Conservation Heritage Italy

Florence’s most famous plaza gets a facelift

The cleaning of the Piazza del Duomo’s marble facades to be funded through ticket sales

The glass panels in the cathedral's rose window, designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti and installed in 1405, will be unmounted and cleaned

A complex effort to clean and restore the marble façades of the monuments in Florence’s Piazza del Duomo is in full swing. Among the 40,000 sq. m of marble works undergoing conservation are the cathedral, which is crowned by Brunelleschi’s dome, Giotto’s bell tower and the Battistero di San Giovanni.

The project, which is expected to cost around €30m, is funded by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the not-for-profit institution started in 1296 to run the square’s historic sites. The organisation is single-handedly funding the restoration effort with revenue from ticket sales. Around 8 million people visit the monuments every year.

Teams of conservators are hard at work cleaning the eight façades of the Battistero di San Giovanni, the world-famous baptistery built between 1059 and 1128. Layers of dirt, mainly caused by pollution, have accumulated since the building was last restored 70 years ago. Conservators are attacking the grime with chemical softeners, synthetic sponges, scalpels and lasers, depending on its thickness and chemical composition. The operation will cost €1.8m and is due to be completed by next summer.

Meanwhile, the Opera is devoting a separate sum of €250,000 to unmount and clean the stained glass panels that make up the rose window of the Duomo cathedral, designed by the early Renaissance artist Lorenzo Ghiberti and installed in 1405. The work is considered the most significant in a cycle of 44 stained glass windows designed by artists including Donatello, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno.

Ghiberti is perhaps best known for making two sets of gilded bronze doors for the baptistery: the Gates of Paradise, 1425-52, and the North Doors, 1404-24. The former took 34 years to restore and the work was completed in 2012, while conservation on the latter is due to be complete next year. Both sets of doors, which have been replaced by replicas in situ, will go on display in the museum of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore.

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