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Baptistery of St John

Florence - Baptistery - day view
Florence - St John Baptistery - ceilingFlorence - St John Baptistery  -  interiorFlorence - St John Baptistery

Built between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza di San Giovanni, the Baptistery of St John stands across from the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s famed cathedral. Considered as one of the oldest buildings in the city, the Baptistery is best known for its three decorated bronze doors, one of which is the famously dubbed Gates of Paradise.

Construction began in 1059 and was completed in 1128, the design conforming to the Florentine Romanesque style of the epoch. Some changes and improvements were made over the years, such as the striped pilasters, decorated with green marble in 1293, or the addition of more statues and ornaments. Its famous doors were not added until later, between the 14th and 16th centuries.

Things to see

The South doors, which originally faced the Duomo to the east, were designed by the sculptor Andrea Pisano and cast in bronze by the Venetian metalworker Leonardo d’Avanzano. These doors were completed in 1336 and depict the life of Saint John the Baptist, as well as the seven heavenly virtues of the Christian faith.

The North doors are a result of a design competition that Lorenzo Ghiberti ultimately won; other competing artists were Jacopo della Quercia, Filippo Brunelleschi and Donato di Niccolò (better known as Donatello). Completed between 1403 and 1424, these doors depict the life of Christ as well as the Four Evangelists and the Church Fathers Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Gregory, and Saint Augustine. This work of art propelled Ghiberti into stardom and he was eventually commissioned to make the third set of doors.

The East doors are the most famous, referred to as the Gates of Paradise following a praising comment made by Michelangelo. Ghiberti and his workshop worked on these doors between 1425 and 1452, creating a masterpiece still celebrated today. The East doors are composed of ten gilded panels depicting various scenes from the Old Testament, from Adam and Eve to Noah to Moses.