The Ultimate Self-Guided Tour of the Duomo and Baptistery in Florence
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Standing on opposite sides of Piazza del Duomo, separated by Via dei Calzaiuoli, are two of the most renowned structures in Florence: the Baptistery of St. John and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Locally, the latter is often referred to as the “Duomo.” Their bright white marble exteriors, adorned with green and pink stone trimmings, possess a unique and quintessentially Florentine charm. If there were a pulsating heart at the core of this city, it would undoubtedly reside right here.
Whether you are captivated by their grandeur, historical significance, or spiritual aura, visiting these landmarks in Florence is a rite of passage for many. However, numerous individuals come here and admire these structures without fully grasping the context behind their construction and artistic brilliance. In this post, I aim to shed light on some of these mysteries and hopefully enable you to appreciate these attractions for more than just their outer beauty.
Opening Hours of Duomo and Baptistery
- Cathedral: Mon-Sat: 10am-4:30pm; Sun: 1:30pm-4:30pm
- Giotto’s Bell Tower: Mon-Sun: 8:15am-7:20pm
- Dome: Mon-Sat: 8:30am-7pm; Sun: 1pm-4pm
- Crypt of Santa Reparata: Mon-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat: 10am-4:30pm; Sun: Closed
- The museum will be closed on the first Tuesday of each month.
While exploring the interior of the Duomo is free you’ll need a ticket if you want to see the inside of the Baptistery, to climb up the bell tower or the dome and visit the Duomo Museum. These attractions are all included in one ticket, so if you want to visit just one, you’ll still have to pay the same price as visiting them all. The best way to buy your ticket inside is online and in advance, so you can assure yourself access into the Duomo’s attractions.
Adults: €18 (if booking online there is an extra €2 pre-booking fee)
Audio guides: €2,50 per person
Climbing the Dome: When booking online you need to select the time when you want to do the dome climb. You cannot change this time after booking and must be there within 15 minutes of your pre-selected time-slot.
Is it worth going inside the Florence’s Duomo?
I personally find the interior of Santa Croce far more appealing than the somewhat plain interior of the mentioned location. Although the frescoes on the dome are breath-taking, the rest of the interior may not be as captivating. On the other hand, the interior of the Baptistry is simply exceptional, with its mesmerizing mosaics that are truly out of this world. Some visitors enjoy ascending the tower and dome inside the cathedral for the panoramic view from the top, but be prepared to wait in line if you choose to do so. If time is limited, I would suggest skipping the interior visits.
The exteriors of these structures are equally impressive, and Florence has so much more to offer, making it more worthwhile to explore other attractions instead of waiting in line. However, if you have ample time or a deep interest in interior artworks, it’s worth making the effort to see them. Early morning visits may help avoid long lines. One highlight of the ticketed entry is the museum, which showcases original artworks and sculptures that were once housed within the church. You can also admire the original Baptistery doors and exquisite robes worn by priests during various events on the Catholic calendar, making it an intriguing part of your visit.
Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore
The magnificent Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore, a truly awe-inspiring Cathedral that commenced construction in 1296 and was finally completed in 1436—over the course of more than 140 years! The temple is dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, or “Saint Mary of the Flowers.” In Italian culture, Mary is often associated with flowers, particularly roses, which symbolize the transience of life and death. Mary carries the weight of knowing her son’s fate, yet she continues to raise him with boundless love in her heart. Like a beautiful flower that we know will eventually fade, we still admire its splendour until its final moments.
The History of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore
The city’s main religious monument, a grand and impressive church, among the world’s largest in volume. Brunelleschi’s majestic cupola is an iconic symbol, visible from the surrounding hills. The cathedral’s construction spanned a long period, with the present façade completed in 1887. The use of pink, green, and white marble creates a harmonious composition with the nearby baptistery and campanile.
