Florence is the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. The city is home to some of the world’s most impressive architectural and cultural treasures. Like Florence Cathedral, which shines as an icon of medieval splendour and ingenuity. In this blog, we will show you around Florence Cathedral. In doing so, we also pay attention to the surrounding highlights. Brunelleschi’s dome, Giotto’s tower, the baptistery and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, for example.
In this blog ...
- Piazza del Duomo: the beginning of being enchanted
- Florence Cathedral, a sacred masterpiece
- Giotto’s Campanile: paragon of elegant beauty
- Baptistery, tribute to religion and art
- Museo dell’Opera del Duomo: treasurer
- Practical information for your visit to Florence Cathedral
- Special tours
- Other topics you may be interested in
All these monuments combine to form one of the most important architectural highlights of the early Renaissance. When visiting Tuscany, Florence is simply not to be missed. You can easily spend a day in wonder and admiration at Piazza del Duomo and the various architectural marvels there. They show Florence’s splendour in all its glory. This is also how the city’s administrators intended it in the 13th century. They wanted to show off the city’s political power and wealth by building a new cathedral. This also allowed the city to vaunt its important position architecturally.
Piazza del Duomo: the beginning of being enchanted
You will discover the enchantment of the Cathedral even before you approach it, in the majestic Piazza del Duomo. This public square forms the atmospheric heart of Florence. Piazza del Duomo was designed in the 13th century. In and around the square are historic buildings and, of course, Florence Cathedral. This is where your journey in time begins, as you come face to face with the grandeur of medieval architecture.
You won’t be the only one in Piazza del Duomo. It is Florence’s busiest square. Several popular shopping streets open onto Piazza del Duomo. Countless tourists stroll around it, trying to catch a glimpse of the Cathedral and the other buildings. Most are day-trippers. Early in the morning or in the evening is a bit quieter though especially in the evening as then the cathedral is beautifully lit, making the monument even more impressive.
Florence Cathedral, a sacred masterpiece
Florence Cathedral, or officially Santa Maria del Fiore, is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. Construction began in 1296. Arnolfo di Cambio was the architect of this masterpiece. He never got to see how his design gave the city international allure because he died in 1310. Finally, the church was completed in the 15th century.
Exterior of Florence Cathedral
The sanctuary is huge. Some 20,000 visitors can take their seats in the church. Walk all the way around the cathedral to get the best impression of its size. Immediately notice the many marble on the outside. White marble from Carrara dominates, but you also see red and green marble.
The façade is richly decorated in a Gothic style. Originally, the façade was made of brick. It was only in the 19th century that the façade took on its current appearance. The Cathedral has several doors. Of these, the most beautiful is the Porta della Mandorla with a fine relief of the Assumption of Mary. Another beautiful gate is Porta dei Canonici.
Interior of Florence Cathedral
After marvelling at all the splendour on the outside of the Cathedral, enter the church. There, the first impression will be different. For the church has an austere interior. That used to be different. Numerous works of art adorned the sanctuary. If you want to admire them now, you will have to visit the church’s museum, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Now, the relative emptiness of the cathedral makes its enormous size stand out even more.
Still, the interior has plenty of highlights. Like the magnificent marble floor. A fine work of art is Michelino’s painting on which Dante explains his La Divina Commedia. In addition, enjoy the magnificent 15th-century stained-glass windows. Entry to the church is free. However, it is compulsory to wear appropriate clothing, so covered shoulders and knees and no sunglasses, caps or hats.
Brunelleschi’s dome: a heavenly triumph
A highlight of your visit to Florence Cathedral is the dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. Few architects dared to take on this immense job. The city council therefore organised a competition to design the dome. Brunelleschi accepted the challenge. He devised a building technique that allowed for an unusual construction. This let him build the largest dome in the world. It was an engineering marvel at the time. In 1436, Brunelleschi completed this incredible dome. The structure towers over Florence like a celestial triumph of human imagination.
Although it is more than 460 steps, it is definitely worth climbing the dome. Fortunately, there is time to catch your breath at a stop along the way. There you get a great view of the stained-glass medallions and the street below. Then the climb continues between the inner and outer ring of the dome. There you notice how ingenious Brunelleschi’s construction was. Then you finally reach the top. Take a breather before enjoying the view of the city and the surrounding Tuscan landscape. Because that, figuratively this time, is also breathtaking. A ticket is required to climb the dome.
