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NOVA: Great Cathedral Mystery

Airs Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy.

Credit: Courtesy of National Geographic Television

Above: Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy.

Explore the science behind the headlines in PBS’ premier science series. With compelling stories and spectacular visuals, NOVA programs demystify science and technology for viewers of all ages and spotlight people involved in scientific pursuits.

Photo credit: Courtesy of National Geographic Television

The Duomo, Florence, Italy.

Photo credit: Courtesy of National Geographic Television

Ricci's model of the Duomo.

Physics of Stone Arches

With this interactive feature, see if you can build a cathedral arch without it collapsing, and learn more about the forces at work.

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 after more than six centuries, 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, 40 stories above the cathedral floor.

At this terrifying height, his laborers toiled without safety nets, applying novel, untried methods on a truly monumental scale. 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 techniques. “Great Cathedral Mystery” will also highlight exciting new discoveries, including traces of Brunelleschi’s workshop, complete with his own prototype mini-dome model, and will explore the restless, innovative mind of this Renaissance master.

Past episodes of NOVA are available for online viewing. NOVA is on Facebook, and you can follow @novapbs on Twitter.

NOVA: Great Cathedral Mystery Preview

In this episode, master craftsmen explore how Florence’s monumental dome was built nearly 600 years ago.

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