Santa Maria del Fiore is situated on the site of the earlier, smaller Santa Reparata church, originally built in the late fourth or early fifth century. In the eleventh century, it was reconstructed as a Romanesque basilica. In the twelfth century, Santa Reparata became the city’s cathedral, replacing San Lorenzo. The church featured a six-bay aisled nave and three semicircular eastern apses, with the central apse larger than the flanking ones. Its facade was located ahead of the present cathedral’s west front and extended halfway along the present nave.
Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore in the Late thirteenth century
By the late thirteenth century, Florence’s size and wealth had significantly increased, rendering Santa Reparata too small. In 1294, Arnolfo di Cambio was tasked by the city’s government to build a new cathedral. The construction began on September 8, 1296, and the church was dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, symbolized by the lily, emblem of the city and Virgin Mary. Arnolfo initiated the wider facade and raised the nave flank walls before his death in 1302. Progress slowed after his passing. In 1331, the Magistrati dell’Opera was established to oversee the project, and funding from the Arte della Lana guild boosted the progress. Giotto was appointed chief master in 1334 but mainly focused on the campanile’s construction before passing away three years later. His successor, Andrea Pisano, also worked on the campanile. Francesco Talenti took over around 1350 and completed the campanile in 1359. However, his attention later returned to the church itself by 1356.
During this phase of construction, the eastern part of Santa Reparata, the canons’ residence, and the monastic buildings were still intact, along with the church of San Michele Visdomini to the east. Francesco Talenti introduced a new model for the cathedral, retaining the Latin cross plan but reducing the number of nave bays to four while increasing their size and raising the height of the nave vault. Talenti also proposed a large cupola at the crossing. By 1364, the first three nave bays were completed, but Talenti was later replaced. Lapo Ghini, his colleague and successor, presented a revised proposal with a modified plan for the eastern apses. The cupola’s diameter was increased from approximately 36m to 41m, and it was to stand on an octagonal drum with circular windows, as it appears today. Talenti returned as master, and by around 1370, the form of the cupola and eastern apses had been defined. The nave vault was completed in 1378, followed by the aisle vaults two years later. Construction continued until 1421 on the transepts, chancel, and the drum supporting the cupola.
In 1418, a competition was held to design the cupola, and both Lorenzo Ghiberti and Brunelleschi participated. Although Ghiberti won, his role was limited, and eventually, Brunelleschi took full control of the project. The construction of the cupola progressed under Brunelleschi’s direction and was completed up to the base of the lantern in 1436.
After winning the competition for the design of the crowning lantern, Brunelleschi began its construction in 1443 but passed away three years later. The project was then continued by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo and later by Bernardo Rossellino. Finally, under Andrea del Verrocchio’s supervision, the lantern was completed in 1468. The lengthy construction period was due to the challenging logistics of hauling marble to such heights. The lantern takes the form of an octagonal classical tempietto, resembling a small chapel. During this period, Brunelleschi also designed the four exedrae, situated below the circular windows of the drum and between the cupolas of the three tribunes or eastern apses. They feature deep niches separated by paired pilasters, showcasing a refined early Renaissance style.
The Exterior of Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore
The Southern flank of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore
The southern flank of the cathedral is the oldest section, covered in white Carrara marble and adorned with decorative green Prato marble panels. A relief of the Annunciation from 1310 can be found on the wall near the campanile. Close by is the Porta del Campanile, featuring a Virgin and Child in the lunette, previously attributed to Andrea Pisano but now generally credited to Simone Talenti. Further east, there is the Porta dei Canonici from 1378, designed by Piero di Giovanni Tedesco and others. In its lunette, there is another depiction of the Virgin and Child, created by Niccolò di Pietro Lamberti in 1395.
