Hi friends, welcome back to my Italy series! As with most people that visit Florence, the Duomo, officially called Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore, was my favorite sight in Florence. I loved walking by this beautiful church every day and it’s hard to appreciate the sheer size of this iconic sight until you see it in person.
Construction of this cathedral began in 1296 but the roof wasn’t added until 1400. The cathedral underwent an exterior facelift in 1870 when the green, white, and pink marble was added over the previously brick facade. As I mentioned in my last post, the famous David statue was originally commissioned to be on the roof of this church before they moved him to Palazzo Vecchio.
The architects of Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore always intended for it to have a domed roof, but they didn’t know how to execute such a monumental task. Over one hundred years after construction began, Filippo Brunelleschi finally solved the cupola conundrum. He intently studied the Pantheon and came up with a design using two domes and massive, sturdy pillars inside the cathedral. The outside dome is visible with the terracotta tile and the inner dome is thicker and more supportive. The bricks are laid in a herringbone pattern to self-reinforce, and the lantern on top holds them all into place. It took 14 years to build the dome (finished in 1436) and it is the largest masonry dome ever built.
Jon and I got to go inside briefly on our dome tour and the cathedral was noticeably bare inside. Most of the sculptures and paintings were moved to the Duomo Museum across the street for preservation. There’s always a long line to go inside (no ticket required), but not much to see besides a faraway glimpse of the dome. I’d recommend going early because people were lined up before the church opened. You can also go under the Duomo to see the excavations of the Basilica of Santa Reparta, the prior cathedral of Florence. Nobody knows exactly when the cathedral was built, their best guess is around 400AD. The visit to Santa Reparta was included with our ticket, but we didn’t make it down this time.
Climbing the dome is a must and you have to reserve a time slot to do so. I booked a brief tour through the Duomo website and then afterwards we were free to climb the dome. I was nervous because I’m slightly claustrophobic, but the climb between the two domes wasn’t too bad. We started climbing the 463 steps up and were held in the first balcony of the dome while we waited for the group up top to come back down. They let you have about twenty minutes at the top and then they make everyone go down so it doesn’t get overcrowded. I liked this system because it gives your legs a break and you get time to enjoy the paintings on the dome up close. When our necks needed a break we would admire the birds eye view of the nave below. This cathedral has the third longest nave in Christendom at 153 meters.
On the inner dome, the Last Judgment was painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari from 1572-1579. It is an eerie painting, especially on the balcony when you’re up close and personal with it. You really can’t appreciate the size and detail of this mural without climbing up close.
The views from the top overlooking Florence sure were spectacular! The stairs and tight quarters were definitely worth it. I found the climb down harder because I get dizzy easy. I never have to worry about this, but if you’re tall watch you head because the ceilings are quite low.
I’m so glad that we climbed the dome and I think it’s a must do in Florence. The views of the city and being up close to the paintings on the dome make the climb more than worth all the steps. This is a popular activity so I’d highly recommend booking your time slot as soon as possible. This is the tour we booked and it gave us access to all of the Duomo sights, but there are a few different passes to choose from. I hope you enjoyed following along on this tour, I’ll be sharing the Duomo Museum, Baptistry, and Bell Tower next.
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