The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (English: Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) is the cathedral church of Florence, Italy. The Duomo, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th century Gothic Revival fa?ade by Emilio De Fabris.
The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile. The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major attraction to tourists visiting the region of Tuscany. The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches, and until development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.
The cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence, whose archbishop is currently Giuseppe Betori.
As the city's skyline symbol, the legendary Duomo is famous above all for its dome: Filippo Brunelleschi's Renaissance masterpiece, completed in 1436, created a double dome shell so that the dome is entirely self-supporting. It still stands as the largest masonry dome in the world, containing over four million bricks! Climb to the top (all 463 steps) to get an unforgettable panoramic view of the city, which has changed little in the past 500 years. Construction started in 1296 on the site of the Roman basilica of Santa Reparata, of which there are still visible remains with a design by the great Florentine architect, Arnolfo di Cambio. The existing neo-Gothic facade was added in the 19th Century by Emilio De Fabris. Covering a massive 3600 square meters (38,750 square feet), the frescoes inside the dome depict the Last Judgment, painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. If you can stand the throngs of people and get a good spot early, come on Easter Sunday for the Scoppio del carro (Explosion of the Cart) where a oxen-drawn cart stuffed with fireworks comes from Prato to the center of the city and ignited.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore was built on the site of an earlier cathedral dedicated to Saint Reparata.The ancient building, founded in the early 5th century and having undergone many repairs, was crumbling with age, as attested in the 14th century Nuova Cronica of Giovanni Villani,and was no longer large enough to serve the growing population of the city. Other major Tuscan cities had undertaken ambitious reconstructions of their cathedrals during the Late Medieval period, as seen at Pisa and particularly Siena where the enormous proposed extensions were never completed.
The new church was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and approved by city council in 1294. Arnolfo di Cambio was also architect of the church of Santa Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio. He designed three wide naves ending under the octagonal dome, with the middle nave covering the area of Santa Reparata. The first stone was laid on September 9, 1296 by Cardinal Valeriana, the first papal legate ever sent to Florence. The building of this vast project was to last 170 years, the collective efforts of several generations; Arnolfo's plan for the eastern end, although maintained in concept, was greatly expanded in size.
After Arnolfo died in 1302, work on the cathedral slowed for the following thirty years. The project obtained new impetus, when the relics of Saint Zenobius were discovered in 1330 in Santa Reparata. In 1331, the Arte della Lana, the guild of wool merchants, took over exclusive patronage for the construction of the cathedral and in 1334 appointed Giotto to oversee the work. Assisted by Andrea Pisano, Giotto continued di Cambio's design. His major accomplishment was the building of the campanile. When Giotto died in 1337, Andrea Pisano continued the building until work was again halted due to the Black Death in 1348.
In 1349 work resumed on the cathedral under a series of architects, commencing with Francesco Talenti, who finished the campanile and enlarged the overall project to include the apse and the side chapels. In 1359 Talenti was succeeded by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini (1360-1369) who divided the center nave in four square bays. Other architects were Alberto Arnoldi, Giovanni d'Ambrogio, Neri di Fioravante and Andrea Orcagna. By 1375 the old church Santa Reparata was pulled down. The nave was finished by 1380, and by 1418 only the dome remained incomplete.
On 18 August 1418, the Arte della Lana announced a structural design competition for erecting Neri's dome. The two main competitors were two master goldsmiths, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, who was supported by Cosimo de Medici. Ghiberti had been winner of a competition for a pair of bronze doors for the Baptistery in 1401 and lifelong competition between the two remained acute. Brunelleschi won and received the commission.
Ghiberti, appointed coadjutator, was drawing a salary equal to Brunelleschi's and, though neither was awarded the announced prize of 200 florins, would potentially earn equal credit, while spending most of his time on other projects. When Brunelleschi became ill, or feigned illness, the project was briefly in the hands of Ghiberti. But Ghiberti soon had to admit that the whole project was beyond him. In 1423 Brunelleschi was back in charge and took over sole responsibility.
Work started on the dome in 1420 and was completed in 1436. The cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on March 25, 1436 (the first day of the year according to the Florentine calendar). It was the first 'octagonal' dome in history to be built without a temporary wooden supporting frame: the Roman Pantheon, a circular dome, was built in 117-128 AD with support structures. It was one of the most impressive projects of the Renaissance. During the consecration service in 1436, Guillaume Dufay's similarly unique motet Nuper rosarum flores was performed. The structure of this motet was strongly influenced by the structure of the dome.
The decoration of the exterior of the cathedral, begun in the 14th century, was not completed until 1887, when the polychrome marble fa?ade was completed to the design of Emilio De Fabris. The floor of the church was relaid in marble tiles in the 16th century.
The exterior walls are faced in alternate vertical and horizontal bands of polychrome marble from Carrara (white), Prato (green), Siena (red), Lavenza and a few other places. These marble bands had to repeat the already existing bands on the walls of the earlier adjacent baptistery the Battistero di San Giovanni and Giotto's Bell Tower. There are two lateral doors, the Doors of the Canonici (south side) and the Door of the Mandorla (north side) with sculptures by Nanni di Banco, Donatello, and Jacopo della Quercia. The six lateral windows, notable for their delicate tracery and ornaments, are separated by pilasters. Only the four windows closest to the transept admit light; the other two are merely ornamental. The clerestory windows are round, a common feature in Italian Gothic.
During its long history, this cathedral has been the seat of the Council of Florence (1439), heard the preachings of Girolamo Savonarola and witnessed the murder of Giuliano di Piero de' Medici on Sunday, 26 April 1478 (with Lorenzo Il Magnifico barely escaping death) in the Pazzi conspiracy.
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