The Eastern End of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore
At the east end of the cathedral, you’ll find the impressive three equal arms of the transepts and chancel, all rising towards Brunelleschi’s magnificent cupola. Each of these arms has five facets, featuring tall Gothic two-light windows on each face. Above the lower order, raking buttresses support the smaller upper order, topped by a small but incomplete cupola that abuts the base of the octagonal drum. The drum has a large oculus on each face, and it was originally planned to construct eight marble-clad galleries just above it. However, only one facet was completed, and the remaining seven were never built, leaving rough masonry in their place. Several proposals for the galleries’ completion, preserved as models, can be found in the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore.
The North Face of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore
On the north face of the exterior, the Porta della Mandorla (1391–7) was created by multiple masters, including Giovanni d’Ambrogio, Piero di Giovanni Tedesco, and Niccolò Lamberti. The spandrel above the lower arch features a rich relief by Nanni di Banco, while the lower lunette once held an Annunciation attributed to Jacopo della Quercia, now housed in the Museo dell’Opera. In the gable, enclosed within an almond-shaped mandorla, is the Assumption of the Virgin with St. Thomas, also sculpted by Nanni di Banco.
The west façade of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore
The original west façade, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, was only completed up to the top of the central portal. It was a complex late Gothic work with sculpted pieces by Nanni di Banco, Donatello, and Niccolò Lamberti, now housed in the Museo dell’Opera. In 1587, it was dismantled by decree of Grand Duke Francesco I and undertaken by Bernardo Buontalenti.
The façade remained bare until 1843 when Nicola Matas proposed a new design. The present neo-Gothic façade, completed in 1871-87, was designed by Emilio de Fabris and finished by Luigi del Moro after Fabris’s death. It showcases the greatness of Christianity and the significance of the Virgin Mary, with principal figures such as St. Antonino and Pope Eugenius IV in the niches.
The bronze doors, created by Augusto Passaglia and Giuseppe Cassioli, depict scenes from the Life of the Virgin, and the upper gallery features the Virgin and Child, flanked by the Twelve Apostles, also by Passaglia.
The Great Dome
The design of the church followed the Italian Gothic architectural tradition, characterized by pointed arches and cross-ribbed vaults. The Cathedral’s overall layout adheres to a Latin cross design, with a particular focus on accommodating the most iconic feature of the church—the enormous dome. Arnolfo di Cambio, the initial architect, had already incorporated space for the dome in his floorplans. However, by the time of his passing, the concept of constructing such a colossal dome had not yet been fully realized.
During the 140 years of the Cathedral’s construction, architects from all over the world grappled with the immense challenge of figuring out how to build a dome of such scale without it collapsing. Giotto di Bondone, Andrea Pisano, and Francesco Talenti were among the architects who worked on different aspects of the church and contributed to the development of the dome.
Ultimately, it was Filippo Brunelleschi, a Florentine architect, who successfully completed the construction of the magnificent dome. His innovative and revolutionary approach involved the use of innovative engineering techniques, such as a double-shell structure and an ingenious herringbone pattern, to ensure the stability and strength of the dome. Brunelleschi’s ingenious design remains an exceptional feat of engineering and a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. The dome stands as a testament to human ingenuity and artistic brilliance, crowning the Florence Cathedral with its awe-inspiring presence.
The Interior of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore
The cathedral interior exudes a grand and unadorned simplicity, except for the remarkable stained-glass windows. It measures 153 m in length, 38 m wide across the nave and aisles, and 90 m across the transepts. The plan is a modified Latin cross, featuring a nave with only four large square bays and relatively narrow aisles. The nave is articulated by massive compound piers and pilasters, supporting simple pointed arches and rising to a continuous walkway on corbels. Above are plain quadripartite vaults with stone ribs. The clerestory features large oculi in the centre of each bay. The cathedral boasts forty-four exquisite stained glass windows, making it one of Italy’s finest collections.
The floor is made of polychrome marble, displaying intricate geometric patterns. Its construction started in 1526 based on Baccio d’Agnolo’s design, but it took over a century to finish.
