Florence, Italy – Duomo – Tuesday

When you’re in Florence, if you can make it happen, try to climb the Duomo tower at sunset.

No question.

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Tuesday afternoon, our guides from Accidental Tourist drove us back to the city of Florence from our host’s home in Tuscany after a very filling and delicious lunch.

sidenote: Andrew and I were in Aly’s van with Virginia and Angela’s parents.

The Duomo dominates the skyline of Florence, and the city square where the Duomo is located is one of the primary areas of the city.

*Technically* the word ‘duomo’ is just an Italian word for cathedral church. Florence’s cathedral/Duomo (pictured here) is officially called : Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.


From Rick Steves:

Florence’s Gothic cathedral has the third-longest nave in Christendom. The church’s noisy neo-Gothic facade from the 1870′s is covered with pink, green and white Tuscan marble (see 1st image of this post). Since nearly all of its great art is stored in the Duomo Museum (behind the church), the best thing about the interior is the shade. The inside of the dome is decorated by one of the largest paintings of the Renaissance, a huge Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.

The cathedral’s claim to artistic fame is Brunelleschi‘s magnificent dome – the first Renaissance dome and the model for domes to follow.

Because we didn’t get into town until around 430p or so … and were pretty exhausted and still full of food, we didn’t get to the Duomo until around 6p. Because of the time, and our interests, we elected to climb the dome of the cathedral rather than go inside.

I think they only allow people to climb the dome up until 630p or so. We knew we were cutting it close, but it turned out perfectly!

From Rick Steves:

For a grand view into the cathedral from the base of the dome, a peek at some of the tools used in the dome’s construction, a chance to see Brunelleschi’s “dome-within-a-dome” construction, a glorious Florence view from the top, and the equivalent of 463 plunges on a Stairmaster, climb the dome.

Yea, that’s right. 463 steps.

Holy geez.

At least we worked off all those calories.

I took off my sweater pretty much right away. Another 50 steps up I put my hair in a ponytail. Another 50 steps up I got Andrew to carry my bag (including memory cards, guidebook, etc).


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A tiny window, over-looking the city, just partway up the stairs:

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A lot of people thought they were EXTREMELY clever to graffiti RIGHT next to the sign that says ‘Do not write on the walls:

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On the way up and on the way down there are 2 different room/landing areas that act as mini-museums. These are (I think) statues/sculptures that used to reside in the square outside the cathedral, but were moved inside to be preserved. Check out the defacing that has been done over the years. So sad ….

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Dome artwork:

pretty intense.

From Wikipedia:

It was suggested that the interior of the 45 metre (147 ft) wide dome should be covered with a mosaic decoration to make the most of the available light coming through the circular windows of the drum and through the lantern. Brunelleschi had proposed the vault to glimmer with resplendent gold, but his death in 1446 put an end to this project, and the walls of the dome were whitewashed. Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to have the dome painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. This enormous work, 3,600 metres² (38 750 ft²) of painted surface, was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari and would last till 1579. The upper portion, near the lantern, representing The 24 Elders of Apoc. 4 was finished by Vasari before his death in 1574. Federico Zuccari and a number of collaborators, such as Domenico Cresti, finished the other portions: (from top to bottom) Choirs of Angels; Christ, Mary and Saints; Virtues, Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Beatitudes; and at the bottom of the cuppola: Capital Sins and Hell. These frescoes are considered Zuccari’s greatest work. But the quality of the work is uneven because of the input of different artists and the different techniques. Vasari had used true fresco, while Zuccari had painted in secco.

It was huge. And so more vivid and colorful in real life.

Andrew’s favorite was the guy pulling himself apart (2 photos down) . …

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More of those steps …. We thought they felt very Alfred Hitchcock or Edgar Allen Poe. Low ceilings. Awkward angles. Non-conformity of step depth. Dark. Stone.

Pretty creepy if you were by yourself, for sure!

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And then – finally – we found the light. It almost felt like coming up from underground ….

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aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh  {and all of heaven opened up and the angels sang!}

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yea. It was 463 steps. And we were EXHAUSTED (we slept well that night, for sure) … . but it was sooooo worth it.

When else are we going to be in Florence and get to see this view?

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(thanks to the friendly stranger who offered to take the shot below)

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Now whenever you look at a photo of Florence, you can imagine Andrew and I at the very very very top of that big dome!

I think about it.

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(and then we had to walk back DOWN the steep scary steps. Easier going down, though, that’s for sure)

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Just a glimpse of the inside of the church on our way out. It was already closed to visitors for the day …

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And as a bonus:

In the same square as the Duomo is the Florence Baptistery – with those famous doors!

From Rick Steves:

Florence’s Baptistery is dear to the soul of the city. In medieval and Renaissance times, the locals – eager to link themselves to a classical past – believed (wrongly) that this was a Roman building. It is, however, Florence’s oldest building (11th century). Most festivals and parades either started or ended here. Go inside for a fine example of pre-Renaissance mosaic art (1200s-1300s) in the Byzantine style.

editor’s note: Andrew and I did NOT go inside

continuing with Rick Steves:

The Baptistery’s bronze doors bring us out of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Florence had great civic spirit, with different guilds and merchant groups embellishing their city with great art. The city staged a competition in 1401 for the commission of the Baptistery’s north doors. All the greats entered and 25-year-old Lorenzo Ghiberti won easily, beating out heavy-weights such as Brunelleschi (who, having lost the Baptistery gig, was free to go to Rome, study the Pantheon, and later design the Duomo’s dome).

Later in 1425, Ghiberti was given another commission, for the east doors, and this time there was literally no contest. The bronze panels of these doors (image below) added a whole new dimension to art – depth. Michelangelo said these doors were fit to be the gates of paradise.

(behind gates and tourists … and these are copies! The originals are in the museum)

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One last look back at the Duomo facade …. pink and green? Like pajamas? Or beautiful? what do you think?

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Leave a Comment

  • Andrew January 29, 2010, 8:35 am

    I loved the colors of Il Duomo. At first glance and from a distance it seems almost comical and unreal. But the closer you get it’s just magnificent. Best trip ever. Thanks for reminding me how great it was by doing these posts

  • Jenae January 29, 2010, 9:07 am

    Oh man! I think I’m getting way too excited looking at this. The Florence Baptistery colors are gorgeous! And those doors, eeeep! Too incredible.

    p.s. You guys look super cute at the top of the Duomo.

  • Angela January 29, 2010, 11:23 am

    Twice to Florence and still havent climbed the Duomo. Sigh. Next time.

    I LOVE the colors, mostly because they do seem mildly comical. I like the surprise factor.

    ‘del fiore’ = of the flowers. love it.

    You both are wildly photogenic in these pictures.

    Ive decided that when I plan my trip around the world, I need to factor in some way to pay for both of you to come with us…yes, you are that badass.


  • Judith Hall March 30, 2010, 2:29 am

    I have always told people that the Duomo is the most awe-inspiring piece of architecture I have ever had the privilege of seeing.

    I have shown people various shots of it from different websites but they have never really done it justice.

    When I search again last night I came upon your blog.

    I would just like to say a massive thank you! I have now saved your link and will always use it to show people exactly what is so special about the Duomo.

    Thank you again


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