Duomo’s Ancient Mosaic Floor Uncovered

A detail of during the restoration

If you have never heard of the church of Santa Reparata in Florence—you are not alone. Most tourists that visit Florence do not realize that the ruins of the oldest Christian church in Florence lie beneath the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as il Duomo. Situated underneath the main nave, visitors are welcome to explore The Crypt of Santa Reparata as they tour the most iconic church in Florence.  After ongoing excavations, the mosaic floor from the Paleochristian era has been restored for visitors to see.

The venue reopened in 1974 after 10 years of ongoing excavations and restorations. Descending into the crypt, visitors are led through four distinct periods of architecture: Late Roman, Paleochristian, High Middle Ages, and the Romanesque era. From the Late Roman era, the original stone walls and floors are displayed. During the High Middle Ages, parts of the church were damaged by war and had to be rebuilt. New frescoes from the Romanesque era were discovered in a new visual language of the early Renaissance.

While every bit of touring the crypt is fascinating, maybe the most incredible display is the Paleochristian mosaic floor. In the center of the geometric polychromatic floor lies the beautifully intricate and colorful peacock emblem, which is thought to have been designed by North African craftsmen in the fifth century A.D. Archaeologists are not surprised by this, considering the economic and cultural ties between Florence and North Africa during this time. In the Paleochristian era, the peacock was a symbol of resurrection. The peacock motif has since appeared in works of many Renaissance paintings. Just beneath the magnificent peacock design is Latin text that pays homage to the 14 donors that financed the pavment.

Beneath the crypt are not only the remnants of ancient walls and floors, but the tombs of notable Florentines as well. In the center of the museum lies the tomb of Giovanni de’ Medici (d. 1352). The inscription running along the side of the slab sings the praises of the Medici family and recognizes his and his father’s knightly status. Filippo Brunelleschi, who is most famous for engineering the dome of the current Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, died in 1446 and is also buried in the Santa Reparata crypts.

Santa Reparata church closed in 1375 so that the new cathedral could be built in its place. However, the crypts were still in use. The Crypt of Santa Reparata is a must-see for any lover of history, architecture, or art. Today’s restorations are a part of a series to improve the use of the Cathedral. Translated in both Italian and English, visitors of the crypt have an easy time following along and learning about this historic church. In the coming years, the team responsible for the current restorations hope to draw both tourists and locals alike to see the beauty and history that is the Crypt of Santa Reparata.  (molly hamilton)