Western Nave & Remains of the Church of Santa Reparata
Below the western part of the nave lies a crypt, which is the remains of the earlier church of Santa Reparata. These excavations, conducted from 1965 to 1974, unveiled a complex history of successive buildings and alterations, including some from the Roman and early Christian periods. Notably, in the southeast corner, near the foot of the stairs, lies the tomb slab of Brunelleschi, the only artist of Florentine origin buried in the church.
West Wall of Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore
Inside the west wall of the cathedral, you can find several notable features. Firstly, there is a mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, created around 1290, originally located in the baptistery. Adjacent to the mosaic, there is a large clock adorned by the artwork of Paolo Uccello, dating back to 1443. On the west wall itself, there are three circular stained-glass windows designed by Ghiberti: one featuring St. Lawrence with Angels, another depicting the Assumption, and the third showcasing St. Stephen with Angels. These artistic elements contribute to the rich and awe-inspiring ambiance within the cathedral.
In the right aisle of the cathedral, as you move along, you’ll come across several remarkable sculptures and artworks. In the first bay, near the corner, there is a bust of Filippo Brunelleschi, likely crafted from his death mask, skillfully made by his adopted son, Andrea Cavalcanti, in 1446. Next to it, within a wooden aedicule, you’ll find a statue of Isaiah, attributed to the renowned artist Donatello. As you proceed further along in the same bay, there is a bust of the famous painter Giotto, sculpted by Benedetto da Maiano in 1490. In the fourth bay, just before the Porta della Canonica, there’s a bust of Marsilio Ficino, the prominent neo-Platonist philosopher, created by Andrea Ferrucci in 1521. The adjacent stained-glass window, dated to 1394–5, is a masterpiece by Agnolo Gaddi, adding to the splendor of the cathedral’s interior.
The crossing and cupola of the cathedral hold impressive artworks and decorations. Originally, Brunelleschi envisioned covering the inner surface of the cupola with mosaics similar to those found in the nearby baptistery. However, instead, a massive fresco depicting the Last Judgment was painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari between 1572 and 1579, continuing even after Vasari’s death in 1574.In the drum of the cupola, you’ll find seven exquisite stained-glass windows, created between 1443 and 1445. Regrettably, one window by Uccello is now lost. These windows portray scenes from the Life of Christ and were designed by Uccello (2), Andrea del Castagno (1), Donatello (1), and Ghiberti (3). Together, these artworks add grandeur and religious significance to the magnificent interior of the cathedral.
Within each of the three arms of the tribunes, there are five square chapels, each illuminated by Gothic two-light windows that showcase exquisite stained-glass images of saints set into elegant aedicules. This impressive design and arrangement of the chapels and stained-glass windows were proposed by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti in 1435, with Ghiberti being responsible for their creation. The chapels and their beautiful stained-glass depictions add to the overall grandeur and spiritual atmosphere of the cathedral’s interior.
South East Sacristy: Sacristy of the Canons
To the southeast of the central octagon, you will find the ‘old sacristy,’ also known as the sacristy of the canons. Above its entrance, there is a captivating Ascension in enamelled terracotta, skilfully crafted by Luca della Robbia in 1451.
The splendid cantoria (choir loft) by Donatello, which was created in 1439, once adorned the space above the doorway, but it was relocated to the Museo dell’Opera in 1688.
In the chancel’s eastern chapel, you will discover two graceful kneeling angels made of white glazed terracotta, also crafted by Luca della Robbia. Additionally, there is a bronze reliquary urn created by Ghiberti, adding to the beauty and significance of this sacred space within the cathedral.
North Sacristy: Sacristy of the Masses
In the North Sacristy, also known as the Sacristy of the Masses or of the Servites, you will be greeted by a beautiful relief of the Resurrection, expertly crafted by Luca della Robbia in 1442, positioned above the doorway. The bronze doors at the entrance are another remarkable work by Luca, created in collaboration with Michelozzo and Maso di Bartolomeo. Just like in the old sacristy, Luca della Robbia’s magnificent cantoria once adorned the space above the doorway, but it is now displayed in the Museo dell’Opera.
