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The Duomo, Florence Italy

Written by Patricia Mahony, Vice President/Construction Management

I recently returned from a two week vacation in Italy, accompanied by two of my sisters, three sister-in-law’s, three nieces and a close family friend.  Ten women whose plans included relaxing, shopping and drinking a lot of wine.  Visiting famous ruins and churches were slightly lower on our priority list.  It goes without saying that we more than accomplished our main objectives in the first three days, and we moved on to being tourists and enjoying the beauty of Florence.

While in Florence, our accommodations were in an Air B&B overlooking the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest and most famous bridge in Florence, and spans the Arno River.  From our apartment, we also had a view of the dome from Florence’s famous Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, which is an enduring symbol of Florence and known as the Duomo.   As we could only see the dome from our windows, we arranged a tour of the cathedral to view the amazing architecture and wondrous engineering accomplishment.

The beauty of the Duomo’s neo-Gothic architecture was secondary to questions regarding how the Italians were able to build such a detailed structure without modern technology.  Of course my companions looked to me to provide an explanation, since I’ve been in the construction industry for over 30 years.   Luckily, our tour guide saved me from making up some nonsensical explanation to appease our group, by providing the actual history of the Duomo’s construction.

The façade and perimeter cathedral walls had been constructed but no one could figure out how to erect the dome without great expense and damage to the existing structure.  Filippo Brunelleschi, a

Sculptor and Architect, rose to the occasion and won the commission to design the dome.  Brunelleschi traveled to Rome to study the ancient architecture in order to devise a plan to construct the dome.

Our tour guide explained that the dome was built using two separate shells.  The inner shell was thicker than the outer and both shells thinned as they neared the top, leaving the center of the dome hollow and reducing its weight.   The stones that comprise the actual dome were dovetailed to allow them to support themselves as they were erected.

Aside from designing the dome’s architecture, Brunelleschi also acted as the dome’s engineer, which is unusual in this day and age.  Brunelleschi designed winches, cranes and hoists to carry materials and food up to the craftsmen constructing the dome.   The dome is 148’ wide and 295’ high and considered a major engineering feat.   For his mastery in both design and engineering, Brunelleschi was awarded with a singular honor, he is the only person to be buried in the Florence Cathedral.

The Duomo is a beautiful architectural wonder and I highly recommend it as a “must see” if you are ever in Florence.   But as much as I was enthralled by the construction details and Brunelleschi’s genius, we were on to our next stop, a winery tour in Montepulciano, which was equally amazing.


P.Mahony 9.19- The Duomo
Photo of the Duomo in Florence, Italy

Patricia E. Mahony
l Vice President, Construction Management
Mid-America Asset Management, Inc.

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