It’s safe to say that every visitor to Florence will, at some point, stop by the Duomo. The city’s famous cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings in Italy; a 13th century masterpiece that towers over the city, with a Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.
This vast Gothic cathedral is the centerpiece of the city, and its pink, white and green marble facade has become synonymous with Florence; as the Colosseum is to Rome, the Duomo is deeply symbolic of the city, and a major part of Florence’s identity.
It’s actually the 4th largest cathedral in the world, but that may not be the only thing you didn’t know. Despite being one of the most visited sites in the country, the Florence Duomo still manages to keep a few secrets.
In fact, you may be surprised by the things you didn’t know!
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Florence’s Famous Duomo
You CAN Skip the Queues
Entering the cathedral as a member of the public is free, and for that reason there’s always a long queue (as in, it often wraps around the building). That, and, because they limit the number of people allowed in at any one time.
Because this is a tourist hotspot, don’t be surprised if you’re approached by beggars or hassled by con-men while you’re waiting in line. You’re essentially a captive audience, because they know you’re not going anywhere soon!
But you can actually skip the queue!
Joining a Florence Duomo Tour means you’ll be whisked straight into the Cathedral without having to wait outside. And then there’s the added bonus of getting into special areas that are off limits to the average tourist, even if they’ve had to wait for hours in line.
If you want to also take in the Baptistery, the Tower, or climb to the top of the dome, you have to join different lines, so joining a Duomo tour is one of the best kept secrets for saving a tonne of time.
There Are Secret Terraces with a WICKED View
The average tourist to the Duomo will walk around the exterior, visit the archaeological digs in the Crypt (where you’ll find the 4th century ruins of the Cathedral of Santa Reparata), and walk around the inside of the church for a bit.
You’ll see the Bell Tower by Giotto, and the Baptistery with its monumental doors, and maybe even climb to the top of the cupola. But there’s more to the Duomo! … Just not for the average tourist.
Most people visiting the Duomo have no idea that there are secret terraces on the roof of the dome. And that’s because they’re not open to the public. Though if you take a Florence Duomo Tour (Ciao Florence is a good company) you’ll get exclusive access.
32 metres high, these hidden terraces have been closed to the public for hundreds of years. But now, a limited number of tour guides are allowed to take small groups.
You’ll climb 153 steps to the northern terrace of the cathedral roof. The terrace runs along the side of the church and means you have the chance to really see the fascinating architecture up close, as well as the beautiful views of Florence!
The panoramic view over Florence’s renaissance cityscape is extraordinary … made even more so because you’re not sharing it with other tourists. This is truly a secret view.
There’s a Secret Circular Room
If you thought the secret terraces were cool, there’s also a secret circular room. Similar to the terraces, access to this room is only possible with Ciao Florence’s Duomo Tour, and most people don’t even know it exists!
This secret room houses old 16th century statues which used to be part of the facade on the Duomo. And it’s where all restoration on the Cathedral takes place.
The reason access to this room is restricted is because it’s where restorers actually work; for the select few who get to visit you get an incredible behind the scenes look into the effort that goes into restoration.
You can watch as restorers achieve amazing results with their spatulas and chisels, still dirty from a days work, and smell the stucco as it is drying!
Being that they started construction on the Duomo in 1296 (though, fun fact, they didn’t finish it until 1436), as you can imagine, there’s a constant stream of restoration required to preserve the church, and keep its unique artwork from falling apart.
There are Secret Symbols on it’s Exterior
The Duomo is perhaps on of the most fascinating buildings in Italy, and there are many myths and legends that have been circulating since the 13th century.
One of those is about the hidden bull on the facade above Porta della Mandorla (the door you use to climb to the dome). Most people completely miss this gargoyle, which is fair enough; you probably don’t expect a bulls head to appear on a Cathedral!
But if you look closely you’ll find it staring down at you. The reason for this out of place sculpture is to honor the animals who helped with the construction of the Duomo, carrying heavy materials to the site for the workers. Though the legend is much more juicy.
If you believe the legend, during the time of the Cathedral’s construction, one of the site workers started an affair with the local bakers wife. They were discovered, and sent to stand trial for adultery, where they were ordered that they would never again see each other.
Wanting revenge, the site worker placed a horned bull’s head on the exterior of the cathedral, pointing it to look in the direction of the bakers premises. In Italian ‘horned’ translates into ‘cuckold’, so it has existed as an eternal symbol that the baker’s wife loved another man.
It’s these fascinating stories that make the Duomo so interesting, though you completely miss this side of the Duomo by relying on your guidebook. This is where a local guide comes in handy; they’re able to reveal another side of this Cathedral to you that you would never be able to learn on your own.
Italian Women Climb the Tower in Heels!
Brunelleschi’s massive dome is one of the most iconic parts of the Duomo, and while it’s impressive from the outside, inside the dome are stunning 16th century frescoes, so climbing the tower is an experience you shouldn’t miss out on!
There are 463 steps to reach the top of the dome, and while you’re out of breath, puffing, and looking at the ground, you’ll notice an unusual trend; Italian women taking all 463 of the stairs in heels! (Though we highly recommend you wear comfortable flats).
Tickets to climb the dome cost €18, though the cost of this is covered if you’re booking onto a Florence Duomo Tour. If you’re booking it yourself you have to reserve your spot in advance, and you’re committed to your chosen time slot; to be honest it’s a lot easier just booking a Ciao Florence tour.
This is the best way to appreciate the genius of Brunelleschi’s work, and it’s the only way to see Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment up close (1572 – 1579). Once you’re at the top you can step outside for incredible views over Florence.
When the dome was constructed, they never imagined that people would climb to the top. The stairs were only built for maintenance crew, so as such, the route is very steep and narrow, probably not advised if you’re claustrophobic.
Do you know any further secrets of the Florence Duomo? To learn more about booking a tour visit Ciao Florence’s website.
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