Il Duomo di Firenze

In Architecture, A Sense of Place by Thomas T5 Comments

Sometimes I reminisce about the times I have seen the Duomo in Florence, Italy, for it was honestly the closest image I had of what a “magical” building looks like. This was primarily so not because how detailed the exterior of the Duomo was during the daylight, although it was certainly beautiful in it own right, but because of how the Duomo looked at night. Regardless of angle, the Duomo seemed to have an odd radiance in the way light was reflected through the curves of the building, the way light was contained through these very same curves that give the church shape while using this same light to complement the intricacies of the architecture, such as the fact that the Duomo is mostly white and green!

Duomo at NightDuring the daytime, due to the contrast from the white primary color, the shade of green looks a bit darker than it really is, and I believe it is only until it is dark at night where the brightness of the green designs really come out. This sight always confused me since in person the Duomo looks almost completely different than how it does when the sun is out. It almost adapts to the vibe of the city, quaint and friendly when the sun is out, but it shows its different side when it hits the night.

Churches always seem so grand compared to the people that enter it, almost as to invoke the presence of a higher power when inside it. Usually in New York churches stand on their own in terms of architecture, it typically does not fall under the boxiness that the buildings surrounding it suffer from, But in Florence where every building is unique to each other yet similar in terms of size to each other, It’s hard to think about what is it that makes the Duomo stand out so much apart from everywhere else. I believe it’s because of the Plaza that encompasses it since it gives it the space it needs for people to truly appreciate its intricacies, such as the statues that practically guard the surroundings of the Church, or the carved out holes these statues reside in.

It really is because of the space of the plaza where one actually gets a better understanding of how big the Cathedral really is. The facade of the Duomo is much grander in size than it appears on its sides, yet it still retains its radiance from its green highlights in the night. The sides of the Duomo take away the intimidation of its grandness because it’s not that tall in height compared to the houses and stores nearby, while the facade serves as a reminder that it is something grand. The entrance to the Duomo transforms from a portal to another world in the daytime to something darker, something more grounded in the present almost. Maybe it is because of the amount of people drinking wine in front of the Duomo in the night, or maybe it’s from the very same radiance that entices us.

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  1. Thomas,
    I really enjoyed your description of the Duomo! I think its great that you picture the building as a magical building – I often feel that way when I see old European architecture, as we have almost nothing like it in the States. The architecture is just massive, ornate, and seems to have been planned perfectly, every part of the facade and inside well intentioned. The photos you use are great, too, and give a sense of the Duomo’s scale and design. I like your mention of what sets the Duomo apart (the plaza) and also that you look at the building differently at night and during the day. It’s funny how architecture can almost transform even though it doesn’t change. Great post!

  2. Thomas,
    Though I’ve never been to Florence, I get the sense from yours and our classmates repeated mentions of the Duomo that it truly is a magnetic piece of architecture. The place it has carved out for itself amongst Florence is interesting, especially when you compare it to NYC where it seems churches and other unique pieces tend to stick out. De Certeau writes that NYC is unable to grow older or embrace its age. Is the difference you point out possibly because this need for constant revision and reimagining is overall a hindrance to embrace older or more unique architecture?

    1. Author

      Hey Shea,
      I’m actually not sure. In one way I can see it being argued, since the new, boxy buildings will – literally – overshadow older/more unique pieces of architecture, but I believe these buildings will stand out in their own right. The irony is that these same buildings that prevent us of appreciating older buildings when juxtaposed these churches and other buildings with unique architectural characteristics will be highlighted and appreciated more because of how much they stand out to the rest of the boring buildings! With the Duomo it’s hard to say since it fits in with the style of the city but because of its size and its location (dead center of the city) it stands out.

  3. Thomas,
    The duomo is such a perfect example of architecture that causes you to feel a certain “sense of place,” and I really think the word “magical” just does it. I don’t know if it’s the plaza, or the actual dome, or the intricate carvings and statues, or the details, or the grand size, or what it is but it’s just there and I feel like anyone lucky enough to see it for themselves just feels it. I really love the photos you used and the contrast of the way it looks between night and day- I felt like it evoked an even stronger feeling specifically when it rained at night (strange, I know). Great choice for the prompt!!

  4. Your descriptions of the Duomo capture its magical essence. However, what often stands out to me when I see these buildings in person is the juxtaposition of the holy, ancient building next to blatant commercialism that is trying to capitalize on its spectacle. When you stand in front of the bronze Ghiberti doors at night, you cannot miss the green neon sign for the farmacia or the pink lights of the nearby shoe store. Or, the men who stalk around selling light up toys to the flocking tourists, a common sight in european plazas. As you mentioned, the plaza gives the Duomo its pedestal and frames the building. The plaza is the magnetic halo that attracts people to the renowned church, reinforcing its sanctity and significance. The city itself is a living architectural museum, paying homage to its dual heritage of banking and mercantile families. As Jane Jacobs would have supported, the beauty of the city invites a thriving capitalism as strong as its architectural pedigree. What a great topic!

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