There are plenty of towers, fortifications and churches to climb in Italy but none is as memorable or gratifying as the Duomo in Florence. This is an opportunity not just to get the best view of the city but to step inside history and one of the greatest feats of Renaissance engineering.
It’s not easy and shouldn’t be attempted by anyone who hasn’t exercised recently or runs out of breath walking a dog. This is steep stuff with occasionally low ceilings that cause frequent bumps, bruises and tumbles. It takes over ten minutes to climb if you don’t stop and if you thought ascending the adjacent Campanile was hard then you’d better think twice about the cupola which is the K2 equivalent.
It starts with two long sets of tightly winding spiral staircases, followed by a horizontal passage around the base of the cupola from where the inner frescoes are clearly visible. There are occasional holdups here as visitors photograph the saints and sinners on display. The final section between the cupola walls Bruneleschi conceived to the top is the most treacherous. Handrails are there for a reason and it’s wise to use them.
The effort is rewarded with a 360 view over Florence. There are several benches and 4 strategically placed binoculars (€1) for getting a close up of the city and the hillsides beyond. Once you’ve had your fill of rooftops and Renaissance it’s time for the descent. Don’t underestimate going down. It’s when most people get hurt and as tricky as coming up. Dizziness is a risk and you’re better off taking it slow and peering through the window slits that regularly reveal the city.
Towards the end there’s a display of the wooden tools used to build the cupola, signs reminding visitors not to write on the walls and a touch screen kiosk where visitors can leave a digital autograph. Reaching the ground again and looking up at where you’ve been is what travel is all about and one of the most enduringly memorable parts of a journey to Florence.
Preview the climb at: Great Climbs: Florence Duomo