Duomo di Firenze (Santa Maria del Fiore) Travel GuideIntroduction
The Duomo, or the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, is not only one of the largest churches in the world, but is also an iconic structure that is well-known and well-loved in the city of Florence. It has a long history that goes all the way back to the fourth century when it was once known as the Cathedral of Santa Reparata.
In 1294, in an effort to catch up with the magnificent cathedrals of Siena and Pisa, the designer Arnolfo di Cambio wanted to create the largest Roman Catholic Church in the world, and construction over the old site of Santa Reparata began in 1296. Unfortunately, Arnolfo died before the project was completed, and it was taken over by Giotto who is best known for the bell tower that bears his name within the church complex. After Giotto passed away in 1337, the project was then passed on to a series of architects, and by 1380, the nave was completed. Several decades later, in 1418, the structure was finished… except for its dome. Finally, a design by Brunelleschi was implemented and the entire cathedral (and its dome) was finally completed in 1436, almost two hundred years after the first stone was laid. The cathedral was then consecrated within the same year by Pope Eugenius IV, dedicating it to Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers).
In 1587, the church’s façade was demolished and left plain and bare up until the 19th century. A new design by the architect Emilio De Fabris was later implemented and completed in 1887 which gave the cathedral the look that we now recognize it for. Later still, from 1899 to 1903, the cathedral’s famous bronze doors were installed.
The Duomo remains an active place of worship as well as a tourist hot spot to this day.
What to See
The dome itself is a marvel in architecture and engineering and was one of the most ambitious projects of its time. During the time of the church’s construction, builders at that time weren’t quite sure how to construct a dome without the heavy supports that are usually employed in Medieval structures. It wasn’t until Brunelleschi, after having been inspired by the domes of the ancient Roman Pantheon, figured it all out and presented his new designs of a free-standing dome that the church was finally completed. It is a magnificent structure, and is one of the most recognizable landmarks when looking at the city of Florence from afar. The dome also became known as the largest free-standing some since ancient times. Today, Brunelleschi’s construction technique is widely-used and is now considered common practice.
Other than appreciating its construction, though, the dome’s interior is also covered in frescoes that were painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. It was completed in 1579, and the most famous of these frescoes is that of The Last Judgment, which can be best appreciated by actually taking the climb up to the cupola in order to observe it more closely.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
The bell tower is a free-standing structure within the church complex. At the top of the tower are seven bells that were cast by various artisans of the 18th as well as the 20th century. Each bell has a name, those being “Campanone” (the largest bell, created in 1705 by Antonio Petri of Florence), “La Misericordia” (or “Mercy Bell”, created in 1830 by Carlo Moreni), “Apostolica” (created in 1957), “Annunziata” (made in 1956), “Mater Dei” (or “God’s Mother Bell”, also made in 1956), “L’Assunta” (also made in 1956), and lastly,”L’Immacolata” (also from 1956). All of the more modern bells were casted by by P. Barigozzi.
Meanwhile, on the exterior of the bell tower can be found various reliefs and sculptures which tell the stories of the creation of man and woman, and also highlight various activities and professions such as medicine, sheep-herding, music, metallurgy, weaving , wine-making, astrology, building, other technical and scientific endeavors. Other themes include the (back then) seven planets, the cardinal virtues, theological virtues, liberal arts, and the seven sacraments. There are also niches which house the statues of various characters such as kings of Israel, pagan priestesses, prophets, as well as patriarchs.
Views From the Top
Though difficult to get to, visitors who brave the steps of the bell tower and the dome are rewarded with fantastic panoramas of the city of Florence, making the climb well worth it.
The Baptistery (Baptistery of Saint John)
The Baptistery is a smaller, separate building within church grounds that is octagonal in shape. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, having been constructed in the 11th century, and is recognized as a minor basilica. Since its construction, many notable figures of the Renaissance were baptized here, including members of the Medici family, as well as the poet Dante Alighieri. It is still in active use, and masses are also regularly held here. It is also best-known for its three sets of bronze doors which are decorated by relief sculptures. The north and east doors were created by Lorenzo Ghiberti (with the east doors having been dubbed “the Gates of Paradise” by no other than Michelangelo), while the south doors are credited to Andrea Pisano.
Opera Museum (Museum Opera del Duomo)
Though closed for renovations until November 2015, this is where many of the church’s decorations have been moved to for the sake of preservation. The collection includes a variety of objects, from paintings and miniatures, to entire pulpits. Of particular interest in this collection would be the famous Pietà by Michelangelo.
While the exterior and interior of the church is largely unadorned compared to its more lavish and opulent counterparts in other cities, what it lacks in architectural decoration, it makes up for in its collection of notable artwork which honor the prominent citizens and leaders of the city of Florence. Amid the many sculptures, paintings, and frescoes, of particular interest are:
- The 44 stained glass windows that were part of a project that was considered as the largest undertaking of its kind in Italy at the time. It mainly features saints and characters from the Old and the New Testaments. Meanwhile, in the drum of the dome are circular windows designed by Gaddo Gaddi that show Jesus Christ and Mary. The windows are the collective work of some of Florence’s greatest artists including Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello, Donatello, and Lorenzo Ghiberti.
- Right above the main door is the famous clock face that has the fresco portraits of the four Evangelists that were painted by Paolo Uccello. For those who may be a bit confused as to why this fully functioning clock only has one hand, this is because it is a liturgical clock that shows the 24 hours of the hora italica (Italian time), which is a span of time that ends at sunset every 24 hours, and was a measure of time that was used up until the 18th century.
