Architecture / Italy / Travel

From Drab to Fab: The Duomo Makeover


Florence’s cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo, is the city’s most recognizable building. Its famous dome, built by Brunelleschi, made a radical departure from the Gothic Style, and is recognized as the beginning of Renaissance Architecture.

Duomo Front

The Duomo’s original cornerstone was laid in 1296, but it took 140 years, with many starts, stops and generations to complete the original. And even after all this time and energy, the original façade was left unfinished.

The Earlier Duomo

The Duomo, as if completed, in a fresco by Andrea di Bonaiuto, painted in the 1390s, before the commencement of the dome.

Finally, in what must be one of the longest makeovers in history, 441 years after the initial construction ended, the façade was completed. If there was ever a testament to the value of perseverance, this cathedral is it. (Actually, Gaudi’s Sagrada de Familia in Barcelona probably deserves to be on this list as well.)

Duomo Statue


The exterior that we see today is so complex, and intricately designed, it’s almost impossible to appreciate in one visit. The Duomo is a fantastic riot of colorful green, red, and white marble tiles, delicate ornaments, spiral pilasters, and impressive sculptures. On our most recent stay in Florence, we visited 3 times, and noticed something new each time.

Doumo Tower

It’s unique in the world, and if you’re looking for Renaissance architecture, the Duomo is the place to start.

Happy Trails,

IMG_2604You may also enjoy other posts in our Florence Series:
Florence: A Walk Through the Renaissance
Happy Birthday Giacomo!
Getting Around in Florence
Florence: Classic Art and Classy Threads

15 thoughts on “From Drab to Fab: The Duomo Makeover

    • Thanks Lisa. The detail in the Duomo is truly incredible. The colorful tile work is wonderful, the sculptures are each museum pieces, and the intricate carvings add even more interest. This cathedral takes time to appreciate. ~James

    • Thanks Alastair. I wasn’t aware of the Cologne Cathedral, and the 632 years. Constructing buildings like these would be a huge undertaking in modern times. Imagine what an effort it took in the Middle Ages. ~James

      • Interestingly, the age of great cathedral building is going on right now because here in Barcelona where I live, they’re still working on the Sagrada Familia with construction well into its third century. I’m sure you took time out to visit it while you were over.
        The Cologne Cathedral is epic, and it’s right next to the railway station if you ever find yourself in that part of Germany.

    • Thanks Francine. I think that the paleness of the colors are what make the whole scheme work. Given the detail of the facade, brighter colors would probably have been too garish – particularly for a cathedral. ~James

    • Thanks Andrew. On our first trip to Florence, the cathedral was in dire need of cleaning, and it was tough to see the incredible color and detail underneath. Today’s Duomo is indeed magnificent. BTW, what is your favorite cathedral? ~James

      • It is probably impossible to choose. I like St Paul’s in London, Burgos, Salamanca and Segovia in Spain, Palermo in Sicily and even the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. What about you?

      • As you say, it’s difficult to choose one. But, if I had to choose one, the Duomo in Florence would be near the top of the list. St. Chapelle in Paris with its fantastic stained glass windows has my favorite interior. Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is a wonderful merging of Islamic and Christian architecture. And finally, Reims Cathedral has my favorite Gothic exterior. ~James

      • I just remembered York Minster and Lincoln in England, St Basil’s in Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Riga – it really is too difficult to choose a favourite!

  1. I thought Sagrada Familia was the only major church in Europe which is still under construction. I was really not aware of the same long construction progress of the Duomo. I really shouldn’t miss this when I go to Italy one day.

    • Thanks Bama. The Duomo is certainly a must-see, and it’s worth the effort. The trick in Florence is to see and photograph it when the crowds aren’t so crazy. This takes some planning, and for us, an early morning arrival. ~James

      • Noted James. I am a morning person myself, so hopefully it won’t be hard for me to beat the crowd when I’m in Florence. Thanks!

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