While on our pilgrimage to Assisi we had a ‘free’ day and several of us decided to take the train to Florence and “Do Florence in a Day.” Despite the rain showers and the accelerated pace not being able to take the time to go into any of the many magnificent art museums it was still one of the highlights of my trip and succeeded in giving me a great desire to return someday to truly take in all the history and art of the birth of the Renaissance.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore(Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower)–the Duomo, or the cathedral of Florence–quite literally dominates the city with its enormous dome. No other building stands taller in the city. Its construction was begun in 1296 by Sienese architect Arnolfo di Cambio and took nearly 150 years to complete. The dome was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. It is 115m high and 42m wide and remains after six centuries since its completion the largest masonry dome in the world. It consists of eight marble ribs, a gold-appointed lantern and four million bricks.
It was constructed in Gothic style with the exterior being faced with polychrome marble panels in shades of green, pink, and white. Bricks of varying size were set in a self-supporting herringbone pattern — a technique Brunelleschi copied from the Pantheon in Rome.
We climbed up the 463 increasingly narrow steps to the very top of the dome. Brunelleschi achieved building this dome without scaffolding. As you are climbing you can see how an inner shell provides a platform for the timbers that support the outer shell.
As you are climbing up the increasingly narrow steps to the top there are occasional windows to peek out and appreciate the red roofed city of Florence below. Once on the top you can not help to marvel at the supporting marble ribs.
Then of course the huff up the 463 steps all becomes worthwhile when you take in the spectacular views over the city of Florence.
You can also see the Campanile, the cathedral’s soaring bell tower which is 85 m (276ft) high but 6m (20ft) shorter than the dome. It was begun in 1334 by Giotto and is constructed in a similar elaborate Gothic style and clad in white, green and pink Tuscan marble.
While ascending the steps you can look up and take in the frescoes of Vasari’s Last Judgement that fills the interior of the dome.
There of course is more to ‘take in’ and next time, Lord willing, the museums in the bell tower, more of the interior of the dome, and the Baptistery, and when the weather is more agreeable I imagine the Piazza del Duomo comes alive.