Florence: have I got views for you...
Even after six centuries, the Duomo to beat all duomos is still a wonder from every angle, says Harry Mount
This year, Italy’s greatest Renaissance city is celebrating the 600th anniversary of its most famous architectural competition – for the design of the dome of Florence’s cathedral. Today, the cathedral is the defining eye-catcher of the city. With its great, eight-ribbed dome and the neighbouring bell tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall, it soars above the city’s red-tiled roofs, dominating views from all directions. In 1418, however, there was a yawning void in the middle of the cathedral – and no one had the faintest idea how to bridge a gap that would require the biggest brick dome in history to date.
Enter Filippo Brunelleschi, a 41-year-old Florentine local, still bruised by losing an earlier competition in 1401 to design the east doors of the cathedral baptistery. That competition was won by his rival Lorenzo Ghiberti. Ghiberti’s bronze panels for the doors, called “the Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo, depicted Biblical scenes that were so thrillingly