Santa Maria del Fiore is the Duomo (the Cathedral) of Florence. Ok: no news about that. But the Florence cathedral is somehow a stone calendar as well, and it houses a very special clock.
Duomo di Firenze hours: church and merchant time in the same place
Church’s time and merchant’s time in the Middle Ages is an essay by Jacques Le Goff, part of the book Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages.
The essay was a milestone in medievalists’ temporal studies; it stresses the fact that monasteries and cities, clerics and bourgeoises, bell towers and commune towers had and experienced two completely different time - related mindsets.
Further studies analyzed how the two mindsets were, anyway, entwined, interconnected.
The Florence cathedral is a great example of that interconnections, which makes perfectly sense as the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore has always been a “hybrid” organisation, secular and religious at the same time.
The cathedral has its bell tower, of course: actually, one of the most beautiful bell towers in the world, the Giotto’s Campanile.
But the cathedral is a clock per se - or, better - it is a solar calendar because of its gnomon hole: think of Stonehenge or Newgrange, but in a church…
Like Saint Sulpice in Paris, San Petronio in Bologna, or St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs in Rome, the sunlight passes through the “Bronzina”, a bronze perforated stud. The disc of light hits a solstice mark on the Cathedral’s floor on the solstice day.
The Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore archivists discovered quite recently the documents about the gnomon hole. The idea was from Paolo “Medicho” Dal Pozzo Toscanelli, the Bronzina is a work from Bartolomeo di Fruosino, goldsmith, 1475.
But along with church’s time and “solar” time, the cathedral hosts a merchant’s time clock, another masterpiece of Renaissance engineering: the Santa Maria del Fiore clock.
An upside - down clocks
The clock is on the inner façade of the front wall. It had been designed by the Florentine Clockmaker Angelo di Niccoló and it has many peculiarities.
The Santa Maria del Fiore clock is the only one clock in the world still running on the “Hora Italica”: the clock face indicates a 24 hours cycle. The Sunset corresponds to the 24th hours, which it means that every week the clock face has to be reset. As it is inspired by the apparent movement of the sun on a sundial, the movement of the clock hand in the “Hora Italica” clock is… anticlockwise.
A unique piece of Renaissance craftsmanship, the Orologio di Santa Maria del Fiore is a Renaissance artwork as well: the fresco which decorates the clock face has been painted by Paolo Uccello, one of the great Florentine artists of the XV Century.
A bit of mistery hovers the fresco, as the four heads in the corners are supposed to be the Four Evangelists, yet their iconography is not the usual one.