The Story of Florence’s Dome: Up Close and Personal/Nonna’s Christmas Cookie Recipe - My Tuscan Aria

The Story of Florence’s Dome: Up Close and Personal/Nonna’s Christmas Cookie Recipe

“I propose to build for eternity.
-Filippo Brunelleschi, architect of the Dome of Florence

Just as the Coliseum is quintessentially Rome – so the Dome of Florence’s Cathedral (Duomo) is immediately recognizable. It dominates the landscape today as it did 600 years ago.

Do you know the story? Because to know this story, is to unlock the door to the Renaissance itself. Michelangelo did not come out of nowhere!

In a nutshell: the largest cathedral in Christendom in the 1400s was Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, but alas, no one could figure out how to put a roof on its 150- foot expanse. Imagine the priest performing Mass in the rain, at the mercy of the elements, including birds “doing what they do” on the heads of the parishioners. It was a disgrace. The Florentines, as always, needed to save face.

A competition was held and the winner was Filippo Brunelleschi, who would not share with anyone how he was going to do it – not to mention he wasn’t really even an architect, but a goldsmith. Skeptical Florentines and Brunelleschi’s paranoia over protecting his secrets so nobody would steal his ideas clashed often and the result was a miracle of a building – and not just the successful completion of the Dome itself, but how it happened is beyond belief.

First, how do you get tens of thousands of tons of terra cotta bricks – some four million of them UP there? How do you feed the workers UP there and provide for their safety (only three reported deaths over 16 years!) How does one relieve oneself when nature calls? Practical and important daily challenges that could not be assisted by building a scaffold – the space was just too vast.

Brunelleschi mostly invented as he built and was determined to revolutionize architecture by reinventing it – the gothic and classical made way for the stirrings of the Renaissance and the human spirit of freedom, expansion and vision.

For the first time, artists and architects, who heretofore had been considered lowly craftsmen were lifted into the realms of creators – the divine spark that inspired Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and other Renaissance masters – whose virtuosity had its beginnings with the creation of this Dome and the homely, irritable genius, Brunelleschi.

There are so many layers to this story and the best book on it is New York Times Best Selling Author, Ross King’s, “Brunelleschi’s Dome” – written in a novelesque style,and full of fascinating details that will keep you up reading it.

Meet the Author, Ross King and Your Invitation

I met Ross King a few years before the publication of my book, The Stonecutter’s Aria, in New York City at the International Book Expo. I expressed my admiration for his work that also included Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling. He asked me what I was doing at the Book show and I told him my book was about to be published. He congratulated me and later read and generously endorsed my book when it came out.

I am thrilled to announce that Ross will be joining the first of TWO Aria Tours I will be leading in the Spring. He will meet with us at the Duomo and tell us this fascinating story in person. There is nothing like having the author of the best book on the subject actually there in person to speak with us and in Florence, no less!

The Private and Secret Florence, Siena and Tuscany Tour will begin on March 10 and end on March 17th – 8 days in our beautiful villa outside Florence and luxury transportation to take us every day on an adventure to places that are off limits to tourism - not to mention the plus of being in Italy during a quieter time. This is when I want to travel to Italy – not when it’s hot and crowded. Maybe that also appeals to you.

Click here to download the brochure. There are many hidden and beautiful moments – musical, literary, culinary, artistic and architectural places – awaiting you. A percentage of your tour fee will be donated to restoration projects such as at the Casa Buonarroti and the Puccini Foundation as well as to underwrite Mr. King’s visit. As usual, everything is included except airfare.

The second Spring Aria Tour is April 7 – 14 and will include an excursion to Southern Tuscany, the land of the Etruscans. Click here to learn more.

Come and soak up the beauty!

Nonna’s Christmas Cookie Recipe

As Christmas is right around the corner, it is time for me to take out the worn, handwritten recipes for cookies that my Nonna Olga left me. I remember so many times making 7 or 8 different kinds with her, rolling, sprinkling, cutting, filling. Smells of anisette, orange and amaretto and even rosemary! Here is one I will share with you, my absolute favorite.

Italian Sesame Seed Christmas Cookies (makes about 3 dozen)

5 cups flour

3 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

1 cup vegetable shortening

1-1/4 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

½ tsp anise oil (optional, but it’s very good!)

8 ounces sesame seeds (mixed with one beaten egg white)- put in a small bowl and set aside

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in large mixing bowl. In another, cream together shortening, sugar. When well mixed, add eggs, vanilla and anise and blend well. Add the dry mix to the wet and blend.

Put mixture on smooth surface and knead until smooth. Cut in pieces and roll out to one-inch diameter, then cut into 2” – 3” pieces.

Dip the pieces in the sesame seeds mix.

Place pieces a good distance apart on a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper. 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes depending on how large the cookies are. Should be lightly brown.

You will love these to dip in your morning coffee or your glass of milk before bedtime. Let me know if you make them and what you think. They’ll keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks!

Merry Christmas!


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  1. Thomas Calvano says:

    Carol, as always your writings are facinating! I love reliving my travels through your much anticipated monthly offerings.
    Thank you for keeping us supplied in the most delicious olive oil!!! It is truly special to us.
    God Bless you and keep you safe in your travels.

    • Carol Faenzi says:

      Ciao, Tom
      Thank you again for not only reading my stories but sending me your positive comments! It means a lot.
      I will have olive oil on hand through the winter so don’t run out! Saluté!

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