Inside the sacristy, the interior is adorned with stunning intarsia panels made of timber, designed in trompe l’oeil perspective. These panels were crafted by various artists, including Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano, between 1436 and 1465. They add to the richness and beauty of this sacred space. In the north transept, you will notice a gnomon set into the floor, created in 1475. This gnomon was once used for solar observations through a window in the cupola lantern, showcasing the ingenuity and scientific curiosity of the time.
In the left aisle of the cathedral, as you walk through the first bay, you will come across a figure of Joshua, attributed to the renowned sculptor Donatello. In the second bay, you will find a portrait bust of Antonio Squarcialupi, skilfully created by Benedetto da Maiano in 1490. Moving to the right, there are two notable trompe l’oeil frescoes honouring condottieri (mercenary captains). The first fresco, by Uccello and dated 1436, commemorates Sir John Hawkwood (known as Giovanni Acuto). The second fresco, by Andrea del Castagno in 1456, pays tribute to Niccolò da Tolentino.
As you proceed to the fourth bay, near the Porta della Mandorla, you will encounter the famous portrait of Dante and his Worlds, an artwork by Domenico di Michelino from 1465. The portrait depicts the renowned poet Dante Alighieri holding a copy of his magnum opus, the Divine Comedy. The backdrop showcases contemporary Florence, where Brunelleschi’s newly completed cupola now dominates the cityscape, providing a glimpse of the architectural pride of the time.
Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista
The Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista is believed to be one of the oldest places of worship in Florence. The current Baptistery was constructed between 1059 and 1128 and received its name in honour of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence. During the spread of Christianity and the decline of the Pagan religion, Christians sought ways to transition smoothly from one belief system to another.
One such method was replacing a Roman god with a Christian saint. This is how St. John the Baptist became the patron saint of Florence, taking the place of the widely worshiped god, Mars, who was associated with war. Since Mars had a strong appeal, they needed a saint who could captivate in a similar manner. Saint John possessed a rugged character, not necessarily appearing “holy” or pristine, which resonated well with the sensibilities of the people of Florence.
The octagonal floor plan of the Baptistery was commonly used during the early centuries of Christianity, though nowadays it has become quite rare. The octagonal design brings about a beautiful sense of symmetry, creating a unified and serene structure. The original architect of the Baptistery remains uncertain, but various renowned artists have been credited with contributing to its design. The likes of Pisano, Giotto, Ghiberti, Donatello, and even Leonardo da Vinci have been associated with its creation. Being a place touched by the hands of so many masters adds to its significance in the city’s history.
The Baptistery Portals
In addition to the use of marble and other materials discussed earlier, bronze played a primary role in crafting lavish and majestic doorways. These entrances were referred to as “portals” and symbolized the gateways to the palace of God.
Pisano’s Southern Portal
The oldest set of doors, crafted by Andrea Pisano in 1329, originally faced east toward the Duomo but were later moved to the south in 1452 and replaced by newer designs. These doors depict stories from the Old Testament and were commissioned by the Merchants Guild of Florence, one of the wealthiest guilds in the city. Their choice to prominently display intricate clothing carvings possibly served as subtle advertising, referencing their trade’s manufacturing. Compared to the newer doors, these designs appear more subdued, with less realistic shapes of people and facial features lacking strong emotions. My personal favourite aspect of these designs is the lavishly decorated door frames, abundant with lush greenery and flowers, giving a sense of vibrant growth and beauty.
The second set of doors, situated on the northern side, was designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti in 1422. However, Ghiberti didn’t simply receive the commission right away. In 1401, the church organized a competition to determine who would be honoured with this prestigious commission. The purpose of these doors was to commemorate the end of the devastating Black Death that had swept through much of Europe, resulting in the death of millions. Remarkably, Florence had been relatively spared, with only a comparatively small fraction of its citizens succumbing to the disease. To participate in the competition, artists had to submit a small bronze panel depicting the scene of Abraham Sacrificing Isaac.
