THE PALE AFTERNOON sun dipped low over the Piazza del Duomo, glinting off the white tiles of Giotto’s bell tower and casting long shadows across Florence’s magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
(Dan Brown, Inferno)
Giotto’s Campanile is the bell tower belonging to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. It has a square base and is 84.70 meters tall.
This beautiful and slender tower is unusually placed with respect to the cathedral; it is actually aligned with the church’s facade.
With construction of the church already underway, Arnolfo di Cambio decided to give to the tower an importance equal to the rest of the complex, while leaving sufficient space for the majestic dome that would come later.
In 1334, Giotto di Bondone (Vicchio 1267 – Florence 1337), an Italian painter and architect, was made chief architect for the building of the complex of Santa Maria del Fiore. He was a very popular, well-known artist during his time.
Vasari tells how Giotto was able to draw a perfect circle without a compass, the famous “O by Giotto”.
One of the most famous works of this artist are the frescos in the Basilica of Assisi, which depict the Stories of St. Francis. This masterpiece astonished Giotto’s contemporaries for its modernity and beauty.
However, according to legend, Giotto devoted himself particularly to the construction of the majestic bell tower in Florence, overlooking the building of the cathedral.
At the time of Giotto’s death in 1337, only the first blocks at the bottom had been laid, already displaying some of the tower’s structural weaknesses.
The anonymous fourteenth century author of a Commentary on the Divine Comedy recounts the legend that Giotto died of grief for having given the bell tower “a too small bed for your feet.” In reality, the base of the tower is more narrow than it should be, perhaps to give the effect of greater vertical momentum.
Numerous structural problems emerged during its construction, and the Black Death that plagued Florence slowed down work until its eventual completion in 1359.
This bell tower is now considered the most beautiful tower in Italy, due to its architectural structure and decorations.
The external panelling consists of three different types of marble: white from Carrara, green from Monteferrato and pink from Maremma.
While the authors of the numerous sculptures that decorate the bell tower have not yet been confirmed, it is thought that Giotto was the original designer.
Beautiful bas-reliefs are included in the famous “formelle” (panels), which symbolize the life of man from Creation onward, the planets, the virtues, the arts and the sacraments.
One can climb the tower via a long spiraling staircase made from 463 steps. The view from the top is breathtaking; from this elevation, one can admire the entire center of the city up to Piazzale Michelangelo and the surrounding hills.
Pictures by Florenceinferno, Wikimedia and magro_kr