Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – The Florence Duomo

The Florence Duomo as the Florence Cathedral or Santa Maria del Fiore is more commonly known is by far the most iconic vista of Florence, showing up in nearly every picture postcard or image search of Florence. And for good reason. The cathedral, an ambitious plan for its time, sat dome-less for over a 100 years because they simply did not have the technology to build such a large dome at that time. In all probability, we still don’t. It’s the largest masonry dome in the world even today.

Brunelleschi’s Duomo

Filippo Brunelleschi, an Italian architect won a contest wherein he managed to somewhat convince a board of doubting Florentine nobles that he did indeed have a plan. He asked them to balance an egg on the table. Naturally, owing to it’s curved ends, nobody could manage to do so. He simply smashed the bottom of the egg a little, so it stood. While this didn’t serve as much proof for any of them, and Brunelleschi spent the next 18 years working in secret, under the watchful and suspicious gaze of all of Florence, he did succeed. Apologies if this sounds like a history lesson, but those who have visited Florence will understand our fascination with Brunelleschi, as well as pretty much most of Italy’s.

Florence Duomo

Getting into the Florence Duomo

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a free attraction. There are absolutely no tickets of any kind that can be purchased to enter the cathedral itself. And since it is Florence’s biggest attraction, the lines snake all the way around and into infinity. But we figured, that since a portion of the Duomo climb allows you to circle the inside of the dome, we’d take a peek and see if the inside was worth the wait. The Duomo combo ticket includes the climb, and with our Firenze card we skipped the line, got to the staircase, looked up and gulped.

Florence Duomo

Climbing the Florence Duomo

It was endless. It was narrow. It was steep. I took a deep breath and started climbing, trying hard to keep pace with those ahead of me. Definitely didn’t want to cause a pile-up behind me. Charles tried some superhero photography, clicking while walking. A minute ago we’d been freezing, but pretty soon it was time to strip off a layer as we’d worked up a sweat. Several times we ended up having a bit of a traffic jam because certain sections were also used for people on their way back down. There was no way two rows of people could fit in this narrow path at one time. I observed the famous herringbone style in which the slim bricks had been laid out. This was one of the few secrets of Brunelleschi’s methods that historians and architects had unearthed. This pattern allowed him to create a larger dome, without fear of the bricks sliding down or caving in.

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Inside the Florence Duomo

Halfway through, we arrived at a wooden door. The line began to shuffle slowly. This was it. We were at the circular verandah that lined the inner base of the Duomo. We hadn’t realised how high we’d been going from within those narrow walls. But now, looking down at the patterned marble floor of the Cathedral below, and the beautifully painted dome above, I had newfound respect for the workmen. The ones who would have been up here for hours, without a roof, exposed to the elements back in the 1400s. We looked up at the fresco, a mammoth depiction of the last judgement by various artists including Vasari and Zuccari. A piece of art so detailed, it would take hours, maybe days to actually see every element within it.

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

At the top of the Florence Duomo

The last stretch of stairs was impossibly steep, and everyone clutched at the rickety iron railing on either side in desperate fear. Emerging from under a trap door, we felt a sudden gust of wind. We were up. At the very top of the most iconic structure in Florence, looking out over the entire city. We stood there watching Florentines sunning themselves on their terraces, taking dogs for walks or cycling through narrow streets. We looked beyond the maze of red brick rooftops, mansions among trees and at snow capped hills in the distance. It was absolutely indescribable. I stared hard in disbelief, using the binoculars to get a better look. Yep, that was undoubtedly snow. Charles muttered something about that being his first ever glimpse of snow. We walked around the top, taking in everything, pointing out places we’d been to, paths we’d walked and staring back at the tourists peering at us from the top of the neighbouring bell tower.

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

The way down was equally demanding. Hurtling down the narrowly spiral stairs, I held on to the walls hoping the dizziness wouldn’t make me fall. Catching my breath, sitting on a stone bench and looking up at where we’d just been, I mentally tipped my hat to the crazy genius Brunelleschi, awed by his seemingly impossible masterpiece.

Have you been to Florence? What did you think of the Florence Duomo? What domes around the world awed you? Was it the Pantheon in Rome, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Taj Mahal or anything else besides this beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore? Tell us in the comments below!

