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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!