Segments in this Video

Florence Duomo (02:22)


Florence, Italy, experienced a cultural Renaissance with artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo. It began with the construction of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore dome, without the technology needed to achieve the largest masonry dome in the world.

Mystery of the Dome (02:07)

Exterior tiles cover a second interior dome of over 4 million bricks, spanning 150 feet and rising over 10 stories high. Questions about how Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith without training in architecture and without needed technology, built the dome.

Florence Honors Brunelleschi (02:15)

Brunelleschi left no notebooks or blueprints of the dome. Prof. Massimo Ricci leads the annual procession that honors Brunelleschi. Ricci builds a model employing what he believes were Brunelleschi's methods to better understand the dome's construction.

Technology of Brunelleschi's Time (02:40)

In 1989, Prof. Ricci began construction of his one fifth sized model with architecture students, using only rope lines and tools available to Brunelleschi; the walls threaten to collapse.

Gothic and Roman Architecture (03:02)

In 1293, Florence city leaders want their cathedral to be different from the Gothic temples of other city states and look to the Pantheon of Rome with its concrete dome. The committee wants their cathedral to surpass all previous architecture.

Medieval Technology and Brunelleschi (03:49)

Medieval architects relied on wooden frameworks to hold the masonry; an expert states the failure rate was 50%. The Santa Maria del Fiore had been under construction for 80 years when Brunelleschi was born. Brunelleschi trained in precious metals.

Baptistry Doors Competition (03:54)

In 1401, Brunelleschi competed with Lorenzo Ghiberti to design the bronze Baptistry doors. Brunelleschi's design lost the competition, but began the Renaissance. Brunelleschi went to Rome for 15 years.

Challenge of Free Standing Arches (03:10)

As building his model becomes more dangerous, Massimo Ricci exchanges his student crew for an American team of master bricklayers. The eight ribs form the framework for the dome in a series of four Gothic arches.

Brunelleschi's Secret Plan (04:23)

By 1418, the Cathedral is almost done, but lacks the dome. All proposals but Brunelleschi's used an expensive wooden framework. Despite inexperience and a refusal to show his plan, he convinces the committee with an egg.

Inventor and Engineer (03:41)

In 1420, the committee chooses Brunelleschi and two others, including Ghiberti, to work on the dome. Period lifting devices were inadequate; Brunelleschi invents a hoist powered by oxen and with the first reverse gear.

Brunelleschi's Herringbone Brick Pattern (04:12)

Russell Gentry, professor at Georgia Tech, explains problems with conventional bricklaying for a dome. Brunelleschi's special layering of bricks is termed "spino pesce" in Italian, herringbone in English.

Architectural Model (03:08)

The American team is convinced that Ricci's theory of how Brunelleschi used herringbone bricklaying pattern and guide ropes for correct placement to build the dome without support is correct. Ricci's model remains a controversial laboratory for studying Brunelleschi's methods.

Herringbone Spiral (01:32)

Ricci's model is round, but Brunelleschi's dome appears to have eight panels; the brick wall is a spiral. Prof. Gentry demonstrates how Brunelleschi turned bricks to establish another pattern binding the walls. "Spino pesce" is the secret of the dome's strength.

Importance of the Inverted Arch (02:25)

The American bricklayers compare their work with the Cathedral dome. The interior is covered by a religious mural and plaster conceals almost all brick work. They note the horizontal arch in the dome and understand how Ricci's curved walls create an inverted arch.

Rope Lines Technology (03:06)

Ricci tries to discover Brunelleschi's pattern of rope lines, used by Renaissance builders as guidelines. A six hundred year old document found in the Florentine Archives, is a criticism of Brunelleschi's work by Giovanni del Prato, but includes a sketch of rope lines and work platforms.

Brunelleschi's Rope Lines (02:27)

Ricci incorporated Brunelleschi's flower design for the work platforms in his model. The rope line controls the angle and height of the bricks as a guide for the herringbone pattern and the inverted arch.

Brunelleschi's Secret (02:31)

Ricci claims the true secret of Brunelleschi's successful dome is his rope lines and flower design; that and the herringbone pattern. Ricci worked on his model longer than the 16 years it took Brunelleschi to build the original; he may never finish.

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The secrets of the dome that rises over the town of Florence were buried centuries ago within the cathedral itself—along with the enigmatic genius who designed and built it: Filipo Brunelleschi. How was Brunelleschi able to build the world’s largest brick and mortar dome, at a time when the technological know-how of the time should have made it impossible? One scholar has gone to the extreme lengths of constructing his own model of the dome to prove his theory. Just as he reaches the moment of truth, a huge discovery is made beneath the streets of Florence. For the first time in centuries, more evidence surfaces—an original brick model of the dome. The likely builder? Brunelleschi himself. This NOVA/National Geographic special tracks the storm still raging over one of the most magnificent and miraculous achievements of humankind.

Length: 52 minutes

Item#: BVL68830

Copyright date: ©2013

Closed Captioned

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