The main attraction for visitors to Florence is the Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) where many of the city’s major monuments are located. There’s the impressive Duomo with its massive dome and adjacent clock tower, the ruins of Chiesa di Santa Reparata (the Church of Saint Reparata), the Baptistery of Saint John, and the Cathedral Museum.
Il Duomo di Firenze, the cathedral whose formal name is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore di Firenze is one of the most tremendous architectural and artistic wonders of the Renaissance. And, the thing that makes it so unique is Brunelleschi’s Dome.
Construction of the cathedral took about 140 years to complete, though some finishing touches took longer. For instance, the façade wasn’t fully finished until the 19th century. The dome alone was constructed between the years of 1418 to 1434 and is noted for being the largest masonry dome in the world. The view from the top of the dome is quite spectacular and climbing the 463 steps to get there is possible, though tiring. Having made the climb on our first visit to Florence over a decade ago, we skipped it this time around, but if you get the chance, it’s well worth the climb. Brunelleschi’s Dome was based on a model by Neri di Fioravante and is a support-free double dome, so when you climb the steps inside of the dome, you’re actually walking in the air space between the two separate domes.
Inside the Duomo (entrance is FREE)* you’ll see the mesmerizing mosaic marble floor, stained glass windows, numerous paintings, and above the altar,
The frescoes, painted in the 1570s, depict scenes of the Last Judgment, and are the work of Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.
In the crypt below the Duomo are the ruins of Chiesa di Santa Reparata (the Church of Saint Reparata) and the remains of two other structures, the oldest of which dates to the year 780. Walking amidst the ruins you’ll see the faded remnants of the mosaic floors from the early church, carved burial markers, and a display of artifacts discovered during excavation, including spurs and belt buckles from the Middle Ages, some of which belonged to Giovanni de Medici. Filippo Brunelleschi’s tomb is said to be located here, yet we didn’t see it. Entrance to the excavated sight is from inside the Duomo. At the time of our visit admission price was 3€ and we purchased our ticket at the entrance to the crypt near the church exit. You can also purchase your ticket as part of the combo ticket options. *
Just to the right of the Duomo entrance stands the Campanile or bell tower. Construction of the freestanding tower began in 1334 under the supervision of artist, architect and tower-designer Giotto di Bondone (hence the nickname Giotto’s Bell Tower). Other notable architects to work on the tower, following Giotto’s death, were Andrea Pisano (known for his work on the bronze reliefs of the baptistery doors) and Francesco Talenti. Original artwork created for the campanile includes works by Pisano and Donatello. These are now on display in the cathedral museum, Museo dell’Opera. It is possible to climb the tower for a bird’s eye view over the piazza. Admission = 6€; included with the combo ticket options and Firenze Card. *
Across the piazza from the Duomo is the Battistero di San Giovanni (the Baptistery of Saint John), an octagonal shaped building named for the patron saint of Florence. Built over ruins of Roman dwellings, the current structure witnessed the baptisms of Florentines over the centuries. Though some of the artwork created for the interior is now on display at the Museo dell’ Opera, a few items remain, including sarcophagi of church officials, baptismal fonts, and intricate 13th century mosaics. Possibly the most photographed aspects of the baptistery are the three bronze doors or ‘gates’ depicting the life of Saint John and other biblical scenes. The oldest of the doors, those on the south side, date to the 14th century and were created by Pisano. The remaining two (the north and east doors) were created by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the early to mid 15th century. The east door, a copy of the original, is referred to as the ‘Gates of Paradise’ allegedly because of a comment made by Michelangelo upon seeing the completed work.
For those preferring to see more of the original works that once graced these monuments, consider a visit to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (the Cathedral Museum). Located next to the Duomo, the museum is custodian of works removed from the monuments for conservation and preservation. Pieces on display in the museum include Ghiberti’s ‘Gates of Paradise’, Donatello’s wooden sculpture ‘Magdalene Penitent’, a pietà by Michelangelo, and wooden models and tools used by Brunelleschi to build the famous dome.
* For up to date information about ticket prices, hours of operation and restrictions visit the Duomo website.
Standard ticket prices for the Piazza del Duomo monuments:
Duomo = FREE
Brunelleschi’s Dome = 8€
Santa Reparata (crypt) = 3€
Baptistery of Saint John = 5€
Campanile = 6€
Cathedral Museum = 6€
Various combo tickets and discount cards are available which reduce the cost of admission. This can be of value if you plan to visit more than one monument or museum in or around Florence.
Combo ticket options for monuments in Piazza del Duomo include the following:
Campanile + Santa Reparata + Baptistery of Saint John + Cathedral Museum = 15€
Campanile + Brunelleschi’s Dome + Santa Reparata + Baptistery of Saint John + Cathedral Museum = 23€
The Firenze Card offers free admission to numerous sites in and around Florence, as well as, free public transportation.
Our advice for visiting Florence: Since the entrance to the Duomo is free, we highly recommend taking the time to stop in and see the frescoes on the domed ceiling.