41 Discussions on
“Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – The Florence Duomo”
  • Thank you so much for posting these pictures. I visited Florence in April 2014. It was pouring rain, so we opted out of the hour-long waits to get inside the Duomo. Our only pictures of the church are from the outside. We saw a lot of wonderful things and explored a lot of great museums and galleries, but I’m still kind of sad we never made it in the church. We did, however, do the tour of the Milan Duomo, including walking around on the roof. That was a pretty amazing adventure, too!

    • I’ve seen some incredible pictures of the Milan Duomo! I’m sure it was magnificent. We’re so glad we followed the advice to skip the long line to step inside the Cathedral because it really wasn’t that fabulous inside. Except for the fresco under the dome, which we saw anyway!

  • Thank you! You’ve brought back so wonderful memories of the time I did the exact same thing! The tiny steps curving around the dome terrified me – and I’m not easily scared. But the views – both inside and out – were worth the sweaty brow! Love your pics 🙂

    • Tell me about it! By the end of our Italy trip I told Charles, I can’t bear to walk into another church. I mean they were all stunning, but so so so many of them!

  • Your photographs are exquisite. I can certainly understand opting out of the huge snaking line. That’s what I did when I visited Florence, in June when it was mobbed with tourists, and this post make me regret that decision. I wish we had taken the time to make the apparently terrifying climb and to both see the landscape view and appreciate the interior of the building from that different vantage. Maybe we will try again when it is less crowded…if there ever is a less crowded time in Florence. 🙂

    • There isn’t a line for the dome climb. I mean there might be a tiny one, but you get to skip it if you have the Firenze Card (which is such a great investment for saving time). That massive line is to enter the Cathedral (because it’s free).

    • Hey knowing how much you guys love history, I’d definitely recommend watching this 4 part documentary on the Medicis – Godfathers of the Renaissance before/ after you visit Florence.

  • Loved your photos and descriptions. I was only in Florence for a few hours and didn’t get to the Duomo. What a mistake! Guess I’ll need to go back.

  • My sister, her son, my daughter and I went to Florence in July 2014. The lines were so long for the duomo that we didn’t want to torture the kids in the heat. We did stay at a hotel nearby so we got to check it out from the outside many times. It’s definitely a miraculous feat of architecture.

    St. Peter’s Basilica was a jaw-dropping sight when I first saw it in 1999, I’ve visited 4 more times since and every time, I discover something new and incredible.

  • Thank you for the amazing write up and pictures. Resisting the urge to book tickets right away and visit this. 🙂

    Ami @thrillingtravel.blogspot.in

  • Breathtaking! I remember doing this at the Vatican, many years ago. Indeed it was narrow, steep and endless but so worth it! These pictures really take me back! 🙂

  • beautiful photos! I have not been to Italy (STILL). I have been noticing a lot of posts about Italy lately, I think this means I need to get there soon. Florence is definitely on my to do list now!

  • I loved climbing the Duomo with my family, although I was a bit breathless when I finally got to the top. Without thinking we had timed it perfectly, just as the sun was going down. It was a memorable site in Florence and your photos brought back many wonderful memories.

    • Wow! That must have been something indeed! We try and time a couple of vantage points for sunset when we travel too. In Florence we managed to do that at the Palazzo Vecchio, Piazzale Michelangelo (from where we had amazing views of the Duomo) and the Ponte Vecchio!

  • That descent sounds intense! 🙂 Looks lovely from up there. I’ve been to Florence but never made it to the top here. Next time! 🙂

  • Hi Revati and Charles,

    I landed up here from twitter. Anyway, great to see one more husband-wife pair of bloggers here.

    Also, the blog let me go back to some nostalgic memories about India especially when I glanced through some posts describing the jungle trips in Andhra. I used to have such journeys with my father when I was young. We used to take Jeep and travel inside the Jungles in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala border(Muthanga forest in Kerala, Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu, Bandipur and Nagerole in Karnataka. Hope you might know those places or already gone their.

    Hoping to read more posts soon when I get time.

    Have a great blogging journey too.

    Reji Stephenson

  • That must have been quite an up and down – just reading about it makes me dizzy. I remember walking in the small lane perpendiculat to the duomo and then suddenly, bam! what a stunning piece of architecture.

  • Oh, my. You have a fantastic writing style and I actually really enjoyed that you began with a fun “tidbit” of history. It made it so much easier to immerse myself in your pictures and journey. Thanks for sharing, it seems like it was a very inspired trip.

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