Featured Image Caption: Florence Duomo
The Duomo of Florence is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tuscany. Florence’s main church is the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral. The Piazza del Duomo in Florence’s heart is one of the most visited places in all of Europe. In addition to being masterpieces of art and architecture, these buildings are also remarkable for their historical significance.
When visiting Florence, it is advised to take the Duomo Florence tour. An overview of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral’s construction is provided here:
It was the biggest church in the world when it was founded in 1436. Along with this, it held a capacity for a total of 30,000 worshipers. A few of the building’s notable features are its stained-glass windows, elaborate green, red, and white marble front, and a collection of Renaissance master paintings and statues. The highlight of the interior is the Filippo Brunelleschi-designed dome (1420–36).
Filippo Brunelleschi, to put it gently, wasn’t exactly the most obvious candidate to alter Florence’s environment. The people of that time may have been taken aback when the infamously hot-tempered jeweller won the competition to build a dome for the city’s cathedral in 1418. This was because Brunelleschi had just received formal training in sculpture and goldsmithing and came without experience. The people had also been promised a world-class cupola for construction decades earlier.
So how did this seemingly improbable person end up producing one of the most famous architectural works, well, ever?
This iconic Italian structure created by Brunelleschi helped establish him as one of the most well-known artists and engineers in history.
Competition for Building a Dome without Support
Architects from all over the world arrived in Florence in 1418 when the Florentine fathers announced a competition for the best dome design in an effort to gain notoriety (and a generous 200 gold florin cash prize). But the task wasn’t easy; the dome would have to start 180 feet (55 meters) above the earth, atop the church’s existing walls, which had been constructed in 1296, and be almost 150 feet (46 meters) across. The other significant problem was that flying buttresses, which are inclined beams used to hold half arches extending from a structure’s walls to a pier supporting the weight of a roof, were not included in the architectural blueprints.
These two components were frequently used in the conventional Gothic design preferred by competitor towns like Milan. Whoever won the competition would need to devise a solution to account for their absence because they were the only known components that could truly support construction as massive as the dome of a cathedral.
It was constructed without buttresses, which were frequently employed to prevent domes from spreading, as well as the centering support that was customarily used to hold a dome in place during construction. Even before Brunelleschi won the bid for the dome, the decision had been made to construct the cathedral without buttresses. Tuscany lacked the necessary timber to build foundations to support the dome, hence the design of the dome called for an ingenious solution.
Brunelleschi’s Pioneering Concept
Fortunately, Brunelleschi knew exactly what to do. The contestant suggested creating two domes instead of one, one nestled inside the other, to get around the problem. Four horizontal stone and chain hoops that were used to construct the inner dome strengthened the octagonal structure and prevented it from extending outward, without the need for support. Additionally, a wooden chain was used. This method had never been used to build a dome before and is still regarded as an amazing feat of engineering today.
Although city officials were captivated by Brunelleschi’s overall idea, he was coy about the specifics, refusing to outline his exact plan for finishing the project. He even got into a shouting dispute with the overseers, who dubbed him “a clown and a babbler” and forced him out of the assembly. Brunelleschi used concealment both during and after construction, which, according to Wildman, is part of why we don’t know much about the dome. Previously, he had defeated this same competitor in a prestigious design competition. In order to reduce the likelihood that his inventiveness might be easily imitated, he purposefully left behind a few clues regarding the dome’s construction and deliberately disguised those elements. The guild masters of stone and wood had him imprisoned during construction, but the charges were swiftly dismissed.
Brunelleschi recovered from the blunder and won the coveted position as the new dome’s architect, but he continued to keep the majority of his design and construction plans a secret. How all of the dome’s parts link to one another remains a mystery because many of the features of the dome are concealed by its walls. Connecting the inner and outer domes and strengthening the brick walls that make up the dome are 24 vertical arched ribs (of which 8 are visible and 16 are concealed within the wall).
A well-known aspect of Brunelleschi’s treasured project is that his concept called for a totally different approach to construction. According to Wildman, Brunelleschi’s design needed intelligence in design and engineering, as well as ingenuity in the building. The dome could not be centred without the development of numerous methods. For lifting the extremely heavy stones to the level required to build, he created an ox-powered hoist. It was possible to reverse the hoist without changing the direction of the oxen because it was gear-driven and clutched. There had never been a method like this. Worker platforms were cantilevered from the dome’s walls, and niches were constructed in the brickwork to support them.
The accuracy of these pockets is astounding. It is thought that the platforms had to be at a level and accurate in order for the chains and string lines to determine the geometry of the dome. These tools were used to direct the masons as they laid bricks.
The innovative construction techniques continued. Brunelleschi used a herringbone design to build the dome’s brick walls, allowing the bricks to reinforce themselves as they were set. This prevented the bricks from falling off the wall as the wall sloped. Large pieces of marble for the building were being damaged while they were being unloaded from boats. Therefore, Brunelleschi created a boat suitable for both water and land, that could be used to transfer the marble to the cathedral on land.
Brunelleschi’s creation took 16 years (although it took another decade for a lantern to be added on). The Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore was built between 1420 and 1436, and the finished product was mind-blowing, to put it mildly. According to Wildman, the dome of the Florence Cathedral is still the biggest masonry dome ever constructed. Over 4 million bricks are thought to have been utilised, and the dome weighs more than 25,000 tons (22,680 metric tons).
Ten years after the dome’s completion, Brunelleschi passed away and was interred in the cathedral’s crypt. The nearby plaque honouring his legacy praises his “divine intellect”. The unlikely visionary is still regarded as a major figure in architecture, not just in Italy but globally.
The Duomo Florence tour is just as exciting as its history. So, get the Duomo Florence tickets now to avoid standing in long queues. Safe travels!