Ah, beautiful Florence, a treasure chest of delightful art, churches, ruins, history and lovely people. How could anyone not fall in love with Florence?
My hotel was on the 2nd floor, so when I entered the building, I was greeted with this elevator that made me think of an old movie, the elevator moved up and down in a wire cage and I had to open the cage door & then pull open the double doors on the elevator in order to get in. I got a kick out of it every time I used it, I felt like Doris Day.
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower), or, as everyone calls it, the Duomo, is a huge building that takes up almost the entire piazza.
It’s stunningly beautiful; it’s one of those places that makes you ask, how did they ever build this thing with only manpower and horses? It replaces a 5th Century cathedral; in 1294 the design was approved, but it then took 140 years to build. After various issues and problems, Giotto began work on completing it in 1334; Giotto died in 1337, a different architect worked on it until work halted in 1348 due to the black plague. The nave was completed in 1380, but by 1401, the dome was still not completed. The technology didn’t exist to build such a huge dome, so the space stayed open until 1401 when the Florentine fathers held a competition to see who could design a dome; the winner was a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi. Brunelleschi had spent years in Rome studying the Parthenon and used the structural engineering employed in that building to build the dome for the Florence cathedral. His suggestion involved building two domes, with an inner dome to support the outer dome.
Here is a model of the dome from the Bargello Museum with the side cut away so we can see both the inner dome and the outer dome.
One of the contestants hoping to build the dome suggested mingling gold coins with dirt, filling the entire duomo with the dirt and build the dome using the dirt as a scaffolding to support the dome during its construction. Then, the dirt would easily be removed by telling the peasants they could keep any gold coins they find while removing the dirt. Not surprisingly, this suggestion was rejected. Work started on the dome in 1420 and it was completed in 1436. A new façade was added to the structure between 1876 and 1887.
The dome in Florence.
The dome in the Pantheon.
The structure involves laying the bricks in a herring bone pattern so they support one another and to leave open spaces to lighten the weight without reducing strength. For me, it’s just fascinating that the Romans could build a structure like the Pantheon, but 1,500 years or more later, the Italians no longer have the technology.
The Piazza del Duomo is crowded and noisy and dominated by incredibly beautiful buildings. This is the Campanile or bell tower.
With all that grandeur on the outside, it’s a little disappointing on the inside; it’s big and dark and nearly bare. It doesn’t have the grand, dramatic focal point we see in most of the great churches of this period.
But, it has some beautiful stained glass.
Across from the Duomo is the Baptistery; in the Renaissance period, only baptized Christians were allowed into the churches so baptisteries were built outside in order for people to be baptized and then they could go into the church. The Florence Baptistery is beautiful.
The south door was created by Andrea Pissano in 1330, it depicts the eight virtues and twenty scenes from the life of John the Baptist.
The north door was created by Lorenzo Ghiberti in 1404-1424 after he defeated his rival, Filippo Brunelleschi, the designer of the Dome, and won the honor in a design contest in Florence. The doors were such a huge success that he was asked to build the doors on the east side of the baptistery, directly facing the Duomo.
These doors are copies, the original doors are in a museum. The doors were a huge step in the artistic development of the Renaissance.
Rather than 28 small panels, there are 12 panels that incorporate linear perspective to give the illusion of distance, Ghiberti was literally painting in brass. Construction took 27 years; the last panel was installed in 1452. The doors were a revolutionary success, artists came from all over to study Ghiberti’s technique and to learn the use of perspective, most artists after him are indebted to his influence. Michelangelo was so enthralled upon seeing them that he called them the “Gates of Paradise”, they are still called that to this day. I believe the bust in the upper right is a self-portrait of the artist, Lorenzo Ghiberti.
My hotel was a block from the Duomo, this was the loggia I walked along on my way to the church. That man is buying the most interesting cactus I’ve ever seen.
Small cars are versatile, they can park almost anywhere.
By the time I got to Florence, I was tired of walking, tired of churches and art; I wanted a break so I signed up for horseback riding and wine tasting. I forgot how much older I am now than when I used to ride; but I had an idyllic day with all English speakers. That will be the topic of my next post.