Wow, what a trip! Not only does the top of the Duomo offer an incredible view of Florence, it is also an architectural miracle and we were allowed to climb all over it!
The only way to describe this adventure is with pictures. But, for perspective, here’s what we did. Inside the church is a little door that leads to a staircase that climbs straight up. Up 5 steps, turn, up 3 steps, turn, up 5 steps, turn . . . FOREVER! It’s about 460 steps to the top; I think that’s the equivalent to a 20 story building. At some point, the staircase turned into a spiral and when we reached the dome, it got pretty creative. Keep in mind the stairs were built in about the 1400s when the church was built.
So, here we go!
Here’s the outside of the church. It has a long part in front and the dome in the back. Off to the right side in this picture is the tower, which is not attached to the church. It’s hard to tell that since it is decorated exactly like the church on the outside.
By the way, that little, tiny part sticking up out of the dome — that’s our destination. It’s called the lantern.
You enter the church through a side door and go through this door. It’s the one that gives you access to the stairs.
The stairs are narrow and the ceiling is sometimes low. They highly recommend you skip this if you’re claustrophobic or have a fear of heights. Very good advice!
The first stop is the balcony, just below the large circular windows. It gives you a much better view of the ceiling frescoes. Here area a couple of pictures. The balcony goes all the way around the dome, but only half of it was open. You had to go around to the other side to pick up the stairs that go up the side of the dome.
To give you an idea, if you look back at the picture of the outside of the church (the one above) you can see one of the round windows at the base of the dome. We were on a balcony just below those windows in the pictures above.
Ha, ha! I little late for this sign : ) That’s 500 years of graffiti!
Thankfully, we had to stop often on the stairs, especially toward the top. They pack quite a few people in, so it’s crowded. Also, at the top, the stairs are shared by those going up and those going down. Unfortunately, the stairs aren’t big enough to accommodate everyone so you have to find a side niche to stand in while the traffic going the other way passes. It was quite a shuffle!
As you can see, the stairs get tiny in places. They’re also uneven, steep and they aren’t uniform. Of course, the lighting is dim, so watch your step! In the second picture, the one with the person in the red shorts, these stairs take you between the inner dome and the outer dome. You can see how the roof and the floor both curve in the picture.
While waiting for some downward-bound traffic to pass, we got shuttled into a little side area where I saw this room for the people who work up here. It was tiny. And God knows where that odd door on the right goes!
Finally! We made it! We are standing at the base of the lantern, which is the lynchpin that keeps the dome from collapsing. In actuality, there are two domes. The inside one pushes out against the outside dome which keeps it in place. As I said, it’s an architectural miracle that I don’t completely understand.
Here you can see the rest of the church and the tower beside it. The rib running down the dome is one of many and they are the weight-bearing part of the dome.
Okay, after cooling off, catching our breath, and soaking up the sights, it was time to head back down.
After climbing down the ladder, we ended up here, in a little room between the inside and outside domes. We had to go through the tiny door.
Then down this staircase. We had to climb down one exactly like it and luckily we don’t have to share it with those coming up. This is the part that follows the curve of the inner dome, so it was quite steep.
On the way down, we got to stop at the upper balcony, the one above the round windows. (The other balcony was below the round windows.) From here, the frescoes were very close. The figures were huge, so much bigger than they look from the ground. You don’t think about how big all the figures have to be painted when you’re standing on the ground.
Here’s a picture from the ground that shows where we were. See the balconies just below and above the round windows? We were there!
I tried to video some of the stairs to give you an idea of what it was like. See what you think!