Ultimately, the selection committee faced a dilemma between Brunelleschi’s design and Ghiberti’s. Unable to make a decision, they proposed that the artists collaborate on the project. However, Brunelleschi declined the offer, insisting that anything less than a creation entirely his own wasn’t worth his time. As a result, Ghiberti was awarded the job.
It took him a staggering 21 years to complete these doors. The panels on these doors feature 28 scenes from the New Testament, illustrating the life of Jesus Christ. Each scene is adorned with rich decorative elements, framed by abundant foliage, and complemented by gilded busts of prophets and sibyls (women believed to possess the ability to foretell the future).
The current doors are actually replicas, as the original ones are now housed at the Cathedral Museum. Nevertheless, these recreations are awe-inspiring examples of the sculptural art form that was emerging during that time. Ghiberti’s masterful work has left an enduring legacy, and the doors are rightfully regarded as some of the most remarkable artistic achievements of their era.
Ghiberti’s Eastern Portal
The third set of doors, crafted between 1425 and 1452, was also the work of Ghiberti, following the tremendous success of his first commission. These doors earned the name “the gates of paradise,” a title that endures to this day, thanks to Michelangelo, who was deeply impressed by them. As a student, Michelangelo would frequently visit the Baptistery to study these magnificent works of art. In contrast to the quarter foil frames of the previous gates, these panels are larger, totalling ten in number, and they portray scenes from both the Old Testament and the life of Saint John the Baptist.
In this new series, Ghiberti utilized a technique called “schiacciato,” which allowed him to create a sculpted relief by carving only a few millimetres deep. This technique produced an illusion of greater depth and motion within each scene. Unlike the previous panels that mainly focused on the characters, these new renditions incorporated landscape elements, infusing each panel with a more immersive atmosphere. Surrounding the doors are a series of miniature busts and sculptures. Of particular note are the two busts featured in the centre, which represent a self-portrait of the artist, Ghiberti, and his father, Bartolomeo Ghiberti. This level of artistry and attention to detail further solidifies the doors’ reputation as truly exceptional and deserving of their “gates of paradise” title.
The interior of the Baptistery was inspired by the grandeur of the Roman Pantheon, featuring a majestic domed ceiling adorned with intricate Byzantine mosaics. The construction of the roof dates back to the 1200s, and it remains a remarkable masterpiece. Millions of tiny gold and glass tiles were meticulously arranged to create the captivating scene of “universal judgement.” Remarkably, it took over a century to complete this entire piece. The lengthy timeline of its creation allows visitors to observe the evolution of art styles over the years, as techniques improved and changed throughout the process.
Descending from the centre of the octagonal dome, various rings of mosaics depict specific storylines, all cantered around the theme of judgment. These captivating scenes add depth and significance to the central theme and create a truly awe-inspiring visual experience for those visiting the Baptistery. The combination of historical inspiration, masterful artistry, and the gradual development of techniques over time makes the interior of the Baptistery a treasure trove of artistic and cultural richness.
Life of Joseph, the Virgin Mary and Jesus and St. John the Baptist
The top layer of the octagonal dome, situated under the lantern, is adorned with intricate depictions of plants and animals. Just below this section, a series of angels surround and offer praise towards the central image of Jesus. Continuing downward, there are scenes from the story of Genesis, followed by depictions from the Life of Joseph, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and finally, scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence.
