Nova: Great Cathedral Mystery

Nova: Great Cathedral Mystery

Wednesday, February 12 at 9:00 p.m.

Master bricklayers use period tools and techniques to recreate Florence's Duomo.

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.

Photo: The cityscape of Florence, Italy with the famed Duomo clearly visible.