Follow in the footsteps of the greats and climb the Florence Duomo, the dome of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (the Cathedral of Saint Maria of the Flower).
Situated in the heart of the Pizza del Duomo, this is a historic centerpiece of the Catholic faith – from a time of indulgences and wealthy commissions from the city’s patrons as an egotistical way to seek forgiveness and immortality. Consisting of three main components like an architectural holy trinity, the cathedral, baptistery and Campanile, a glorious bell tower designed by Giotto are all UNESCO world heritage sites. Towering above everything is the dome or Duomo.
Buildings as gorgeous inside as out
Find a space away from the crowd, and pause to actually take in what you’re here for. First designed in 1294 by Arnolfi di Cambio, the architect behind Santa Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio – two of Florence’s most iconic structures, it took over 150 years before his vision was realized.
The queues to get into the main section of the cathedral are insane; luckily to climb the Duomo of the most beautiful building in Florence, there’s much less. It’s around 11 when we arrive and they wind right around the cathedral. It’s slight mayhem as this historic center is home to the Duomo, the Bapistry and Giotto’s Campanile, his glorious bell tower.
Where the Duomo climb starts
Line up near the left side entrance of the cathedral and wait for your session to be let through. It’s all timed for a very specific reason that becomes clearer when you’re finally let in. While waiting in this line of around 100, there’s at least 500 queuing to get into the cathedral general entry which while free, will lose you at least an hour, stuck sweating in the Florentine sun.
Time to People Watch
The time in line provides ample opportunity to see the colorful marble and mosaics that make up the ornate exterior. A local watercolor artist selling his wares occasionally dabs nonchalantly at the work coming alive on his easel while casually swigging from a bottle of red in his left hand. Wandering down the queue is a panhandling Roma, putting on faux tears as she shows a pathetic photo of a child in distress to coax money out of guilt-ridden tourists. It’s a classic scam that we first saw in the late 80s and it’s probably been going on since the days when this was a building site.
Here We Go
With typical Italian time employed, the doors open about eleven minutes late. What was once a chapel has been repurposed as a security checkpoint, a metal detector the secular equivalent of a confessional box. While there’s an immediate desire to gaze in wonder at the glorious paintings on the dome, you’ll be getting to see it close up in twenty minutes.
There Are Steps – Oh Yes There Are Steps
The Duomo climb is not for the faint hearted. Yes, there are 463 steps involved but when put into the context of 40 degrees Celsius, extremely confined spaces and a combination of spirals and very steep climbs they feel like Everest. You’ll find yourself squeezing down narrow hallways and scrambling literally inches above the intricate interlocking brickwork of Brunelleschi’s dome, and clambering up ladders before getting through to the roof of the cupola.
Along the way, there are strategically placed stops, like the balcony that runs the circumference of the dome that gives you prime viewing of Giorgio Vasari’s The Last Supper fresco (brought vividly back to their finished 1579 look following a major clean up in 1996), or the mini museum of artifacts and facsimiles of the tools used to build this architectural marvel.
Get ready to be overwhelmed by the city’s beauty
It’s the final part of climb that proves to be most challenging. At this point, you have to squeeze down narrow passages where only one can fit at a time. This is where the whole timed entry and crowd control makes total sense. With patience, good humor and a few mega wheezes it’s time to make the final ascent up the north face of the Duomo’s 600-year-old interior. There may be stairs, but at this point they are more like a stone ladder. It’s steep as hell and coupled with the stifling humidity you will sweat off any pasta or spritzes you consumed the night before. The final climb is up a metal ladder and out into lantern atop the dome and into the fresh air – which you’ll be sucking down in deep gasps.
Once composure has returned you’ll be rendered breathless again by the view. You have an unspoiled 360-degree view of the city. Terracotta reds and oranges and burnt sienna hues meet the distant olive and cypress hills. Basilicas and clock towers jut above the low rooftops without a modern glass or steel structure to be seen.
Ensure you really soak in the scenery and get your heart rate down before descending the 463 steps. They are easier with the help of gravity, but you’ll find yourself working muscles you haven’t felt in years. This is a chance to live history and to see what for centuries only the builders, clergy or VIPs ever got to see, making a climb to the top of the Duomo of the Florence Cathedral an unmissable Florentine experience.
The Duomo is the Renaissance architectural gem that sits atop the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. You can climb the Duomo of Florence Cathedral for incredible views of the city.
You can climb the Duomo in the heart of the Piazza del Duomo in central Florence.
Buy tickets online before you go. For 18 Euro, you can set your choice of time. Buy your tickets here. Entry to the Duomo is from 8.30am and is closed all day Sundays. Your ticket also gives tou entry to the Campagnile, crypt and baptistry.
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