In the center of the mosaics, breaking into multiple rows, stands the central figure of Jesus. He is depicted with his hands outstretched to either side, and the marks of the crucifixion nails are visible, still bleeding in the center of his palms. On the right side of his feet are images of damnation, portraying terrifying representations of the tortures of hell in an extremely brutal manner. The shapes of the various figures in this section aren’t human-like and appear almost alien, as if hell itself distorts the human form. These depictions were meant to instill fear in the citizens of Florence, serving as a reminder to lead virtuous lives to avoid suffering in the afterlife for eternity.
The contrasting images on the left side of Jesus show salvation, offering a glimmer of hope for those who follow a righteous path. The mosaics in the Baptistery’s dome serve not only as artistic marvels but also as powerful expressions of religious beliefs and the consequences of one’s actions in the afterlife.
The Marble Floor of the Baptistery
The marble floor of the Baptistery is crafted using a technique called ‘intarsia’ or ‘intarso.’ This method involves using multiple colors of marble, carefully arranged together to create a unified and intricate design. The result is a stunning and harmonious piece of art beneath your feet.
At one point in history, the lantern in the ceiling of the Baptistery was open to the outside air, allowing natural light to enter. This light would shine upon a sundial embedded into the marble floor. The Florentine designers ingeniously incorporated astrological signs and the sundial to tell the time based on the position of the sun. While the lantern is no longer open and the sundial has been removed, the zodiac signs on the marble floor can still be observed today. These astrological symbols offer a fascinating glimpse into the ingenuity and cultural significance of the Baptistery’s design, combining both artistic beauty and functional utility in one magnificent structure.
The Tomb of Guccio de Medici
The tomb of Guccio de Medici, who passed away in the 1300s, serves as the earliest example of the Medicis’ preoccupation with making their funerals as splendid as their lifestyles. Upon his death, Guccio was interred within an ancient Roman sarcophagus. To enhance the tomb’s significance and reflect the family’s prominence, a carving of the Medici coat of arms and renowned Medici coins were added to the Roman structure. This blending of ancient and contemporary elements showcases the Medicis’ desire to leave an enduring mark of grandeur and prestige even in their final resting places.
The Tomb of the Anti Pope John XXIII
The tomb of Antipope John XXIII in the Baptistery remains one of the most contentious and controversial tombs within the building. Pope John XXIII, whose birth name was Baldassari Cossa, was buried in this illustrious setting. However, despite the grandeur of his burial place, he was posthumously stripped of his papal title due to his numerous wrongdoings and scandalous life. His actions and behavior had earned him widespread disapproval and dislike from nearly everyone in Florence, with one notable exception—the Medici family.as
Interestingly, the Medici family held a favorable view of Antipope John XXIII. When Cossa assumed power, he entrusted the financing of the Vatican to the Medici bank. As one of the largest institutions in the world, the Vatican’s choice of the Medici bank as their primary money lender catapulted the Medici family to prominence and wealth. Prior to this significant association, the Medici were merely one of many money lenders in Florence. However, with the Vatican’s support, they transformed into one of the wealthiest non-royal families in Europe. This financial arrangement cemented the Medici family’s rise to fame and became a crucial factor in their ascent to power and influence in Renaissance Florence.
Donatello and the Baptistry
Despite the public’s dislike and disdain for Antipope John XXIII (Baldassari Cossa), the Medici family found themselves indebted to him. Under his influence, the Medici’s were somewhat under his control. When Cossa expressed his dying wish to be buried in the Baptistery, the Medici family honored his request, despite the ensuing public outrage.
In 1420, the Medici’s commissioned the renowned sculptor Donatello to create his funerary monument. The tomb features Cossa’s death mask, a representation of his face looking directly at the onlooker, rather than gazing upward towards the heavens as was typical of many death masks of that time. This positioning seems to challenge and defy the public to speak against him, as it appears he is always vigilant and listening.
Above his coffin, a lunette of the Madonna and child is placed, adorned with golden fringe. The entire monument is a stone canopy, exquisitely embellished. On either side of the coffin stand two Marzocco Lions, symbolizing the protectors of Florence.
