Ever since I watched one of Rick Steve’s programs on Italy and he talked about climbing the dome in Florence, Italy, I decided it was something that I wanted to do.
Before his program, I didn’t even know that it was something that people could do. While in Florence, I got the chance.
Florence has the Il Duomo that people can climb for a price. This historic dome is part of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
After touring the inside of this huge cathedral, we purchased our ticket to climb its dome.
No one at the ticket office advises climbers about low ceiling heights, or limited accesses. And there aren’t signs to warn about climbing at your own risk, as there would be in the US. You just buy a ticket, enter on the ground floor, and start climbing the stairs. Except for a brief stop at the interior balcony, we climbed until we reached our destination, the observation deck atop the dome.
On the day we climbed, it was only about 80 degrees outside. This was a huge advantage because the stairways are cramped and hot. If the temperature were any warmer, the climb would have been much more difficult.
Anyway, my son, daughter-in-law, and I entered through the doorway and started our adventure. The first few steps, as it turned out, were fairly wide next to what we would encounter towards the top. They were circular, almost wide enough to plant your whole foot.
But the steps soon became smaller, the further up we went. Around and around we climbed, one step after the other.
No gradual easing into this climb! We’re immediately starting our ascent into the passage between the interior and exterior walls of this magnificent building!
Before we started out, my intention was to count each of the 400+ steps. But I found myself concentrating, instead, on my footing because the steps were becoming more narrow the higher we climbed.
Round and round we climbed. And, straight up.
It’s much like being on a stepper at the gym. Except there are only a few places to get off.
Don’t let me scare you. I’m not in that good of shape and I didn’t have any trouble. Besides, no one is in a hurry. Remember, this is Italy!
The pace is constant but not rushed. No one is in a hurry and many people stop to rest along the way.
But, the passages are narrow so if someone stops, everyone behind you also stop. Some areas in this stairway are too narrow for two people to pass. If anyone is coming down, then we wait for them to pass.
Oh, I forgot to mention that there’s only one passage for going up and for coming down from the top of this dome.
But, what’s this? We seemed to break out a little. The steps are no longer pigtails and short, narrow hallways instead of stairs. Then a short flat place (Oh, Thank You, Jesus!) and then another set of steps.
A Birds-Eye View from the Inside
Walking into the interior, we step into a wooden balcony that follows the curvature of the base of the dome. It is almost entirely enclosed so it’s completely safe. The plexi-glass top allows us to look out across the dome and down into the center of this magnificent cathedral.
The views from the balcony are breathtaking! The people below look a little bigger than ants, but the frescos above us on the curved barrel ceiling are gargantuan!
From this vantage point, we can see that just the faces on some of the angels must be at least twenty feet long! It’s difficult to imagine how the artists had any sense of proportion to create such a beautiful masterpiece!
Our rest is over and so back into the stairway we go. We’re two-thirds of the way and ready for the final ascent to the exterior of the dome.
Making it to the Top
As we enter back into the passage between the walls of the building, but this time, we’re between the walls of the dome. The curvature of the dome is evident and we have to be careful not to bump our heads. Taller people, especially, had to lean in as they climbed.
Sections of this part of the passage are steeper, narrower, and one-way. On crowded days, as it was when we were there, people
take turns. One group will descend, while the climbing group waits, then vice versa.
Construction Side Note: As we near the top, we notice places whether the plaster has chipped away, exposing the herringboned pattern of ancient bricks underneath. This herringbone pattern was first used to construct this dome in Florence and became the style used in the construction of domes throughout Italy and the world! And that, my friends, is how old this dome is!!!
Up through the last five or six steep “steps” and out through the doorway at the top! (I say, “steps” because they’re uneven, one-person-at-a-time steps that appear to be ladder-type steps with a handrail!)
We see the outdoors and oh, my gosh! The fresh air is so awesome!
Breaking Out at the Top
Oh, wait, yes, the views! That’s what we’re here for, and they are spectacular! As Rick Steves would say, the views are “commanding!”
We can see the entire city of Florence – all 360 degrees of it. We can walk all the way around the exterior – the top – of the dome!
There’s not a lot of walking space up there, but plenty of places to snap selfies and birds-eye pics of the city.
Take your time and take in the experience of climbing one of Italy’s finest and oldest domes!
The experience was personally challenging and thoroughly exhilarating! I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Would I recommend this to everyone? If you’re afraid of heights, this might not be your best experience but it’s certainly doable. Just don’t look down into the interior of the cathedral from the balcony, which is about two-thirds of the way to the top. That’s really the only place where you might not be comfortable looking down.
If you have a tendency towards claustrophobia, this climb might be a bit of a struggle. However, go with a trusted friend or family member, take your time, and concentrate on reaching the top. You’ll find, as I did, that the time passes so quickly that it’s hard to believe you made it to the top in a little more than 30 minutes. And that includes stopping at the interior balcony!
As for the passage, itself, the lighting is good and the ceilings (except in the curved dome) are fairly high. Climbing the dome in Florence, Italy is doable for those in at least moderate shape. Many climbers were older people, probably senior citizens, at least in their seventies!
If you’re looking for a memorable experience, climbing the Il Duomo in Florence is an absolute must-do!
All photos by Paul Elledge, thank you Paul!
I invite you to also view my article 5 Not-so-Subtle Differences between Americans and Italians