Sunday, November 20, 2011

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo)

When thinking of what to write about in my first post about sites in Florence, it was a no-brainer.  The "Duomo"...formally known as La Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.  This gorgeous church dominates the Florentine skyline.  No other building is permitted to be taller than the Duomo (the dome) by law.

The Duomo, as seen from Piazzale Michelangelo

It is impressive.

The front of the Basilica with Giotto's Campanile (the belltower at the right)
As you walk through Florence, you will get used to the narrow streets and large buildings on either side.  When you reach the Piazza del opens up and suddenly you will be face to face with this immense church in front of you.  When I first saw it up close, I was speechless.  It is SO BIG.  When you get past the sheer size of this church, you will start to notice the intricate detail on the exterior.  Not only is it huge, it is breathtakingly beautiful.

The building of this church was started in 1296 and finally completed in 1436 when Filippo Brunelleschi completed his famous dome.  That's 140 years of construction...and that was just the structure!  The incredibly detailed decoration of the exterior wasn't completely done until 1887!  Are you keeping track?  That makes it a total 591 years of work!  When you see the extreme detail,  you can appreciate the time it took!  The church is a work of art, inside and out.

Detail next to one of the main doors

The exterior is in white, green and red marble.  Three ginormous bronze doors are detailed with scenes from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  If you look up, in the center, underneath the gorgeous rose window, you will see a statue of the Madonna with Child, surrounded on either side by the 12 Apostles in their own niche.

Once  you walk through the doors, the interior might leave you scratching your head.  The exterior is filled with incredible detail...but it leaves the interior seeming rather bland.  You won't find the extreme decoration inside the church.  The simplicity of the soaring gothic interior has it's own beauty, but it's much more subtle than the exterior

Looking toward the main altar
 The main altar is located underneath the dome.  Looking up, you can see the beautiful fresco started by Giorgio Vasari in 1568 and finished in 1579 by Federico Zuccari. 

You can get an even better view of the dome if you decide to cough up 8 euros for a ticket to climb the 463 steps to the top.  The views from the top of the dome are I've heard.  We didn't do it when we visited.  To pay 8 euro to climb 463 stairs, when I already had climbed hundreds of stairs in the various palaces and museums that we visited, did not sound appealing to me at the time!

The bell tower that is located right next to the basilica was designed and constructed by Giotto di Bondone.  Started in 1334, it wasn't completed until well after Giotto's death (1337)  in 1359.  Andrea Pisano worked on it for awhile, until the year of the Black death in 1348.  When construction continued, it was under the guidance of Francesco Talenti, who finished the tower's top 3 levels.

You can climb the tower too, if you would like to pay 6 euro to climb it's 414 steps.  I didn't, but again, I have heard that the view from the top is amazing.  Maybe if you are staying close by, it would seem like a good idea, but with all the walking we had done, the thought of climbing so many steps wasn't very appealing.

When in Florence, a visit to the Duomo is a must.  I think it's the law.  At least it should be.  The church itself is free to get in.  You can pay for the pleasure of the climb to the top of the dome, or the climb to the top of the bell tower, if you so desire.  You can also pay to see the crypt underneath the church, which has both graves of bishops as well as Brunelleschi (the designer of the dome), and the archaeological site of Santa Reparata, a 7th century church that the present church was built over top...and you can pay to visit the Battistero di S. Giovanni, which is the round building located in front of the church.  (We visited both the crypt and the baptistry.  Those will be covered in future posts.)

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