Florence Cathedral is one of Italy’s wonders. An architectural masterpiece, with its world-famous dome, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore has stood guard over Florence since the 15th century. Its size, beauty and incredible history make it one of the city’s highlights.

Here we’ll let you in on 10 Furious facts about the remarkable Florence Duomo.

1. Florence Duomo, a Cathedral without a roof

Florence Cathedral had already been under construction for more than a century, before work finally began on it dome. The original architect, Arnolfo di Cambio, started the construction of the cathedral in 1296, but died soon afterwards. Sixty years later the architect Neri di Fioravante built a model to show how a dome could be built.

But with rain pouring into the cathedral, the Opera del Duomo had to find someone who could put this grand project into action. They announced a competition to find the best candidate, and Brunelleschi won.

2. How was the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore built?

Florence Cathedral Dome, which Brunelleschi started in 1418, took only 16 years to complete and was built entirely without scaffolding. A revolutionary achievement by any standards. The octagonal dome of Florence Cathedral is the largest brick and mortar dome in the world.

3. The hidden terraces that you can access with a Guided Tour

To have a close-up of Florence’s Cathedral and its fabulous dome, you can join a guided VIPs tour, a real unique experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Ascending 153 steps, the tour takes you to the hidden Northern Terrace, about a third of the way up to the cupola. This is a great opportunity that gives you the chance to see the Cathedral and Dome from a different perspective.

The best way to experience the Florence Duomo is with a VIP guided tour that takes you up to the hidden terraces and the top of the Dome!

4. The ‘modern’ facade of Florence Duomo

The exterior decoration of Florence Cathedral started in the 14th century and wasn’t completed until 1887, when the facade was finished. Until the 16th century, the facade was decorated with a series of sculptures, in a style that mixed Gothic with more classical taste. It was then demolished in 1587 and many projects went unfinished until the 19th century. Many temporary facades were erected over the centuries, and in the end the Cathedral was completed with the Neo-gothic decoration that you see today.

=> If you visit the Opera del Duomo Museum in Florence, you can see a reconstruction of the ancient facade and some of the original statues.

=> Top 10 Artworks to see at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Florence Cathedral

5. The statue of David on the Duomo

Originally Michelangelo won the commission to create the 5-metre tall statue of David for the Cathedral of Florence. The plan was to add David to the series of statues of prophets destined for the Florence Duomo. But once it was finished, it was clear that raising statue of this size to the top of the dome was impossible.

So a committee of Florentine citizens – including Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli – had to decide on an alternative position for the David. In the end the statue was placed outside Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the Florentine government.

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6. Why is Florence’s Duomo called Santa Maria del Fiore?

The most common explanation is that Florence Duomo was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. And that Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Virgin of the Flower, was an allusion to the giglio, the iris, symbol of the city of Florence.

Some scholars use a verse of the Divine Commedy, the poem by Dante Alighieri, to give a different explanation. Dante calls Christ ‘fiore‘, and in this case the name would mean ‘Virgin mother of Christ‘.

7. What’s the ‘Gnomone’ of Florence Cathedral?

The Gnomone, or gnomon, is the part of a sundial that casts a shadow and indicates the time. Inside the Duomo there’s an astronomical device made of a gnomic hole on the Cathedral’s Dome Lantern that lets the sun’s rays illuminate a spot on the floor of the Cappella della Croce (northern side).

On the 21st June, at noon – Summer solstice – the sun illuminates the round mark on the floor. This device, created by astronomer Toscanelli around 1475, has been used for astronomical observation throughout the centuries. Recently, special viewings of this phenomenon have been organised for visitors on the 21st June.

8. Florence Duomo’s numbers

Even if you are not impressed by its size, and that’s unlikely, you’ll be impressed by its numbers. Florence Cathedral is 116.5 meters tall, its dome weights 37,000 tons and inside there are 3600 square metres of frescoed walls.

=> If you climb the Dome you get to have a close look at the impressive frescoes.

9. Giuliano de’ Medici was killed inside Florence Cathedral

It happened during Easter mass, on 26th April 1478. In Florence some families wanted to get rid of the Medici, who had been spreading their influence and power over the city for decades. The ‘golden boys’ Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici had many enemies, headed by the Pazzi family allied with the Pope. They organised the killing of the two brothers in the Cathedral, while they were attending mass. While Lorenzo managed to escape, Giuliano was brutally stabbed to death.

=> Learn more about the Pazzi Conspiracy.

10. The ‘lightning curse’

On the night of April 5th 1492, lightning struck the lantern on top of the dome, luckily without causing heavy damage.

A second incident happened on January 27th 1601, but this time the lighting caused the detachment of Verrocchio’s copper sphere (which weighs 1900 kg). On the Cathedral Square pavement there’s a round marble slab that indicates the spot where the sphere fell.

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The lantern at the top of Florence Cathedral’s dome – photo by Gabriel Lufrano Wikipedia