The great dome that tops the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, in Florence, Italy, rises majestically above the city.

This Renaissance 'superdome' took more than 100 years to build

Florence's Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore astonished the world with its colossal dome ingeniously designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.

Crowning glory

The great dome that tops the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, in Florence, Italy, rises majestically above the city. To this day, at 180 feet in diameter, it is still the largest brick-and-mortar dome in the world.
Susanne Kremer/Fototeca 9x12

The Florence Cathedral is, without doubt, one of the great feats of Renaissance engineering. The cathedral is dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flower), a reference to the lily, Florence’s emblem. Its iconic and ingenious dome, which architect Filippo Brunelleschi completed in 1436, brought to fruition a project that had begun 140 years earlier.

It was sculptor and architect Arnolfo di Cambio who came up with the initial plans for a new cathedral in Florence in 1296, to be built over the existing Cathedral of Santa Reparata, alongside the ancient octagonal baptistery. He worked in the Italian Gothic style, incorporating elements of late Gothic and emerging Renaissance design. But when he died in 1310, work on the cathedral came to a halt. 

Then, in the 1330s, the Opera del Duomo, the institution in charge of the building works, was taken over by the wool guild, the dominant group in Florentine politics, who put up the funds to continue building the great cathedral. A string of eminent architects filled the role of capomaestro (master builder) in the years to come. The master painter Giotto was appointed to the role in 1334, and began the construction of the freestanding bell tower that now bears his name.

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