Giotto's tower, which dominates the skyline of Florence almost as much as Brunelleschi's dome, is one of the most beautiful bell-towers in the whole of Italy. Henry James described it as the 'graceful and indestructible soul of the city made visible'.
The campanile of the cathedral was designed by Giotto (1267-1337), who worked on its construction from 1334 until his death three years later. Although he had completed no more than the first storey when he died, the campanile is still often referred to as Giotto's tower.
Giotto was succeeded as capomaestro (head of works) by Andrea Pisano, who continued his predecessor's design on the second storey. Pisano then modified the design for the next two storeys with niches for statues surmounted by a blind order.
In 1347 Andrea Pisano moved on to a better position in Orvieto and the post fell vacant until 1352 when Francesco Talenti was appointed to the position. Talenti modified the design once more and gave the tower a much lighter feel with two storeys comprising, on each of the four sides, two twin-light windows. The final storey consists of a single three-light window on each of the four sides.
The bell-tower, which soars to a height of 280 feet (84.7 metres), was finally completed in 1359. There are breathtaking views from the top of the campanile, which makes the climbing of its 414 steps well worth the effort.
The first two storeys of the campanile are decorated with a series of hexagonal and lozenge-shaped panels, mostly by Andrea Pisano and his workshop. The panels have been replaced by copies; the originals can be found in the nearby Museo dell' Opera del Duomo.
The third storey contains stone figures of Patriarchs, Kings, Prophets and Sibyls, originally the work of Andrea Pisano and his workshop. Some figures were later replaced by statues carved by Donatello and Nanni di Bartolo.
The reliefs and statues represent the story of mankind from its creation to its first steps along the path of spirituality and of eternal salvation, a theme which was often depicted on the facades of medieval churches, but which was unique on the facade of a bell tower.