If you’re used to Gothic cathedrals like Notre Dame in Paris or Westminster Abbey in London, stoic and stately in all that gray stone, you might be in for a shock when you see the Duomo in Florence. It may be Gothic, but its multi-colored facade is anything but stoic.
At the heart of historic Florence, the Duomo (which means “dome” in Italian) is the city’s main cathedral and dates from the late 13th century. The cathedral’s full name is Santa Maria del Fiori. While the striped facade may look somewhat avant-garde, it was actually designed to mimic the existing striping on the Baptistery out front. The Duomo was originally constructed without its crowning dome, which left a giant circular hole in the roof, because the designers didn’t yet know how to create such a dome without inner supports. They were sufficiently optimistic that it would eventually happen, however, so they went ahead with the plans and just lived with a big hole in the roof until the dome was finally added in the early 15th century. The dome was eventually designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, and climbing to the top of the dome to look over the city of Florence is now one of the highlights of a visit to the Duomo.
When you step inside you’ll notice that the Duomo is huge (it’s hard to get a perspective on how big it is outside because it’s so closely flanked by other buildings). There are, in fact, only a few churches in the world that are larger – St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Seville Cathedral, the Duomo in Milan and (of course) the biggest church of all, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
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The Duomo’s interior is fairly sparsely decorated, especially as compared to other important cathedrals in Italy and throughout Europe. In November 1966, the Arno River flooded its banks and damaged much of the city’s art. After the flood, the majority of the Duomo’s portable artwork was removed for restoration and now lives permanently in the Duomo Museum (or Museo dell’Opera del Duomo) behind the cathedral. Still, it’s an interesting interior for its historical significance and for its welcome shade on a hot summer day.
Some of the sights worth noting inside the Duomo are the fabulous painting of “The Last Judgment” which covers the interior of the dome, the lovely stained glass windows, and the tomb of the dome’s designer, Brunelleschi. While you can’t see the historic events which have taken place inside the Duomo, it’s still interesting to note that the fanatical monk, Savonarola, preached here and a member of the Medici family was killed here in 1478.
Location: Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Florence
Hours: Monday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday, 10:00-17:00 (except first Saturday of the month, 10:00-15:30); Thursday, 10:00-15:30; Sunday 13:30-16:45
More Information: It’s important to note that modest dress is required to enter the Duomo, which means no exposed knees or shoulders. You can learn more about the history of the Duomo on the official website, and for more about the revolutionary design of the incredible dome, read “Brunelleschi’s Dome” by Ross King.
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