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Eastern Florence-Duomo, Baptistery and Museum dell'Opera del Duomo

The very nucleus of Florence where its history and art beats can be found between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria.

Among Florence's landmarks is the Duomo of Florence, sometimes known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, and which is listed as one of the three icons of Italy, together with the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower (tel. 055 21 53 80; www.duomofirenze.it; open 10am-5pm Mon, Wed and Fri, 10am-3.30pm Thu, 10am-4.45pm Sat, 10am-3.30pm 1st Sat each month, 1.30-4.45pm Sun). There is a mass in English at 5pm on Saturdays.
Its façade is exquisite in pink, white and green marble. The construction was started by Arnolfo di Cambio at the end of the 13th century. The work was finished in a century and a half. In the 19th century its neo-Gothic façade was added as the original  had had been destroyed in the 1500s.
A clear example of Gothic architecture is the southern side where there is the 14th century High Gothic Canons’door leading to the dome.
Its dome posed a great challenge, but Brunelleschi’s work was successful. The dome is reached by 460 steps. Started in 1420, it was finished 16 years later. This masterpiece of engineering made of four million bricks is 91m in height by almost 50m in width.
As you ascend the spiral staircase from a balustrade you get a bird’s eye view of the choir stalls and the stained glass windows Donatello, Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello and Lorenzo Ghiberti created. Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari ‘s 16th century frescos representing the Last Judgment can also be viewed form here.

The whole cathedral´s interior stretching 155m by 90m is not heavily decorated and many pieces have been moved to the Museo dell‘Opera del Duomo in the same square. A point worth making is that its decoration is principally secular as not all funds were provided by the church. Secular works include frescoes of mercenaries, Niccolò da Tolentino and Sir John Hawkwood made by Andrea del Castagno and Uccello in the 15th century.
The Mass Sacristy features stunning panels of inlaid wood which Benedetto and Giuliano da Maiano created. Luca della Robbia’s bronze doors open onto it and are enthroned by a glazed terracotta Resurrection.
Beneath the cathedral lie vestiges of the 5th century Chiesa di Santa Reparata which are visible in the crypt accessible via a staircase off the main entrance (open 10am, to 5pm Mon, Wed and Fri, to 4.45pm Sat).
Giotto’s bell tower (open 8.30am-6.50pm) provides stunning views of Florence once you´ve scaled its 414 steps. At the bell tower´s base are a row of reproduced bass reliefs which copied Pisano’s original pieces. They represent the creation of man and arts and different activities. The planets, the cardinal virtues, the arts and the seven sacraments are on the second tier. The superior levels are embellished with reproductions of sculptures of prophets and sibyls by Donatello and other artists. The originals can be admired at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

All the original pieces that once embellished the The Duomo, Baptistry and the Bell Tower are housed in the outstanding Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, a real must on your itinerary. (www.operaduomo.firenze.it; Piazza del Duomo 9; open 9am, to 6.50pm Mon-Sat, to 1pm Sun). Its courtyard exhibits 7 original panels of the Baptistry ‘s Door of Paradise by Ghiberti.
Off the courtyard is a room housing Arnoldo di Cambio’s statues that would decorate the Gothic façade had it been finished. Among the works by di Cambio are Pope Bonifacio VIII, the Virgin and Child and Santa Reparata. Also here is the large scale statue of Saint John by Donatello made at the beginning of the 15th century. There are Baccio Bandinelli and Giovanni Bandini’s carved marble panels (1547) that adorned the choir, truly exquisite and very interesting to compare in terms of style.
The Pietà by Michelangelo, a landmark of the museum, is on the landing. According to Vasari’s words, Michelangelo, unhappy with the result he was getting in the sculpture, detached one of Jesus’ arms and legs. It was one of his students who reassembled the parts and finished the sculpture.
On the first floor are two organ lofts artistically decorated by Donatello and Luca della Robbia each. The Prophet Habakkuk carved by Donatello which once embellished the bell tower is here as well as Donatellos ‘s grief-stricken Mary Magdalene made in wood. Donatello’s work was finished in different periods.

This Romanesque Baptistery dates back to the 11th century. The bas reliefs on the gilded bronze entrance doors are creations by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The competition he had entered at the beginning of the 15th century was won by both him and Filippo Brunelleschi, who, disappointed with the result, finally left the project. Both artists’ pieces are located in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, where one can see Brunelleschi’s decision could not have come at  at a better time as Ghiberti’s piece certainly the more stunning.
The 10 panels by Ghiberti are themed around biblical subjects and took him more than 20 years to complete. They were called Gate of the Paradise after Michelangelo’s words defining them as such. The original gates are in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
The three groups of doors into the baptistry were commissioned to tell the story of human beings and Redemption. The beginning is depicted by Andrea Pisano’s south door telling the life of Saint John the Baptist. It took him 28 panels. Among the 28 panels Ghiberti made for the north door, 20 are devoted to the New Testament, and the lower 8 to the Apostles and fathers of the church.
The baptistry sits on the vestiges of a Roman temple and is covered in white and green marble stripes, in keeping with the adjacent cathedral. Its existence was first recorded at the end of the 9th century yet it is believed to be even older. Roman columns with Corinthian capitals are also part of its structure. There are extraordinary mosaics in different parts of the interior. 
Antipope John XXIII lies in his tomb near the apse. This antipope called Baldassare Cossa had given the Medici family a hand in order to be involved in papacy bank accounts. This fact turned the Medici into an influential and rich family. His last wish was to lie in the baptistery and the Medici could not but fulfil this request. Donatello made the perfectly sculpted tomb for him.