on March, 1436, although the façade was yet to be finished. The façade had to wait till 1887 to achieve its today’s spectacular getup whereas; its marble flooring was laid in the 16th century!
The ‘Florence Cathedral’ is truly an enormous architecture that houses a grand central nave of four square bays flanked by aisles on both the sides. The broad, tapering Gothic arches built on piers separate the nave & aisles. The Transepts & the chancel have given the Cathedral a ‘Cruciform’ shape. The Cathedral is 153 meters (502 ft) in length & 38 meters (124 ft) in width which gets broadened at the crossing reaching to 90 meters (295 ft). The arches in the aisles stand 23 meters (75 ft) high, whereas, its miraculous brick dome reaches to 114.5 meters.
The highly decorated façade is one of the major attractions of this marvelous structure. Although, the original designer of this facade was Cambio while Giotto played a decisive role in its construction, the valuable contribution from other artists such as Andrea Orcagna & Taddeo Gaddi was also remarkable. Several conspiracies & confusions related to the design kept it deserted till the 19th century. In 1876, the work finally began & was completed in 1887. The exterior walls are ornamented using the alternate vertical & horizontal bands of red, green & white colored polychrome marbles which get blended harmoniously with the Cathedral, Giotto’s Campanile & the adjacent Baptistery. The façade is adorned with six highly decorated lateral windows & delicately ornamented clerestory windows. The facade of the Cathedral is a sheer gem of architecture.
The miraculous octagonal dome by Brunelleschi is another piece of gem of this magnificent Cathedral. The top of the dome is covered using lantern topped by a gilt copper ball & cross containing the holy relics. The total height of the dome including its ornaments on top is 114.5 meters (375 ft). This phenomenal dome is still considered as the largest brick dome in the world that dazzles near the skyline of Florence!
The interior of the Cathedral is not highly decorated, contradicting its richly decorated exterior. The interior is pretty simple & stark as most of the decorations have been either transferred to the ‘Museo dell Opera del Duomo’ or lost in its lifetime. The internal surface of the dome is elaborately decorated with beautiful frescoes painted by the great artists- ‘Giorgio Vasari’ & ‘Federico Zuccari’. The enormous surface worth 3,600 sq. meters was painted with representations of ‘The Last Judgment’& ‘The 24 Elders of Apoc’.
The colossal clock hanged above the main door is a true masterpiece done by ‘Paolo Uccello’ that works according to the ‘Hora Italica’ wherein the 24th hour ends with the sunset. On top of that, 44 stained glass windows in the transept & in the aisles depicting the saints, beautify the interiors remarkably.
The vast crucifix situated behind the ‘Bishop’s Chair’ near the high altar was made by ‘Benedetto da Maiano’ whereas, the silver colored shrine containing the relics of St. Zanobius, Florence’s First Bishop, was made by ‘Ghiberti’. The Cathedral features a vast number of beautiful frescos & sculptures, many of which have been moved to the museum.
Many highly skilled & the greatest Florentine artists such as Donatello, Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno, Lorenzo Ghiberti etc. have demonstrated their best of work on the walls of this grand Cathedral.
This colossal structure, thus, stands prodigiously boasting one of the greatest artworks of the Late Renaissance period & the glory of the Italian architecture. This Cathedral has become the true identity of Florence & the pride possession of Tuscany region!