Why You Need To Visit Florence’s Incredible Museum: Il Grande Museo Del Duomo

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The Florence Cathedral is one of the most famous buildings in the world. It’s also one of the most popular things to see in Florence. However, it was missing a significant part for many years. Arnolfo di Cambio was the first major architect to design the medieval façade of Santa Maria del Fiore’s Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.

While he’s not as well-known as Filippo Brunneleschi (who designed and built the Cathedral’s enormous dome), Di Cambio is a titan of late medieval times and was responsible for many of the architectural foundations.

The Cathedral and his magnificent facade featuring Donatello and Nanni Di Banco were only half finished when he died in 1302. The facade was demolished and rebuilt nearly 300 years later.

The facade of Florence Cathedral’s (relatively new) façade was built in 1887. She doesn’t look old, she? Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The curators and artisans from the Florence museum, Il Grande Museo Del Duomo have successfully reconstructed the facade and displayed many of its stunning sculptures in a brilliant feat of archaeological detective work. Artists and researchers created a scale model from resin and marble dust of the facade by meticulously studying one Bernardo Pocetti 16th century drawing.

They also restored Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Gates of Heaven” Baptistery doors to their original positions vis-à-vis the façade in the same room to recreate the original vision of the Cathedral and Baptistery.


The 16-century drawing by Bernarod Pocetti of the original façade of the cathdral (above), would have forever ruined Di Cambio’s vision of his ideal. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Facade’s opening to the public coincides the re-opening one of Florence’s most beautiful, but often overlooked museums. Opera del Duomo is the organization that built and renovated the Duomo over 700 years.

They have collected an incredible collection of Medieval and Renaissance masterpieces, including a Pieta of Michelangelo and the Baptistery doors. These replicas are surrounded by a constant crowd of tourists taking selfies. Despite its amazing art, the museum is still a semi-forgotten corner of Piazza del Duomo. It appears to be under constant refurbishment, but tourists who follow the Florence museum trail from the Duomo through the Accademia and finally the Uffizi have mostly ignored it.

Monsignor Timothy Verdon, the museum director, explained that the problem was not getting great art. It was how to show more than 100 fragments from the cathedral’s medieval facade… 40 statues, some monumental in scale and sixty architectural elements.

The acquisition of an old garage has allowed the museum to double its size to accommodate this magnificent collection. It has been transformed into a gallery and an architectural immersion experience.

In space and time, the many parts of the Cathedral’s old Cathedral come back to life, creating a shadow cathedral within the museum. It reminds us all that art is based on ideas. No matter how solid or monolithic the medium may be, the true genius lies in the mind.

This museum is something you cannot afford to miss. Below, you can find out more about the museum and how to get there.

Things to see in Il Grande Museo Del Duomo:

  • Lorenzo Ghiberti’s two greatest masterpieces: The bronze door facing the Duomo Facade is the more impressive of the two doors. It depicts biblical scenes in a variety of ways. It was called the “Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo, and the copy of this door is what draws people to the Piazza. The North Door is perhaps the most significant historical door. Ghiberti was able to win the commission and was a serious annoyance to Filippo Brunneleschi, who was then forced to focus his attention on the now-iconic dome.
  • Donatello’s Penitent Magdalen (Maddalena Penitente), a wood sculpture that depicted a highly realistic and almost macabre image of Mary Magdalen, was a first-of-its-kind. Donatello’s work will give you a perfect example of what thirty years penitence in a desert environment can do to your skin.
  • Michelangelo’s other Pieta: St. Peter’s visitors know that you can’t miss Michelangelo’s portrayal of loss and motherly grief in the Pieta. However, not all of his works were huge successes. Michelangelo, an elderly man, returned to the site of Jesus’ crucifixion in order to start work on a second Pieta for his grave. It didn’t go according to plan. He eventually used a hammer on the piece and left it unfinished. This sculpture, despite its flaws or maybe because of them, offers an intimate glimpse into the mind and thoughts of a master.
  • The Gallery of Brunelleschi’s Dome: If you don’t have a clue about the history behind one of the greatest architectural feats in history (or if you do, you should), you must visit the section of the museum that focuses on the construction of the Cathedral’s massive dome. The incredible feat of building the cathedral is vividly brought to life with models, drawings, as well as some of the tools, which will be especially appealing to children.
  • The best is saved for last: After you have walked through the museum, the final room offers a breathtaking view of Brunelleschi’s dome from a panoramic terrace.

You can find more ideas about what to see and do in Florence by visiting our blogs about What to Do in Florence on Monday and the Best Day Trips from Florence.

How to see Il Grande Museo Del Duomo

Il Grande Museo Del Duomo is open seven days a semaine, from 10.15am until 5.00pm. Booking is required. For the most current schedule, please visit the Duomo Museum. Please also note that access times to the monuments can change due to exceptional events.

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