The Medici’s fulfilled Antipope John XXIII’s last wish, and the monument erected in his honor is a display of their power, even in the face of public disapproval. This act further solidified the Medici family’s role in shaping the political and cultural landscape of Renaissance Florence.
The Campanile or Giotto’s Bell Tower
To comprehend the design of the Cathedral’s façade as it appears today, it’s crucial to first examine the campanile, or bell tower, designed by Giotto in 1334. The façade, as we’ll discover later, was relatively plain until its redesign in the 18th century. However, the bell tower, before the completion of the dome, was a multi-coloured treasure and nearly the most impressive feature of the Cathedral. The tower stands an impressive 15 meters wide and over 84 meters tall, showcasing its remarkable size and grandeur. Yet, beyond its dimensions, the most captivating aspect of the bell tower lies in its vibrant colours. Giotto explained that he used different hues to exemplify the two fundamental principles of Florentine art: “rectitude (righteousness) and beauty.”
Sadly, Giotto passed away before witnessing the tower’s completion in 1387. It was reported that he died of grief over the bell tower’s one design flaw. Giotto had inadvertently made the base of the tower a little too narrow, hindering the effect of vertical momentum. He deeply regretted this decision, stating that he had made “too-small a bed for your feet” concerning the tower’s design. His concerns were warranted, as the tower later required renovation to support the full height of the construction at its base. However, today, such an imperfection is hardly noticeable. After Giotto’s death, two additional architects, Andrea Pisano and Francesco Talenti, stepped in to fulfil and complete Giotto’s vision for the bell tower. Together, they brought Giotto’s masterpiece to its awe-inspiring final form, ensuring that his legacy would live on in the splendour of the magnificent campanile.
The first floor of the bell tower holds one of its most captivating features. Upon closer inspection of the hexagonal panels encircling the base of the tower, one can marvel at the intricate white stone reliefs, beautifully framed by pink marble, which further contrasts against the green, serpentine marble. These reliefs depict a fascinating tapestry of medieval life, combining religious doctrines, historical events, and liberal arts.
These panels serve as a visual narrative, showcasing the history of mankind as understood during medieval times. Alongside the stories from the Bible, they depict humanity’s most significant discoveries and achievements.
- South side: astronomy, medicine, hunting, wool-working, and legislation
- East side: navigation, social justice, agriculture, festivals, and architecture.
- North side: sculpture, painting, harmony, grammar, logic, music, poetry, geometry, and arithmetic.
As we ascend to the upper levels of the tower, designed by Francesco Talenti, we encounter a new mathematical treatment that adds to its unique charm. Each level is slightly taller than the one below it, a deliberate design choice that creates an optical illusion when viewed from above. This ingenious use of perspective gives the tower a sense of height that surpasses its actual dimensions, showcasing the Renaissance fascination with the intersection of science, mathematics, and art.
The Bells of the Campanile
At the summit of the tower, one can find seven bells, each with its own unique sound. The largest of these bells is named Santa Reparata, in homage to the saint to whom the original church was dedicated. The sound of this bell ringing across the square, accompanied by pigeons taking flight, creates an enchanting and evocative soundscape that echoes the history and spirit of Florence. This sweet melody of the bells adds to the allure and magic of the Cathedral, leaving a lasting impression on visitors and locals alike.
Climbing the Campanile Bell Tower
For those adventurous souls eager to experience the breathtaking view from the bell tower, or even the more ambitious individuals looking to climb both the bell tower and the dome, the entrance can be found at the northeast corner of the bell tower. Thankfully, you can use the same grand ticket for entry, providing you access to these awe-inspiring heights.
As you embark on the ascent, be prepared to conquer 400 steps to reach the top. The climb may demand some effort, but the panoramic vista that awaits from above makes it an endeavour well worth undertaking. From this elevated vantage point, you’ll be treated to an unforgettable view of Florence’s iconic skyline and the surrounding beauty of the city.