NOVA: Great Cathedral Mystery

NOVA: Great Cathedral Mystery

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 9:00pm

Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy.

Credit: Courtesy of National Geographic Television

Watch a team of bricklayers build an experimental “mini-Duomo” using period tools and techniques.

The dome that crowns Florence’s great cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore — the Duomo — is a masterpiece of Renaissance ingenuity and an enduring source of mystery. Still the largest masonry dome on earth, it is taller than the Statue of Liberty and weighs as much as an average cruise ship. Historians and engineers have long debated how its architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, kept the dome perfectly aligned and symmetrical as the sides rose and converged toward the center. More than four million bricks could collapse at any moment — and we still don’t understand how Brunelleschi prevented it. To test the latest theories, a team of U.S. bricklayers will help build an experimental “mini-Duomo” using period tools and techniques. NOVA: Great Cathedral Mystery airs Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 9 p.m. on WXXI.