he Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (English: "Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower") is the main church of Florence, Italy. Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style with the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris.

The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile. These three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major attraction to tourists visiting Tuscany. The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches, and until development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

By the beginning of the 15th century, after a hundred years of construction, the cathedral structure was still missing its dome. The commitment to reject traditional Gothic buttresses had been made when Neri di Fioravanti's model was chosen over a competing one by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini. The building of such a masonry dome posed many technical problems. Brunelleschi looked to the great dome of the Pantheon in Rome for solutions. The dome of the Pantheon is a single shell of concrete, the formula for which had long since been forgotten.

A modern understanding of physical laws and the mathematical tools for calculating stresses were centuries in the future. Brunelleschi, like all cathedral builders, had to rely on intuition and whatever he could learn from the large scale models he built. To lift 37,000 tons of material, including over 4 million bricks, he invented hoisting machines and lewissons for hoisting large stones.

A huge statue of Brunelleschi now sits outside the Palazzo dei Canonici in the Piazza del Duomo, looking thoughtfully up towards his greatest achievement, the dome that would forever dominate the panorama of Florence. It is still the largest masonry dome in the world.

The building of the cathedral had started in 1296 with the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was completed in 1469 with the placing of Verrochio's copper ball atop the lantern. But the façade was still unfinished and would remain so until the 19th century.

The Florence Baptistery (Italian: Battistero di San Giovanni), also known as the Baptistery of Saint John, is an octagonal baptistery stands in both the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza San Giovanni, across from Florence Cathedral and the Campanile di Giotto.

The Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style. The Baptistry is renowned for its three sets of artistically important bronze doors with relief sculptures. The south doors were created by Andrea Pisano and the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The east doors were dubbed by Michelangelo "the Gates of Paradise". The doors have since been removed from the Baptistry and moved to the adjacent museum for safe-keeping.

The Cathedral Museum (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo) opened in 1891, and now houses what has been called "one of the world's most important collections of sculpture." Among the museum's holdings are Lorenzo Ghiberti's doors for the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral called the Gates of Paradise, the cantorias, or singing-galleries, designed for the cathedral by Luca della Robbia and Donatello (also from him is a "Magdalene Penitent"), and The Deposition, a pietà intended by Michelangelo for his own tomb.

We walked up all steps to the top of the Duomo to look over the city. When we were done, we had plans to go up in the Campanile as well, but it was another steps, so we decided to pass. Instead, we went into the Cathedral Museum and saw the real "Gates of Paradise".

Read more about the Florence Cathedral (link opens in a new window).

Read more about the Florence Baptistery (link opens in a new window).

Read more about the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (link opens in a new window).