Friday, October 3, 2008

Santa Maria del Fiori of Florence

When I think of Florence the first thing that comes to mind is the Duomo. In fact, other than the Colosseo the Duomo has to be up there as the most used icon to represent Bell'Italia.

The story of the Duomo is a great one. Florence built their magnificent Duomo as you see it today. The dome was left unfinished because no one had the archictural know-how to complete such a large, unsupported dome.

Florence held a competition...many competed. One architect had the idea to pile dirt for the workers to reach dome as they built it. Then, to get it cleaned out, add coins to it and allow the populace to come in with buckets and retrieve the dirt hoping to get a coin or two. This was quashed.

The artist that ultimately won the work was Brunelleschi. He didn't really have a lot of architectural experience, but his model was the best, offered a free standing, unsupported dome (like the Pantheon in Rome), and seemed the safest due to its double-shelled and ribbed support system.

One of his principle competitors for the work was Ghiberti who recently defeated Brunelleschi for the work on the Bapistery Doors of Florence a few steps away from the Duomo.

Florence decided to give the work to both artists - Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. This didn't last long though.

Brunelleschi worked tirelessly to prove that he should be the one and only architect on the job. He ultimately won his independance.

The know how to create such a large dome was lost to the ancient Romans. Brunelleschi traveled to Rome to study how the Pantheon was built. He climbed on it, sketched it, and used it as a model for his dome in Florence.

Brunelleschi's concept was innovative. He built a dome on top of a dome so the interior would support the exterior, allowing for access for maintenance and cleaning, and the weight of the overall dome would be support across both structures. He also added support ribs. Eight in total. Think of two eggshells one on top of another and you can visualize the concept employed by Brunelleschi.

It is a magnificent sight to behold. Its shadow is believed to cover the whole of Tuscany. When you stand under it you are in awe of its size and beauty.

When it was blessed after it was built Pope Martin V gave Florence a golden rose in honor of the great accomplishement. You can see it in the Duomo museum today. The first mass was given by another Pope after the entire Duomo was complete. This is a great church touched by the hands of many vicars of christ.

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