Opposite to the Duomo rises the astonishing Baptistery dedicated to S. John the Baptist. It is the oldest building on the square. It was a pagan temple erected in the 6th century AD circa and located in front of the former Cathedral of Santa Reparata.
In the 11th century the Baptistery was rebuilt and enlarged and covered with precious Italian white and green marbles. Between the 12th and the13th centuries its octagonal structure was all over again enlarged with the addition of a rectangular apse on the west side. The ancient gilded bronze doors- located on the south side- were concluded by Andrea Pisano in 1335 circa. Their 28 bas-relieves represent the life of S. John the Baptist.
In 1401 Lorenzo Ghiberti was commissioned by the Florentine authorities to execute the North and the East Doors in gilded bronze. The North Doors were completed 21 years later and their 20 bas-relieves describe some passages of the New Testament. The East Doors were made between 1424 and 1450 and their 10 bronze bas-relieves illustrate some passages of the Old Testament. They are such a masterpiece as to be called by Michelangelo Buonarotti “The Gates of Paradise” as they are still known at the present.
The doors have been replaced with perfect copies and the original ones are kept in the “Museo dell’Opera del Duomo”.
The indoors of the Baptistery bring to mind a Byzantine church. The ancient and big baptismal font - where among other illustrious Florentines Dante Alighieri was baptized -is located at the centre of the octagonal nave. The rich marble pavement has some Oriental features. The walls are embellished with white and green marble trimmings over the Romanesque windows. It enormous ceiling is entirely covered by precious mosaics mostly designed by Cimabue (1240-1302) and accomplished by Venetian artisans representing the “Last Judgment” and “Christ in Majesty”.
The Baptistery also houses two carved marble sepulchres. In one of them, engraved by Donatello, rests the Neapolitan Cardinal Cossa (1370-1419).
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