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Surround Yourself in Renaissance Charm at the Duomo in Old Town Florence

Published by Bill Lehane, Writer

Country: Italy

The Experience

Florence was at the center of the Italian Renaissance, and the city’s Duomo is one of the crowning achievements of that period. Officially known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Florence Duomo had an incredibly long gestation – it was not consecrated until 1436 even though the first stone was laid in 1296. Its designer Arnolfo di Cambio and subsequent overseer Giotto both died well before the project came to fruition.

The Florence Duomo’s proudest feature is its magnificent eight-sided dome – the first of its kind ever to be built without an internal wooden frame or external buttresses. Still the largest brick dome in the world to this day, Filippo Brunelleschi’s design is thought to have been centuries ahead of its time in its ability to predict the internal stresses of the ground-breaking edifice. Its unique structure catches the sunlight beautifully to give a rose tint to the whole old town area, which is collectively recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The rest of the Florence Duomo’s exterior is no less remarkable. Having been left unadorned for centuries after the basilica opened, it was not until the late 19th Century that the building could boast of the intricately ornate façade it has today. When approaching the Duomo from street level, chances are this colorful exterior will be the first thing you’ll notice about the building. The outside walls were layered in alternating bands of polychrome marble in red, white and green. The decorative windows also stand out for their varying shapes and delicate ornamentation – interestingly, two of them do not even admit any light and are purely for aesthetics!

Once inside the Florence Duomo there are many more features to marvel at. After you pass through one of the three giant black bronze doors, you will be amazed by the bare interior’s sheer size, which rivals that of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. After you adjust your eyes, a number of great religious paintings and frescoes will come into view. The church is also famous for its 44 stained glass windows, many of which were created by great artists of that period such as Donatello. The artistic highlight is the incredibly detailed rendering of the Last Judgement on the ceiling of the 145-foot wide dome. This extraordinary painting took 11 years and several different artists to complete.

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When to Go to Florence Duomo

The best time of year to visit the Florence Duomo is early summer and autumn. During this time the days are long and warm without being oppressively hot and humid, and the streets are not so crowded by tourists. The average daily high stays at 70F (21C) until the end of October. Winters are damp and cool but generally milder than much of the rest of the continent.

While there are no direct flights from North America to Florence, you can get there easily from Rome - 170 miles south – by air, road and rail. The city is also easily accessible from elsewhere in Europe. Once in Florence, you’ll find the small historical center easy to navigate, with many of the principal sights of the city within walking distance of each other.

Odds n' Ends

The Florence Cathedral hours of operation run daily from around 10am to around 5pm depending on the time of year, with more limited hours on Sundays and feast days. Admission is free, with an accessible entrance at the south side of the building. As well as the cathedral itself, there are a number of different areas on the site that you can enter for a fee.

The basilica’s museum, for example, holds many artistic features that were removed from the church for a variety of reasons, including a sculpture by Michelangelo. It costs €6 to enter. The Santa Reparata archaeological site, named after an ancient cathedral located on the site of the Duomo, displays early Christian ruins as well as the tomb of Brunelleschi. Entry here costs €3. The Baptistry of Saint Giovanni, famous for its beautiful interior, costs €4 to enter and is open from around noon to 7pm six days a week.

The dome is open from 8.30am to 7pm weekdays and until 5.40pm on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays and feast days. Entry costs €8, with no concessions available. If you have any energy left after that, you can also climb Giotto’s Bell Tower on the other side of the plaza. Open daily from 8.30am to 7.30pm, it has 414 steps and no elevator.

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