Florence Duomo, Brunelleschi, and the Medici

Guide Costanza Barlondi is a native Florentine who loves to share her knowledge of this beautiful city. As part of the classic ‘red’ Archi Rossi walking tour she explains why there are no Roman ruins in Florence, the construction of the Duomo, the man behind the dome and the rulers of Florence – the Medici family.

“We always think about Florence in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance but the history of this city starts in the first century BC with the Romans. The only problem is the medieval city was built on top of the Roman city so in Florence you don’t see temples and ruins. It’s not that we don’t have them, we have them, but they are under your feet.”

“The Florence Duomo was started in 1296 and the structure was finished in 1436. Then came the decoration, which started from the back and went all the way round to the front. The time it took to complete goes beyond imagination – they finished it in 1887, nearly 600 years after it was started. There were many reasons for this, wars, lack of money, plague – they had to stop and then start again. The green and white marble you see for the decoration was easy to find in Florence and the surrounding areas. Most of the marble, especially the white marble, came from ancient Roman buildings of Florence. The builders were not afraid to recycle material for the new buildings and this is something you have to keep in mind.

“The Dome is the highest structure in Florence at 375 feet. It’s construction was not easy. One of the biggest problems was how to create the supports for the dome. No one could figure out how to do it, so they ran a competion. Out of all the architects who applied for the job, Filipo Brunelleschi was the one who was chosen because he promised he would build the dome without scaffolding. It was the first time something like this had been attempted and everyone thought Brunelleschi was crazy. The only ones to believe him, and to finance the project, were the Medici.”

“The Medici knew Brunelleschi, he had already been working for them on San Lorenzo, the first church of Florence. I think it isn’t a coincidence that right in the same year that the dome was completed, the Medici took control of Florence. The success of the undertaking was not only good for Brunelleschi, it was also good for the Medici as it showed the population they knew what they were doing. They knew when to bet, when not to bet. I think this is one of the great things about the Medici, not only were they great politicians and rich, they were smart. They understood the role art could play in their promotion.”

You can read more about Constanza Barlondi and book a private tour of Florence, or take her Florence free walking tours when you stay at the Archi Rossi hostel.

(Photo by cogito ergo imago)