The heart of any trip to Florence centers on the breathtaking Piazza Duomo, where you will find the Florence cathedral, bell tower, baptistry, museum, and crypt. The Duomo of Florence serves as the hub of Florence’s historical and cultural heritage. It’s best enjoyed with some strategies for avoiding the crowds, especially when traveling to Italy with kids. Here are our top tips for visiting the Duomo in Florence.
The construction of the Florence Cathedral, called Santa Maria Del Fiore took centuries to finish, from 1296 to the 19th century. Building began in the 1296 under the supervision of Arnolfo di Cambio. It was built on top of Florence’s original cathedral, Santa Reparata. After Arnolfo died, work continued under famous early Renaissance artists Giotto and Pisano in the 14th century. Most of the construction was completed by 1380, however, at that time the footprint of the building had expanded so much that designing the dome was a daunting endeavor as it was thought to be impossible to construct.
The project stalled from 1380 until 1418, when architect Filippo Brunelleschi, added his famous dome. This is the cathedral’s most striking feature. Consecration of the cathedral occurred when it was finally completed and the dome was installed.
There was still one big item left unchecked for centuries: getting the facade completed. So much time had passed by then that they had to make sure they were staying as modern as possible with the design. The Florence Duomo’s majestic cream, green, and pink facade was finally completed in the 19th century.
Today, the Florence Cathedral is a completed church and a complete wonder. To show appreciation for the people who helped it become what it is, there are statues of both Cambio and Brunelleschi. You can almost feel their presence all around this sacred space.
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Visiting the Cathedral
If you’re really pressed for time, you might just be able to see the Duomo’s exterior. Which is a special enough experience! You can still see Brunelleschi’s dome and the structure’s amazing multi-colored marble facade. But if you’re able to enter inside, you won’t regret it. We recommend purchasing tickets in advance to climb the duomo (463 stairs!), which allows you to also enter the cathedral afterwards without waiting in long lines during the busy season. You can buy the Brunelleschi Pass, a ticket valid for 72 hours, which allows you to visit and climb up both Brunelleschi’s Dome and Giotto’s Bell Tower; you can also visit the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Opera del Duomo Museum and the Church of Santa Reparata. The cost for the Brunelleschi Pass is Euro 30 per person. Tickets are available online direct from the museum online here.
Look down at your feet or gaze up at the sky inside the Duomo. Either way, you’ll be seeing something beautiful. On the floor are mosaic designs. These are stunning patterns that are practically hypnotizing in their intricacy.
Above, there are frescoes galore. The most significant of these is Last Judgment, as envisioned by Giorgio Vasari. Other majestic frescoes are by Domenico di Michelino, Paolo Uccello, and Andrea del Castagno.
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The Bell Tower
The Bell Tower is another beautiful masterpiece of the Duomo complex. Known as Giotto’s Bell Tower, it is a remarkable 84.7 meters tall. Though named for architect and painter Giotto, he died before it was completed. Others, like Andrea Pisano, Alberto Arnaldi, and Francesco Talenti, helped Giotto achieve his dream, posthumously. It was Talenti’s finishing touches of the massive windows on the tower that marked its completion in 1359.
The Florence Baptistery – or – the Baptistry of St. John, is a minor basilica but not a minor part of the city’s religious focus. Its origins go back centuries before the Cathedral and Bell Tower, if you want to get a better idea of how historic Florence really is. Many later architects, including those who worked on the Cathedral, took cues from the Baptistery for its influence on Florence designs. This structure has long been revered, especially for its doors. Michelangelo called these bronze doors “Gates of Paradise” and who are we to question his judgement?
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The Opera del Duomo Museum is one of the best museums in all of Florence. Its building was first made to help keep the construction of the Bell Tower and Cathedral in check. Since then, it’s been about preservation, not just of these buildings but also of great artworks. It has been an art museum since the 1890s. The pieces here are ones that were previously in the Bell Tower and Cathedral. You can see works by Michelangelo, Donatello, and della Robbia, among others.
The most-recently-known part of the Duomo wasn’t discovered until the latter half of last century. During an excavation lasting from 1965 until 1973, archaeologists found what was left of the basilica of Santa Reparata. This was an incredible find for many reasons, but the biggest was that they had the earliest proof of Christians in Florence. Despite its name, you shouldn’t feel creeped out by the Crypt of Santa Reparta. You’ll hopefully be moved by how far back peoples’ devotion goes and have a chance to see some brilliant artifacts.
We hope you get a chance to see at least one part of the Duomo when you’re in Florence. We definitely wouldn’t blame you for trying to see them all!Add to favorites