In April I travelled to Italy. We landed and took off from Florence. I was astonished by the beauty and cleanliness of Florence, at least in the places we visited near downtown and in the hills above the city.
While in Florence the size and scale of Il Duomo is staggering. I recommend reading in detail about the construction of this amazing cathedral since it took centuries and was extremely complicated and advanced for its time.
As a layperson however I was amazed at the facade and its beauty.
At night the views were spectacular, as well. The entire city seemed to gather near the cathedral with vendors, tourists, and students mingling and having fun.
Cross posted at LITGM
9 thoughts on “Florence, Italy – Il Duomo”
We are going to Paris in October. How was Italy in April?
I was in Florence many years ago (probably the first Nixon Administration). The most impressive thing I remember is walking down a narrow side street and coming upon a plaque on a wall, stating that it was the house that Dante had lived in. That was 700 years ago. That is a very long time.
My wife & I visited Florence 5 years ago and loved it. Great food, history and art.
I hope you saw Michelangelo’s David. It’s like a punch in the gut, but in a good way if you know what I mean.
I could stare at the photo of the facade of that cathedral for hours. What an amazing work of art and craft.
I read a book about ten years ago about Christopher Wren, the architect who designed St. Paul’s in London. The architect was responsible for the floor plan, the structural plan, and overseeing the project. He did not design the details. Master stone carvers would make carved wooden models of the sculptures, doorways, windows, etc., then submit them for approval. Once approved, the master craftsman would themselves oversee a team of stone carvers to construct the various detailed stoneworks. Plasterers did the interior ceilings using carved forms, and so forth.
Stone, especially sedimentary stones like limestone, are very strong in compression and can carry enormous loads. However, stacked stonework has low shear (sideways forces) strength, which is why masonry buildings often collapse in earthquakes. Those domes want to apply shear forces to the walls. Press down on the center of an arch, like gravity pulling on all the heavy stone, and the base wants to spread apart. That’s why large domes were such a huge challenge for so long. They finally solved the problem with chains. They would build heavy wooden frames for placement under the domes, then wrap them with heavy chains. Once the dome was built on the frame, the frame spread apart, the chains took up the shear forces, went into high tension, and stayed that way. Now they had a single, stable, hemispherical unit that could sit on columns and they simply had to support its weight.
Wonderful as Paris is, it has nothing to compare to the Duomo. In fact, in my view there’s really nowhere that can compare with Italy for beautiful stuff. Simple as that.
I think French Gothic ( and Romanesque too) architecture is the best. The Italians don’t quite get it with Gothic. Example-Milan Cathedral. They sure are superb with everything else though.
When my wife and I went to Milan around a decade and a half ago, we stared at the Duomo there for a very long time. Just too cool. That one took six centuries to complete.
One of my best memories of traveling across Europe in 1985 was staying in a little hotel in Florence, which took up the top two floors of an office block in the city center. They had a rooftop terrace which offered a view of the Duomo. Sublime.
Almost as good as exploring the Uffizi galleries.
My wife and I visited Florence for many things, to visit the incomparable art, the statuary, including the truly amazing ‘David’, but probably the most impressive item, on two levels, was the superb Cattedrale di Santa Maria Del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo.
The first level was the sheer size of this building, which was designed and built over a period of some hundred-odd years, with a further hundred years before Brunelleschi designed and built the dome. This building, together with the Opera Museum, the Crypt, the Bell tower, were enough to allow a middle-aged couple two days to view completely.
The second level, however, was to view, at first hand the vast change which time has wrought upon the Italian population from the viewpoint of religion. Certainly, after the end of WW2, Italy still had a massive majority of practising Roman Catholics. But increased knowledge of the devious politics within Rome, together with the samne disenchantment which has rolled across Europe, has resulted in a massive decline in both the power and influence of Rome and Catholicism, and the sheer and total decline of the Italians actually going to Mass, and indeed having anything to do with organised religion in any sense.
My wife and I went to Mass on the Sunday morning at the Cathedral, which is a uniquely-vast space, and what did we find? There were six rows of chairs laid out in front of one of the Lady Chapel altars, and Mass took place: but apart from we two, there were fourteen other people attending that Mass. Imagine, in the third-largest religious building in Italy, on a Sunday morning, sixteen people arrived for the only Mass in the Duomo. But, the most amazing thing was to greet our eyes as we left the Duomo on that sunny Sunday morning, for as we walked out, we had to push through the crowds who were lining up just to visit that same Cathedral.
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