Florence and it’s incredible architecturepa0l0
The Florence Cathedral is among the most iconic buildings in the world and one of the best things to see in Florence,and was the first dome to steal the crown of being ‘the world’s largest dome’ from the Pantheon.
The medieval façade of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore was designed by its first major architect, Arnolfo Di Cambio. Although he isn’t as well-remembered by the general public as Filippo Brunelleschi, who designed and built the Cathedral’s immense dome. Di Cambio was a titan of the late medieval period and he was responsible for much of the architectural foundations of the building. When he died in 1302, the Cathedral and his stunning façade, featuring works by Donatello, and Nanni Di Banco, were only partially finished. Nearly 300 years later the façade was torn down and replaced, its various parts packed into storage and largely forgotten.
In a masterstroke of archaeological detective work, the curators and artisans of the newly-expanded Florence museum, Il Grande Museo Del Duomo, have reconstructed the original façade and put many of its beautiful sculptures on display. By painstakingly studying a single 16th century drawing by Bernardo Pocetti, artists and researchers rendered a scale model of the lost façade from resin and marble dust. In the same room they have restored Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Gates of Heaven” Baptistery doors to their original position vis a vis the facade in order to fully recreate the original vision and iconographic relationship between the Cathedral and Baptistery.
The Façade’s unveiling to the public coincides with the re-opening of one of Florence’s most stunning but overlooked museums. The organization behind it, the Opera del Duomo, has overseen construction and refurbishments on the Duomo for over 700 years. During this time they have collected a horde of Medieval and Renaissance masterpieces like none other on the planet including a Pietá by Michelangelo and those Baptistery doors whose recreations sit in the Piazza del Duomo behind a permanent crowd of selfie-taking tourists. But despite all its incredible art, the museum has long sat semi-forgotten in a corner of the Piazza del Duomo, seemingly under constant refurbishment and mostly overlooked by tourists on the normal Florence museum trail going from the Duomo to the Accademia, and finally the Uffizi.
The problem, museum director Monsignor Timothy Verdon explained in a recent press conference, was not getting ahold of great art, it was “how to exhibit more than 100 fragments of the cathedral’s lost medieval facade… forty statues, many monumental in scale, and some sixty architectural elements”.
To accommodate this kingly collection the museum has expanded to more than double its old size thanks to the acquisition of an old parking garage. In doing so it has become half gallery, half architectural immersion experience. The innumerable parts of the old Cathedral reassert themselves in space and time, creating within the blank slate of the museum a sort of shadow cathedral that never was, but could have been if history had just been slightly different.
On display inside the Duomo Museum is the Gallery of Brunelleschi’s Dome: if you don’t know the story behind one of history’s great architectural feats (or especially if you do) you have to see the section of the museum dedicated to the creation of the Cathedral’s titanic dome. With models, drawings, and even some of the tools used to build the cathedral, the improbable feat is brought breathtakingly to life and will especially appeal to children.
Only have one day in Florence? You are in luck, the museum will be open seven days a week.
Feel like a hike? You can climb the 463 steps of the dome, open from 8:30am-7pm, or the 14th-century bell tower begun by Giotto (414 steps!), open from 8:30am-7:30pm.
And don’t miss the Baptistery. You can stop by any time, of course, to admire its exterior Gates of Paradise, an early 15th-century rendering of some of the Bible’s most dramatic scenes.