Santa Reparata—the Duomo Beneath the Duomo in Florence, Italy

Santa Reparata—the Duomo beneath the Duomo in Florence.  This image shows the altar of Saint Zanobius.  All photos are property of EuroTravelogue™.  Please do not use without permission.  

Imagine a portal back in time to 4th-century Florence and Santa Reparata—an early-Christian basilica that lies beneath the Florence Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore. One such portal exists and it’s waiting to transport you back to a time when Romans walked the streets of the colony of Florentia. Discovered after a major renovation of the Duomo in 1966, Santa Reparata was unearthed just four meters below the floor of today’s Duomo and its remains are surprisingly intact. From Roman arches and mosaics to frescoes and tombs, you can retrace the basilica’s 1,600-year history to see these relics in startlingly well-preserved condition. The allure and mystery of discovering this portal compelled me to take the journey back in time to see what fascinating discoveries await. Won’t you join me?

Full view of the central nave of Santa Reparata and the lateral apses.  Note the column bases on some pictured here.  They date back to the original 4th-century basilica.  

Close-up view of one of the one of the columns. The base dates back to the 4th-century basilica and the  column itself to the 8th- and 9th-century renovation.  

History tells us that the original basilica was constructed between the 4th and 5th centuries comprising an area of approximately 35% of today’s colossal Duomo. Once you descend to the subterranean levels, look around and you’ll get a sense of the layout of the original church. Down the center is the nave flanked by lateral apses, a semicircular apse at the back behind the altar and along the way, an extraordinary collection of artifacts revealing snapshots to various points in time since its original construction. Even the stairs on which you descended once belong to a set of two leading up to an elevated choir. The other set can be seen in one of the photos below.

View of the original left lateral apse of the renovated basilica of the 9th century.  However, the staircase on the right is one of two that led to the original choir from the 4th century.  The other set is actually the stairway on which you descended to enter this subterranean world.  

Close-up view of the left-hand steps leading to the elevated choir dating back to the original basilica.  

Close-up view of part of an exterior wall from the original basilica.  

Over time, the basilica underwent many major and minor renovation projects that affected its original structure, hence the reason why various flooring and architectural designs. Most notably affecting the overall edifice was a major renovation in the 8th and 9th centuries after the Gothic-Byzantine wars of the 6th century destroyed most of Santa Reparata. It was during this restoration that two side chapels were added at the back, the crypt, two towers used to fortify the newly renovated church, and new flooring installed only slightly above the original mosaics from the 5th century.

In this image, you can see the original Roman mosaic flooring of the original basilica adjacent to the later marble-inlaid flooring added during the 9th-century restoration.  What a shame to cover up the original flooring.   

Another view of the original mosaic flooring.  

Through the 12th and 13th centuries, additional restoration projects ensued until eventually, time took its toll and the basilica fell into disrepair. It was during the 13th century that the Florentine council determined it was time to build a brand new cathedral, one grander in design and more glorious that Florence’s rival cathedrals that dominated its neighboring city-states of Siena and Pisa. Consequently, the city knew it would have to raze most of Santa Reparata despite it having stood on this site for nearly 900 years. You can imagine the devastating sense of loss felt by many Florentines of the time and although the prospect of a more grandiose church looked promising, history would be lost forever. Ultimately, the destruction of Santa Reparata, or most of it, occurred in 1375.

Panoramic view of most of the basilica and surrounding artifacts .   Note the mosaic from the original basilica in the foreground.  

With its fate now sealed, any renovations that occurred were mostly minor and intended to sustain the basilica until the new Duomo was completed. However, there was a newly installed fresco by a Giottesque [one of many of Giotto's followers] artist during the 13th century as a testament to the fact that the Florentines still cared for their basilica. Look to the semicircular wall of the right apse, the site of the former crypt, and you’ll discover the fresco that depicts the Passion with Jesus in the center surrounded by the Madonna on His right, and San Giovannino or Saint John the Baptist on His left. Although 700 years old, you can discern many details of the original painting.

A 14th-century fresco depicting the Passion located on the semicircular wall of the crypt added in the 12th and 13th centuries. 

