Santa Maria del Fiore (also known simply as the Duomo) is the cathedral of Florence known for its distinctive Renaissance dome. Its name (“Saint Mary of the Flower“) refers to the lily, the symbol of Florence. The impressive Gothic cathedral complex includes the Duomo, the famous baptistery and a campanile. The cathedral was built on the site of the previous one, Santa Reparata, prompted by the magnificence of the new cathedrals in Pisa and Siena. It was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1294 to be the largest Roman Catholic church in the world (although the design was later reduced in size). After Arnolfo died in 1302, work on the cathedral slowed. In 1331, the Arte della Lana (Guild of Wool Merchants) took over responsibility for the construction of the cathedral and in 1334 they appointed Giotto as overseer for the work. His major accomplishment was the campanile.

It was not until 1355 that work resumed on the cathedral itself under a series of architects, including Francesco Talenti, Alberto Arnoldi, Giovanni d’Ambrogio, Giovanni di Lapo Ghini, Neri di Fioravante and Orcagna. The nave was finished by 1380, and by 1418 only the dome was uncompleted. In 1418 a competition was held to design a new dome for the cathedral. The two competitors were Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, who won the competition with his distinctive octagonal design. Construction on the dome began in 1420 and was completed in 1436; the cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugenius IV on March 25, 1436.

It was the first ‘octagonal’ dome in history to be built without a wooden supporting frame (the Pantheon, a circular dome, was built in 118-128 AD without support structures), and was the largest dome built at the time (it is still the largest masonry dome in the world). Brunelleschi’s ability to crown the dome with a lantern was questioned and he had to undergo another competition. The lantern was begun a few months before his death in 1446 and was completed by his friend Michelozzo.

The cathedral’s facade was demolished in 1587 and left bare until the 19th century. In 1864 a competition was held to design a new facade, won by Emilio De Fabris. Work was begun in 1876 and completed in 1887. The huge bronze doors date from 1899 to 1903.