CATHEDRAL, Giotto's Bell Tower

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English / USA Language: English / USA

The square tower you see to the right of the Cathedral is called "Giotto's Tower". In the first half of the 14th century the great painter was tasked with directing the Cathedral's construction, and he personally designed the bell tower; but upon Giotto's death, only its foundation and lower floor had been built. 

Even today, the thing that will strike you most about the bell tower is its exceptional number of reliefs and sculptures placed directly in the masonry, so that the walls "speak" and have become a sort of encyclopedia of knowledge, where religious references are combined with the evolution of techniques, arts, and astronomy. All the best Florentine sculptors worked on its decorations between the 1300s and 1400s.

Looking at the tower, you can see that while the lower floors are solid and lack windows, as your gaze continues upwards the windows become larger, making the structure lighter as it grows in height. The tower is about 85 meters tall, while its sides are each about 15 meters long.

The sturdy square tower is reinforced at its corners by octagonal supports, and its entire surface is coated with white, pink, and green marble. All four sides are covered by a double row of marble tiles, above which stand sixteen large statues of the prophets, which are placed in niches. These magnificent sculptures, just like the doors of the baptistery, are copies: the originals can be seen in the Cathedral Museum.

The part of the square between the Baptistery and the Bell Tower contains different historical social institutions. The Gothic Loggia del Bigallo is an elegant building that was built in the 14th century to accommodate social and charitable activities for the elderly and orphans, while the sixteenth-century Confraternity of Mercy that was established to offer the sick assistance still offers ambulance services and watches over the square, seeing to any sick tourists. So you don't have to worry about going up the spiral staircase that climbs to the terrace on top of the bell tower: there are 414 steps, but the effort is amply rewarded by an unparalleled panorama!


FUN FACT: while the Bell Tower was under construction, being lined with the marble tiles and sculptures, a citizen of Verona passed by and said that Florence would never have been able to finance the whole project by itself. The Republic of Florence gave the imprudent man two months in prison for defamation!

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