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Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore , commonly known as the Duomo of Florence , is the main Florentine church, symbol of the city and one of the most famous in Italy as well as the third largest church in the world. It stands on the foundations of the ancient cathedral of Florence, the church of Santa Reparata , in a point of the city that has housed buildings of worship since Roman times.
The construction of the Duomo, ordered by the Florentine Lordship , began in 1296 and ended from a structural point of view only in 1436. The initial work was entrusted to the architect Arnolfo di Cambio and then interrupted and resumed numerous times over the decades (by Giotto , Francesco Talenti and Giovanni di Lapo Ghini ). At the completion of Brunelleschi 's dome followed the consecration by Pope Eugene IV on March 24, 1436. The dedication to Santa Maria del Fiore took place in the course of work, in 1412 .
The plan of the Cathedral is composed of a three- aisled basilica body welded to a huge triconic round that supports the immense dome of Brunelleschi , the largest masonry dome ever built. Inside you can see the largest surface ever decorated with fresco : 3600 m², executed between 1572 - 1579 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari . At the base of the marble lantern , there is a panoramic terrace overlooking the city 91 meters from the ground. The facade of the Cathedral in polychrome marble is of modern age, dates back to 1887 by Emilio de Fabris and is an important example of neo-Gothic style in Italy.

The religious center of Florence was in the early Middle Ages anything but baricentric, having developed in the north-east corner of the ancient Roman circle. As was typical of the early Christian era, churches had in fact been built, also in Florentia , close to the walls and only in the following centuries were incorporated into the city. The first Florentine cathedral was San Lorenzo , from the fourth century, and then, perhaps in the seventh century, the title passed to Santa Reparata , the primitive church that is located under the Duomo and which was still outside the walls at the time. In the Carolingian period the square was a mixture of civil and religious power, with the residence of the margrave next to the bishop's residence (more or less under the Archbishop's palace ) and the cathedral. In 1078 Matilde di Canossa promoted the construction of the ancient circle (as Dante called it), also incorporating Santa Reparata and the original form of the Baptistery of San Giovanni , dating back to the 4th or 5th century.

At the end of the XIII century the Platea episcopalis , the Florentine episcopal complex, presented completely different spatial relationships. Piazza San Giovanni was little more than an open space between the Palazzo Vescovile and the Baptistery of San Giovanni , then the true fulcrum of the complex, just completed with its attic and the octagonal pyramid marble roof. To the east, close to what was then called Porta del Paradiso , was the portico of the church of Santa Reparata , which had at its eastern end a real harmonic chorus with two bell towers .

To the north-east stood the ancient church of San Michele Visdomini , then moved further north, which was on the same axis as the Duomo-Baptistery, and the oldest "Spedale" in Florence; to the south stood the houses of the Canons, organized around a central cloister. As usual at the time, the religious space fulfilled civic functions, such as the appointments of the knights, the popular assemblies, the reading of the messages of the authorities, the consecrations to the Baptist of prisoners of war, etc.

Between the end of the XIII and the beginning of the XIV century, Florence experienced a peak of political and cultural flowering, which culminated in vast urban projects, such as the creation of a new civic pole linked to political power, then called Piazza della Signoria , the expansion of the city walls (1284-1333) and the construction of a new cathedral, of sufficient size and importance compared to the new urban context. Santa Reparata, in fact, although ancient and venerable, was no longer adequate to the city in strong expansion, rich and powerful, which had just settled its accounts with the rival Siena ( Battle of Colle Val d'Elsa , 1269 ) and imposed, albeit with difficulty, his hegemony in the chaotic Tuscan chessboard. Santa Reparata was described by Villani as "very large and small in comparison with so many cities" and in the documents of the municipality as "Cadente for extreme age". In 1294 , after trying to enlarge and consolidate Santa Reparata, finally the city government decided to complete the reconstruction of the church, with dimensions such as to eclipse the cathedrals of the opposing cities, including Pisa and Siena in the first place. A special accent was placed on the wealth of the factory, so as to represent the icon of the city power.

