Why is there a large circular slab of plain white marble embedded into the grey paving stones of the Piazza del Duomo, a few metres beyond the east end of the Cathedral?
The explanation lies in an event which took place one stormy winter's night in the month of January, 1601. While a thunderstorm was raging over the city, lightning struck the lantern, the twenty-metre high structure, which crowns the dome of the Cathedral. The gilded copper orb and cross came crashing to the ground along with large chunks of the lantern itself.
The orb had been added to the lantern in 1468 by Andrea del Verrocchio. This was no mean feat, given that it is 2.5 metres wide, weighs two tons and had to be hoisted to a height of 107 metres (350 feet).
Ferdinando I de’ Medici (r.1587-1609) entrusted the reconstruction of the lantern to Alessandro Allori, Bernardo Buontalenti and Gherardo Mechini, specifying that it was to be rebuilt exactly as it was before.
The lantern was duly repaired and the orb and cross were replaced on October 21st, 1602. The spot where they had hit the ground was marked by the white marble disc that we see today. However, for some reason, no inscription was added to explain its presence!
Blogging about Florence: