Tuesday 4 November 2014

Visit the archaeological site under the Duomo of Florence

Since October this year (2014), it has been possible to visit the archaeological site under the Duomo of Florence and the new display there.The excavations under the Duomo allow visitors to grasp, in a very immediate way, the fascinating history of the Duomo area and, indeed, of all of Florence, from Roman times until the 14 C. Beneath the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), the levels of stratification correspond to four consecutive periods in the history of Florence, namely the Roman period (1 to 4 C), lasting until the construction of the first church on the site in early Christian era (4 to 7 C), the early mediaeval period (8 to 10 C) and the Romanesque period (11 to 14C ).

All the coins that were found in the Roman soil belong to the period from the reign of emperor Gordianus III (238 to 244) to the reign of emperor Honorius (395 – 423). The evidence suggests that the first Basilica was built at the end of the fourth century or during the first decades of the following century, after the victory of the Roman army over Radagaisus.

This Basilica of Santa Reparata was possibly the first construction of a complex including the Bishop’s palace, the Baptistry of San Giovanni (Florence Baptistry), a hospital, a parsonage, a graveyard and two other churches. (Yes, the Baptistry of Florence is of extremely ancient origin and much of the present structure long pre-dates the Duomo).

Santa Reparata, the Baptistry and associated buildings in early Florence
Santa Reparata, the Baptistry and associated buildings in early Florence
Santa Reparata was one of the major early Christian complexes in the region of Tuscia, its importance being indicated by its position directly in front of the baptistry, 8 m closer than the present Duomo. It was rebuilt in Carolingian times, in the 8 to 9 C, after being severely damaged in the wars between the Goths and Byzantium. The new basilica was built partially on top of the antique paleo-Christian church, with some of the same walls, but located further away from the Baptistry (the orange floor plan in the illustration above). Santa Reparata was well lit and similar in appearance to S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, with elegant arcades and marble columns. The basilica was also used as a meeting hall by the Parliament of the Republic of Florence before the construction of Palazzo Vecchio. On 4 June, 1055, Pope Victor II opened the first council of Florence in Santa Reparata. The council included of 120 bishops together with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III. The widening of the crypt, the addition of two apses and the construction of an arcade might have been carried out in preparation for this event.
Map showing the floor plans and relative positions of the three churches of the Duomo area in Florence
Map showing the floor plans and relative positions of the three successive churches of the Duomo area.

But, as Giovanni Villani says in his 14 C Nuova Cronica, Santa Reparata at a certain point began to seem too rough and too small for the newly ambitious of Florence of the 13 C, so much so that in 1293 it was decided to reconstruct the building. On the 8 September, 1296 the cornerstone was laid to the new cathedral. This new Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is normally called), was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio. By 1375, the old church Santa Reparata had been pulled down and the new Cathedral finished in 1436 with final completion of the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi (the yellow floor plan above), the construction of this vast project having lasted 140 years, the collective efforts of several generations, interrupted by the Black Death.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo di Firenze)
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo di Firenze)
The excavations are entered down a staircase situated in the nave of the cathedral.

A single 10 Euro ticket allows you access to all parts of the Duomo, including the crypt.

Crypt of Santa Reparata Hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 10am-5pm
Thursday: May and October 10am-4pm, July through September 10am-5pm, January through April and November and December 10am-4.30pm
Saturday: 10am-4.45pm

Closed: Sunday, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Epiphany, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, Feast of St. John (24 June), Feast of the Assumption (15 August), Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (8 September), All Saints’ Day (1 November).

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