The new construction site
He was in charge of the new shipyard Arnolfo di Cambio , the architect of the new walls, already engaged in a vast unit renewal program of religious and civil buildings of the city (he had probably worked on the vast basilica of Santa Croce and in the same time he directed the construction of the Palazzo della Signoria ). Cardinal Pietro Valeriano Duraguerra , legate of Pope Bonifacio VIII , solemnly laid the foundation stone of the new basilica on the feast of the Nativity of the Madonna in 1296 (8 September). It was dedicated to the Madonna of the flower, that is to say of the city itself (Fiorenza), although the citizens continued to call it with the old title at least until 1412 , when a decree of the Signoria imposed the obligation of the new denomination.
The work began with the excavation of foundations, then with the elevation of the walls of the side aisles; so we proceeded to leave as long as possible the church of Santa Reparata able to function as a cathedral. The question of the real existence of a project by Arnolfo di Cambio and its visibility in today's structure is still under discussion: in light of the few incomplete excavations, it is not possible to give a definite answer, but on the whole it is undeniable that some characters of the current cathedral strongly Aryanolfian even if they were executed by other master builders, so the existence of an original project is probable.

Santa Maria del Fiore according to the alleged project by Arnolfo, or perhaps by the same author of the frescoes, Andrea di Bonaiuto, frescoes from 1369 - 50 years before the construction of the dome ( Cappellone degli Spagnoli , Santa Maria Novella ).
There is a particularly ancient representation of the project of the new cathedral in the fresco of the triumphant church of Andrea di Bonaiuto in the Cappellone degli Spagnoli in Santa Maria Novella ; the building, already equipped with a dome and with apses, perhaps reflects the wooden model presented by Arnolfo. However, the perplexities are not lacking: the bell tower, too similar to the one actually built, is more traditionally "moved" in the apse area; the dome, although Gothic in its decoration, is a traditional semispherical dome, without a drum ; perhaps it reflects, rather than the model of Arnolfo, the one presented to the Opera by the same author of the fresco.

Arnolfo therefore must have already thought of a church with a large dome, inspired by the Roman model of Santa Maria della Rotonda (the Pantheon) , and with the intention of overcoming the dimensions of the Baptistery. Despite some uncertainties of the critics, the excavations have confirmed that the first foundations that can be attributed to Santa Maria del Fiore are located under the current facade (the so-called wall 100 ) and under the side walls, then extending south of the facade. Thus the hypothesis that Arnolfo had designed a church as wide as the current one, albeit with an axis rotated a few degrees to the south, and equipped with a bell tower isolated to the south of the façade, is confirmed. The prospect of Santa Reparata appeared enlarged by about ten meters and incorporated some houses of the canons on the right and on the left the ancient bell tower, which was completely demolished only in 1356 . The low thickness of these foundations makes a planned height much less likely than the one reached. The facade was immediately started, although according to practice it was a generally postponed element with respect to the construction of other parts of the church, because with the demolition of the first bay of Santa Reparata, decided to leave more space to the Baptistery, it was necessary to close the ancient church in order to ensure its provisional use as long as possible.

Even the large protruding walkway, although materially executed by Francesco Talenti , is an indication of a typically Arnolfian character. The critics approach it to the cornice of Santa Croce (traditionally attributed to it) and to that of other similar works such as the Duomo of Orvieto and that of Siena . In particular, Angiola Maria Romanini stressed how the cornice-gallery is an unmissable constant […] in all the Arnolfian architectures .
At the death of Arnolfo ( 1302 ), contemporary with that of other promoters of the construction site, such as the Bishop Monaldeschi and the cardinal Matteo d'Acquasparta , papal legate, the works slowed down and were suspended for about 30 years.

