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Monday, October 19, 2015

The Magnificent Duomo of Florence

When I say that you cannot possibly miss the Duomo in Florence, I’m not just trying to say that is the one sight that you should definitely visit when you’re in the city. What I’m really trying to convey, rather, is that it seems almost impossible to walk through the charming cobblestone streets of Florence and not spot this striking building when you look up to the sky.

The Duomo dominates the skyline and looms over the narrow alleys and broad square of the city like an imposing, yet magnificent giant and even majestic Renaissance palaces seem to be dwarfed by its shadow. Florence wouldn’t be Florence without the Duomo and so it only seems appropriate to dedicate an entire post to what may just be the most impressive cathedral I have ever seen in my life.

The Duomo, whose construction began as early as the 12th century, is not only one of the largest churches in Europe, but also – at least in my humble opinion – one of the most beautiful.

I have seen a fair amount of old churches in my life already and most of them have been beautiful and some of them very impressive, but in comparison with the Duomo they all seem to pale. Because many cathedrals are built in a very similar style, they all tend to blend together a bit after a while. The Duomo, however, is very unique and I have never seen anything like it before!

The entire façade of the Duomo is covered in white, green and red marble and elaborately decorated with statues, carvings and mosaics. The attention that has been paid to the details of the decoration and the architecture is just absolutely staggering and while all the different pieces are works of art in their own right, they somehow all come together seamlessly as a whole.

Inside, the Duomo is surprisingly subdued and minimalistic: The atmosphere is sombre, just like you would expect from a Gothic cathedral, and people talk to each other in hushed voices while gazing up at the vibrant frescoes decorating the dome.

The main nave of the cathedral itself is free to enter, but if you want to visit any other part of the church and especially climb the Dome, you need to purchase an entrance ticket at the ticket center on the square right in front of the Duomo. And trust me – you want to climb the Dome!

We decided to save the best (or should I say the most crowded?) for last, though, and started our first full day in Florence by climbing the Campanile. The Campanile is the bell tower of the Duomo and a unique one at that because it isn’t attached the Duomo, but free-standing.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to queue up at all and soon we were on our merry way up many, many flights of stairs.

Buildings, that had seemed so grand before, slowly became smaller and smaller the higher we climbed and by the time we reached the top of the tower it almost felt as if were watching over a world of dollhouses. We could see as far as the Tuscan mountains would allow us (who knew that Florence was surrounded by mountains?) and vowed that one day we would return to explore the countryside.

I know that the grey sky in many of these pictures make it look like I visited Florence in the middle of November, but I promise, I did visit in June!

Because the entrance tickets are valid for 24 hours, we weren’t crazy enough to attempt to climb the dome on the same day as the Campanile and so returned on the next morning instead. This time, we did have to join a queue, but the line moved quickly and before we knew it, we were huffing and puffing our way up to the vaulted ceiling of the Duomo.

If you’ve never walked on a gallery underneath a dome and are not bothered by heights, you should put it on your bucket list at once! The dome doesn’t look all that high from the ground, but when you’re standing just beneath the cupola, you notice just how inaccurate that impression is. I really can’t think of anything quite like it!

The dome itself is an absolute marvel of architecture and remains one of the largest cupolas in a sacral building until today - it's even bigger than the one in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome! My grainy pictures (there's a high pane for security reasons) don't do it justice at all, but it's absolutely stunning in person!

Because someone had the fabulous idea to use the same set of stairs for both climbing up to the viewpoint and climbing down again, there was a constant traffic jam on the last few hundred stairs and it took us a while to reach the very top of the Duomo. If large amounts of people in narrow spaces aren’t your thing, you may want to avoid! It did come with the advantage of offering lots of breaks, though, and so I wasn’t completely out of breath when we finally reached our final destination.

The view from the dome over the city was even more amazing then the one from the Campanile. It may sound all sorts of cliché, but there really is something special about gazing at the world from afar – you always seem to notice things that you would never pay attention to in the hustle and bustle of the streets!

After one last look over the orange roofs of Florence, we braved the dark stairs to explore Florence from the ground again - but the Duomo never seemed to be too far away.

No matter where your next trip takes you - do yourself a favor and seek out a place where you can get an aerial view. Whether it's a skyscraper, a mountain or a cathedral: There's just nothing that quite compares to seeing a place from above.

What is the most impressive church or sacral building you have ever visited?


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