Duomo Florence Facts and History

The Duomo, or as the locals know it, the Santa Maria del Fiore is the most prominent landmark of the Florence skyline. Its dome is a major architectural masterpiece that is ahead of its time. It has hundreds of years of history and is known for its massive size and beauty.

Duomo Florence
Duomo Florence

Let’s look into some amazing facts and history of Duomo Florence…

The Duomo took over 140 years to complete

The entire grand cathedral was conceived in 1293 before the Renaissance period when a committee had come up with ideas and ambitious plans. Even the domed rooftop was built at such a period when no technological source was available to complete it. The reason why the process took 140 years from conception to completion was because the roof of the dome was left exposed for years while the cathedral’s construction still went on.


The largest masonry dome in the world is in the cathedral

It is the largest masonry building in the world, standing 10 stories high, with over 4 million bricks almost the size of half a football field across the base, and weighing over 40,000 tons. If in today’s time, it is such a big deal to have a glance at this magnificent structure, imagine what it would have been like in those times when the technology didn’t even exist.


The Duomo was built on top of a small church.

The Santa Reparata is the remains of the original church that was built on the same ground and is now under the Duomo. This church was built between 4th-6th centuries well before the Renaissance period and the Middle Ages, and was a very modest and much smaller church. There is an underground museum there which holds the religious and cultural history and all the discovered artifacts of that time.


The Gates of Paradise on the Baptistery

The Gates of Paradise on the Baptistery which is in front of the cathedral was constructed by a winner of the citywide completion in 1401. A committee of Florence held a competition years before the dome itself was built, to decorate the east doors of the baptistery. Each contestant was given the same amount of bronze and materials and was allowed to submit their ideas within the specified guidelines. The top two finalists were 23-year-olds Lorenzo Ghiberti and Fillippo Brunelleschi (trained goldsmiths and metalworkers). In the end Ghiberti won because of judges favoring his classical style over Brunelleschi who showcased his humanist and forward depiction. This was judged on the submission of the biblical scene of Abraham killing his son.

After many years of the door having been on display, the great artist Michelangelo stated that the doors seemed like the gates of paradise itself. This is how the name was given to it through which we know it now. People say that Brunelleschi’s depiction has always been humanist and ahead of its time showing the early booming of the Renaissance.


The man who designed the domed roof of the Duomo has had no architectural training before

The masterpiece of the domed roof that astonishingly still stands today is built by Fillippo Brunelleschi who was a trained goldsmith but hadn’t built a single thing in his life. I know this sounds crazy, but gold smithery, among other studies, is married to practicality and aesthetics, which may have allowed Brunelleschi to find a solution for the construction of the wonderful dome.


The Cathedral has been under construction for 80 years before Brunelleschi was born

The continued building of the cathedral kept making it grander and larger than the initial plan. While this happened, the question remained as to how the dome-shaped roof would be finally built. No one, including the artists who initially conceptualized it, had a single clue regarding how it would or could be made. On the other hand, Florentines were adamant to outdo the other cities of Tuscany no matter how long it kept going.


Make no mistake, there are actually two domes!

What you see on the outside of the Santa Maria del Fiore, there is just the shell of the internal structure and roof tiles. Between the ingenious brick structure and the shell is the staircase which will allow you to climb 436 stairs to the top. On your way up, make sure to see the original brick layout and glance at the actual herringbone pattern of the bricks. This design is just as Brunelleschi had done it centuries ago.


It took only 16 years for the dome to be completed

Since it took so many years to build any part of the cathedral, designers never got to see their work completed in their age. Brunelleschi on the other hand was able to finish his amazing work and also see the reaction of the people. It started in 1420 and finished in 1436. Sixteen years was indeed fast for such a grand feat.

So don’t miss a chance to see the greatest architectural masonry and the largest brick dome ever made that makes us stunned!

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