FLORENCE, Italy — Heaven, it is said, so envied Brunelleschi's brick red dome soaring above Florence that it hurled down lightning bolts in hopes of destroying the eight-sided architectural marvel that crowns the city's cathedral.
The ribbed cupola has weathered many a storm since it was built atop the green, white and red marbled duomo in 1438. Now man threatens to shorten its glorious life.
"Brunelleschi's masterpiece risks, with time, to split itself open like a gigantic melon," wrote Europeo, an Italian newsmagazine.
Four major cracks, more or less symmetrical, run up and down the dome. They are getting wider every year, alarming architects, engineers and art historians who have studied the 300-foot-high vault-within-a-vault, which stands without the help of outside buttresses.
Plugged With Concrete
The problem, it seems, began in the winter of 1979 when some workers plugged up 48 square holes with concrete.
Brunelleschi, the first great architect of the Italian Renaissance, had apparently left the holes to anchor scaffolding needed for the decoration of the dome. A Florentine who devoted the later years of his life to building the dome, he hoped to decorate its interior with dazzling mosaics. Instead, Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari were charged with covering the inside with frescoes.