Among other artifacts are numerous tombstones including those of Lando di Giano, chaplain of Santa Reparata who died in 1353; Niccolò Squarcialupi from 1313; Giovanni Di Alamanno de Medici who died in 1352; purportedly the tombs of two popes: Stephen IX and Nicholas II although no evidence found to date; and the tomb of Filippo Brunelleschi, master architect of Santa Maria del Fiore. Actually, his tomb is the first you see once you descend to the subterranean level of Santa Reparata. It is also believed, although no evidence exists yet again, that the tombs of Giotto, Arnolfo di Cambio and Andrea Pisano are here as well. All in all, it’s a fascinating roster of some of the most prominent figures of Florentine history!

Tombstones of many prominent Florentines.  

Tomb of Giovanni Di Alamanno de Medici who died in 1352.  Note the Medici coat of arms  at the far side of the tombstone.  

Close-up detail dating back to the original Roman basilica of the 4th and 5th centuries.  

During your next visit to Florence and the Duomo, don’t miss this journey back in time. Although some guidebooks claim it’s hardly worth the nominal fee, I strongly disagree and if you enjoyed this post and found these images as fascinating as I did, then don’t you think it’s worth the extra three or four Euros charged?

I hope you enjoyed this journey to Santa Reparata—the Duomo beneath the Duomo!

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  1. Thank you so much for the RT and your comment my friend. I found this place to be fascinating!! What a journey. Thx for stopping by!!

  2. You make a person feel they are right there with you experiencing the history. I enjoy your articles and always look forward to the next one.
    Pictures are beautiful and you write a terrific article. KEEP UP THE FABULOUS WORK.

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you once again for your kind words and sentiments! I am glad you enjoy my articles and hope to never let you down. If I do, I want a comment telling me This journey to Santa Reparata was an unexpected adventure on my first visit to the Duomo and am so glad I paid the 3 Euros at the time to descend into the fascinating world of the past.

    Thank you again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!


  4. Santa Reparata - the little know, less visited earlier cathedral of Florence. Thanks, Jeff, for this great introduction to one of Florence's undiscovered treasures!

  5. Eugene,
    Thank you so much for pointing that out to my readers. It is so true and oftentimes, not only Santa Reparata is overlooked, but the Baptistery as well which happens to be the subject of my next article this coming weekend.

    Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  6. Great! The Baptistry happens to be one of my favorite buildings in Florence. Its history is as amazing as its visual beauty. Looking forward to y our next installment. Hey, next time you're in Florence, we'll go together!

  7. Hi again Eugene. I couldn't agree with you more about the Baptistery and how special that building is...especially when you consider the story behind why it has 8 sides. Can't wait to write this next article this weekend. Thank you again for stopping by.

  8. Really fascinating story and great pictures. Thank you very much!

  9. SanTatiana,

    I too, found this subterranean world fascinating and a happy accident that I stumbled upon it on my first visit to the Duomo. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your kind words and compliments!

  10. How in the earth did i miss this while I was there... lol great write up.

  11. Stick with me time we'll do it together!! It's very easy miss...had we not ventured over to see where those steps led to, we would have walked right by too!! Thx again for stopping by!!

  12. What fabulous shots and tale to boot! I so wanna visit this basilica now Jeff:)

  13. Hi there Mei and thank you for the compliments. You really must visit this inspiring place someday. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  14. The layers of history in Italy are truly mind boggling. Looking at these photos, I feel an attack of Stendhal Syndrome coming on...

  15. Hi there Lesley and thanks so much for stopping by. I totally agree with you...I just had to capture the comparison in ground levels. And I too suffer from Stendhal syndrome...but things could be worse...right?

  16. Wonderful !
    merci, M Gem

  17. Great post and thanks for the useful info and great photos. I missed seeing it when I was there last, but will definitely check it out in two weeks when I am there again with my girlfriend.

    1. Hi there Travis and thank you so much for stopping by to share your thoughts. I agree, Santa Reparata is easily missed and you probably walked right by the staircase leading down from the main floor of the Duomo. Thankfully, you are heading back soon so you'll catch it this time around. Thank you for all of your compliments too my friend.


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