Giotto’s Campanile: paragon of elegant beauty
Right next to Florence Cathedral stands Giotto’s campanile, the bell tower. When standing in front of it, note the refined elegance of this building. The talented architect Giotto di Bondone designed this masterpiece in 1334. His fate was also that he never saw the structure in its full glory: he died shortly after construction began. Two other architects took over the job afterwards. They did make some changes to the original design. For instance, the campanile was not given a spire, but a flat roof. They also added large windows.
The tower is a perfect representation of the Florentine Gothic style. Marble in strips of white, green and pink give the campanile a beautiful appearance. In addition, the tower is richly decorated with statues. Several reliefs depict scenes from the Old Testament. These are copies, by the way. You can admire the original reliefs in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
You can climb the campanile. After slightly more than 400 steps, you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city. Here you can see Florence from a different perspective. Climbing the bell tower requires a ticket.
Baptistery, tribute to religion and art
The Baptistery is a building with a rich history dating back to the 4th century. This also makes it the city’s oldest structure. It stood there centuries before Florence’s famous cathedral. The octagonal shape of the chapel with lots of white and green marble is striking.
The Baptistery is famous for its three portals with bronze doors. Ghiberti’s “Gate of Paradise” in particular is a paragon of Renaissance art. This young artist won the competition to design the northern doors. Immediately after its completion, he began work on his masterpiece, the eastern doors. Michelangelo found this creation so beautiful that he renamed it the “Gate of Paradise”. The doors consist of 10 relief panels depicting biblical subjects.
The interior is decorated with striking mosaics telling biblical stories. Above the entrance door, world history is depicted from creation to John the Baptist. Visiting the baptistery requires a combination ticket with the museum. This offers the chance to admire the original doors of the baptistery. These are now in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. After a flood in 1966, they replaced the doors in the baptistery with copies.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo: treasurer
Once you have admired Florence Cathedral and also explored the other buildings in Piazza del Duomo, a visit to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo should not be missed. This museum houses a wealth of artworks and sculptures that once graced the Cathedral and surrounding buildings.
The original doors of the Baptistery steal the show. The reliefs on the “Gate of Paradise” in particular will keep you mesmerised for quite a while. But there is much more to see in the museum. You get a comprehensive view of the best Florentine (sculptural) art from the Renaissance. The “Dancing Choir”, for instance, is one of the masterpieces. It is a beautiful panel of the relief Cantoria. This originally hung above the door of the Sacristy in the Cathedral. You will also find an extensive collection by Donatello, Michelangelo’s main inspiration. A ticket is also required to visit the museum. You can also visit the Baptistery with it.
Florence Cathedral is not just any church; it is a symbol of the city’s creative spirit and cultural splendour in the Middle Ages. Therefore, a visit to the Cathedral and its buildings simply cannot be missed on your visit to beautiful Florence.
Practical information for your visit to Florence Cathedral
The best travel times are May and June, or September and October. Try not to go in July and August. The city is crowded and the heat makes it oppressively muggy.
You can visit the inside of the cathedral for free. There is no need to book a time slot for that, you can go at any time. On Sundays and public holidays, the church is mostly closed. Appropriate clothing is necessary. This means: no bare shoulders and knees, no hat or cap and no sunglasses. Entry is also not possible if you have a large backpack or bag.
If you also want to visit the other sights in and around the Cathedral (dome, campanile, baptistery and museum), tickets are required. Combination tickets are available. With these, you visit two or more of the sights with one ticket.
The earlier you come, the quieter it is. The Cathedral opens its doors at 8:15 AM. In the early evening, it is also generally a bit quieter. The doors close at 7:15 PM on weekdays.
If you want to visit the cathedral, dome, campanile, baptistery and museum all together, you can definitely take a day. Keep in mind that climbing the dome and campanile is time-consuming due to the large number of steps. Besides, there is so much to see that you won’t know where to look.
Tours of the Cathedral and other buildings of the complex are available. Below are some of the possibilities:
Florence has an incredible range of accommodation. Ranging from B&Bs, flats, boutique hotels to very luxurious lodgings. With this choice, you are guaranteed to sleep well:
- Residenza La Musa Amarcord. A beautifully stylish hotel with excellent service.
- B&B Lorenzo de' Medici. Centrally located B&B with service-oriented owners.
- Arte' Boutique Hotel. A modern hotel located in the middle of all the sights.
This is the complete range of accommodation in Florence.
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