- The collection of 15th and 16th century busts which is comprised of a bust of Giotto by Benedetto da Maiano, one of Brunelleschi by Buggiano, as well as busts of Marsilio Ficino, and the famous organist Antonio Squarcialupi.
- The fresco Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood which was painted by Paolo Uccello, and later transferred to canvas.
- The 15th century painting Dante Before the City of Florence by Domenico di Michelino.
- The inspiring funeral monument of the 14th century bishop of Florence Antonio d’Orso that was sculpted by the prominent sculptor Tino da Camaino.
- Various elements of the church such as the choir enclosure by Bartolommeo Bandinelli, the crucifix behind the high altar by Benedetto da Maiano, and the sacristy’s paneled bronze doors by Luca della Robbia.
- The altar which houses the urn and relics of the first bishop of Florence, Saint Zanobius, with its silver shrine that was crafted by Ghiberti, contains the urn with his relics. Above it is a painting by Giovanni Balducci which depicts the Last Supper.
- Many decorations date from the 16th-century patronage of the Grand Dukes, such as the pavement in colored marble, attributed to Baccio d’Agnolo and Francesco da Sangallo (1520–26). Some pieces of marble from the façade were used, topside down, in the flooring (as was shown by the restoration of the floor after the 1966 flooding).
- A fresco painting by Andrea del Castagno depicting the equestrian statue of Niccolò da Tolentino. This painting was also later transferred onto canvas.
Santa Reparata Crypt
During the 1960s and 1970s, the cathedral underwent several excavations and unearthed the subterranean vaults were used for the burial of prominent Florentine citizens, including popes and bishops. Among the things that they found during the excavations were pavement that dates back to early Christian times, the remains of Roman houses, the ruins of the former cathedral of Santa Reparata and its successive enlargements, and of course, the crypts. Among these can also be found the simple tomb of the architect Brunelleschi himself.
Other notable burials include those of Giovanni Benelli, Giotto di Bondone, Zenobius of Florence, John Hawkwood, Pope Nicholas II, and Pope Stephen IX
Tips and Advice
- Admission to the cathedral itself is free, but there is a fee of EUR 3 to visit the crypt, EUR 8 to visit the dome, and EUR 8 for the bell tower. For guided visits, admission is EUR 9 for the Duomo, EUR 11 for the dome (entrance fee included), EUR 9 for the crypt (entrance fee included), and EUR 15 for the terrace (dome included). The guided tours take about an hour.
- There is also a ticket being sold for EUR 10 that allows you to visit all the sights within the Duomo group of attractions, namely the Galleria dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the crypt of Santa Reparata, the baptistery of San Giovanni, and Giotto’s bell tower. Take note, however, that the ticket must be used within six days, and once you use it, you have 24 hours to visit all the attractions. If you visit just one or two in a day, you will have to purchase new tickets the next day.
- Touring all the areas of the Duomo, especially the bell tower, can be tiring so if you don’t think you’ll have the energy to make your rounds on all the attractions, it may be better for you to purchase tickets to each attraction separately.
- Be aware that the Duomo may be closed for tours on religious and national holidays, including January 1, Epiphany, Holy Week, August 15 (Ferragosto), September 8 (Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary), November 1, Monday to Tuesday of the first week of Advent, Christmas Day, and December 26.
- The schedule of the Duomo and its attractions are as follows:
- Church – Mondays to Fridays, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, except Thursdays. From November to April, it closes at 4:30 pm on Thursdays, and from May to October, it closes at 4:00 pm. On weekends, it is open on Saturdays from 10:00 am to 4:45 pm, while on Sundays, it opens after lunch at 1:30 pm and closes at 4:45 pm. It is possible to enter up to right before closing.
- Cupola/Brunelleschi’s dome – Mondays to Fridays, 8:30 am to 7:00 pm, and on Saturdays, from 8:30 am to 5:40 pm. It is closed to the public on Sundays. Last entry is at 40 minutes before closing.
- Santa Reparata Crypt – It is open during the same hours as the church, but is also closed off on Sundays. Last entry is at 30 minutes before closing.
- Baptistery – It opens at 11:15 am and closes at the same time as the church, except on Sundays when it opens at 8:30 am and closes at 2:00 pm.
- For those who wish to attend mass, the schedules are as follows:
- Sundays – 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:30 am (the mass will be in Gregorian chant), 12:00 pm, 6:00 pm. Vespers with chants are also held at 5:30 pm.
- Mondays to Saturdays – 7:30 am, 8:30 am, 9:30 am, and 6:00 pm. On Saturdays, masses in English are held at 5:00 pm in the church. The venue of the mass is moved to the Misericordia on Piazza Duomo on every first Saturday of the month.
- If you plan to visit Brunelleschi’s Dome and Giotto’s Bell Tower, wear comfortable shoes and be ready for a work out! There are 463 steps to the top of the dome, while there are 414 to go up the bell tower. Each attraction will take you about an hour to reach. The best times to climb these structures would be either early in the morning or late in the day when it’s not too hot.
- IMPORTANT HEALTH WARNINGS: Unfortunately, accessibility to the dome and the bell tower will be an issue for persons with disabilities as neither of these attractions have any elevators or lifts. There are also balconies along the way which may cause panic in those who have a fear of heights. Going up the stairs, there are also points where the stairway become very narrow, and it may be an issue for those with claustrophobia. People who are newly-operated, and those with vertigo or heart problems are also discouraged from attempting to visit these attractions.
- Remember that you are still in an active place of worship, so make sure to dress appropriately, and to keep your voice down in order to not disturb people in the church who may be praying.