The construction of the basilica body
After the death of Arnolfo di Cambio, the works stopped indefinitely. In 1330 the discovery under Saint Reparata of the relics of the venerated bishop of Florence, San Zanobi , gave new impetus to the construction. The Art of Lana , who had received the task of supervising the construction, in 1334 entrusted the direction of the work to Giotto , assisted by Andrea Pisano . Giotto concentrated on the bell tower of which he provided a project (a drawing preserved in the Opera del Duomo of Siena is probably a reflection, even the iconographic program of bas relief is at least partly his) and managed to start construction, but died later only 3 years in 1337 . Andrea Pisano continued the work, also especially on the bell tower, but he died with the arrival of the black plague in 1348 and the works were again blocked.
He did not expect much to resume work and already in 1349 the project passed to Francesco Talenti , who is responsible for the completion of the bell tower and, since 1356 , the resumption of work on the basilica. A year before the Opera had asked the architect for a model to see "how to deem the chapels behind", and it is at that date that the enlargement of the Arnolfian project is attributed: without changing the width of the nave, already in large partly sketched, the number of bays was reduced, making them almost square in plan, instead of the traditional rectangular planes of Gothic origin, and now larger and higher. The Talents realized by 1364 the first three, before being discharged from the work, due to criticism, debates and threats with the Workers (the leaders of the Opera del Duomo), who proposed to fine it to force it to be more present on the construction site .

In 1364 a commission in which Neri di Fioravante , Benei and Andrea di Cione , Taddeo Gaddi and Andrea di Bonaiuto participated, among others, approved the final design of the apse area, increasing the diameter of the dome from 36 to 41 meters. drum with big eyes, on a proposal by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini . The latter obtained the role of responsible for the construction after the Talents and he is referred to the construction of almost the entire structure of the naves.
Talenti, however, was recalled as a foreman in 1370 , when the shape and size of the apses had now been decided. The naves were completed with coverage in 1378 of the central one in 1380 of the lateral ones. By 1421 the tribunes and the drum were performed; only the dome remained to be built.

The question of the dome
A large 43-meter-wide cavity had been left in the cathedral and placed on a drum at a height of about 60 meters, of which no one, until then, still had the problem of finding a concrete solution, although for the whole second half of the fourteenth century had developed a passionate debate.
In 1418 a public competition was organized for the design of the dome, or even just for machines designed to lift weights at heights that had never been reached before by a vaulted construction, in which numerous competitors participated. The competition, generally considered as the beginning of the work on the dome, had no official winner: the large prize put up for grabs was not assigned. However, two emerging artists came to light that had already clashed in the competition for the north door of the baptistery of 1401 : Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti . Archive traces show how Brunelleschi set up a model and did a general rehearsal for the construction of the dome without ribs in the church of San Jacopo Soprarno . It was therefore established that the dome was built up to a height of thirty arms and then it was decided how to continue, based on the behavior of the walls. The height indicated was not accidental, but it was the one to which the bricks should have been laid at such an angle (with respect to the horizontal) that they could not be held in place by the slow-setting mortars known to the bricklayers of the time (the Roman technique of the " pozzolana " was no longer in use) with consequent risk of collapses.

Brunelleschi adopted a highly innovative solution, predisposing a double self-supporting shell during construction, without resorting to the traditional rib. After freeing his rival with a stratagem, Brunelleschi had the free field to take care of the grandiose project, gradually resolving all the difficulties that this entailed: from the construction of cranes and pulleys, to the preparation of reinforcements, from the organization of the yard to the external decoration , which was resolved with the creation of the suggestive 8 ribs in marble.
The internal dome is of enormous thickness (two and a half meters at the base), while the external dome is thinner (less than one meter), with the sole function of protecting the inner dome from the rain and making it appear, in the words of architect, more magnificent and swollen on the outside. The arrangement of herringbone bricks was used above all to create a grip for the rows of bricks in order to prevent their slipping until the mortar was taken. Due to the complexity of the company and the extraordinary result obtained, the construction of the dome is considered the first, great achievement of Renaissance architecture .