A Building With a Gracious Dome in Casco Viejo


Snapshot of an edifice with an eye-catching dome in the old shell of Panama City. This area is called “Las Bóvedas” beside the Pacific Ocean at the entrance of the Panama Canal. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

Incidently I’m presently enjoying a book—Brunelleschi’s Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral in Florence, authored by Ross King—about the construction of a cavernous dome in Florence for the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore built by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1436.  A replacement for the ancient and dilapidated church of Santa Reparata, the new cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was intended to be one of the largest in Christendom.

The foundation stone for the new cathedral had been laid in 1296.  The designer and original architect was a master mason named Arnolfo di Cambio, the builder of both the Palazzo Vecchio and the city’s massive new fortifications.  The designer of the large dome was the Capomaestri Neri di Fioravanti who refused to use flying buttresses to support the walls of the cathedral for political reasons.  He hated French and German architects who commonly used these supporting structures.

The decision to adopt Neri di Fioravanti’s design represents a remarkable leap of faith.  No dome approaching this span had been built since Antiquity, and with a mean diameter of 143 feet and 6 inches, it would exceed that of even the Roman Pantheon, which for over a thousand years had been the world’s largest dome by far.  And the cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore would not only be the widest vault ever built: it would also be the highest.

Of course our building pales in comparison with the great cathedral of Florence, but still it is an aesthetic edifice built during the early days of our nation.  It represents the elegance of our colonial Spanish architecture as depicted in the picture above.  Good Day.

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