I lived in Florence for a total of more than six months, and have been there a few times before that. During that time, I lived about seven minutes away from Piazza Duomo, where the famous church is located. I don’t know how many hours I spent in that area, but I came to know it quite well. I also started to notice how hard it could be to navigate without knowing the basics. Piazza Duomo is one of the main sights to visit, and having a guide can help you make the most of your time there.
Here are some things I’ve found helpful when you want to enjoy your experience at the Duomo.
Should I get the OPA pass?
If you want to make the effort to see everything, then an OPA pass might be ideal. It costs 18 euro and allows you to see all the main sites over a period of 72 hours. You are allowed one entry for each monument. Much of this will depend on how many days you have in Florence or if you want to take your time. Personally, I find this a great deal and highly recommend it if you want to see everything. You can get it at the nearby ticket office at Via della Canonica, 1.
There are a number of structures you want to make sure you visit. These include the basilica itself, the campanile, the baptistery, and the dome. It’s a good idea to know what you want to make sure to see, and what activities you are okay to miss. Spending time in Piazza Duomo can take an entire day, so if you are on a short schedule, some planning can be helpful.
- Opera del Duomo
- The baptistery
- Giotto’s bell tower
- Brunelleschi’s dome
- Crypt of Santa Reparata
- The cathedral
The sites are usually closed the first Tuesday of every month, and during holidays. Typically you can visit all of them from 8:15 am until 10:15 am, and 11:15 am until 7:30 pm.
Do I need reservations?
For most the sights, you shouldn’t need to book in advance. However, they are required if you plan on climbing up the dome. They are also recommended for those wishing to climb up to the bell tower. They are free to book at the official website.
For me, the cathedral is one of the least impressive structures in the area, but it’s definitely worth taking a peek inside to see the interior and some of the paintings completed by Giorgio Vasari. One of my favorite ways to experience the basilica is to attend mass on Sundays. Not only do you get the sense of history this place has, but you also have time to sit and enjoy your surroundings. Entry is free for the cathedral, though you might have to wait online for a while. Dome climbers should know that there is a separate entrance for that on the north side of the church.
A little history lesson
The official name of the Florence cathedral is Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Saint Mary of the Flower. It was begun in 1296, but it would be hundreds of years before it was completed. Almost the entire building is covered in white, green, and pink marble, and the façade was finished much later in the 19th century.
The basilica has been through several instances of flooding. On the walls, you can see the water lines where Florence was ravaged. You can also find homages to several great Florentines, including Dante and Marconi. Along with Giotto’s campanile and Brunelleschi’s dome, the basilica is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I’m a big fan of the baptistery for its exquisite acoustics and marble inlays. It’s like that this spot was the first place where a church was constructed in medieval Florence, and it still maintains that sense of a spot that is venerated. You will need a ticket to enter the baptistery. Located directly across from the cathedral, it’s hard to miss.
A little history lesson
The baptistery is most famous for its bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. During 1401, a contest was held throughout the city to find the best work to display. Ghiberti was only 21 when he won the commission by depicting Biblical scenes from The Sacrifice of Isaac. The doors have been restored a number of times since then. Ghiberti’s use of perspective was one of the major influences that brought about the Florentine Renaissance.
Giotto’s bell tower
There are two structures you can climb in the Piazza Duomo. One is the dome itself, and the other is the bell tower designed by Giotto and completed in 1359. While you can climb both, you might find yourself exhausted after two steep staircases. I personally enjoy climbing the bell tower more than the dome because you actually get to see the dome! Make sure you have some good shoes—it’s 414 steps up. You will need a ticket.
A little history lesson
Giotto was 67 and a well-established artist when he came up with the design for the tower. The building was almost completed when he passed away from the Black Death. The Master of Works, Andrea Pisano, took over and added the layers of lozenge-shaped panels that make up the bottom of the campanile. While it’s called “Giotto’s tower,” it really was more of a collaborative effort, and there were several changes made to the original design that Pisano enacted.
Opera del Duomo
After being closed for a number of years, the Opera del Duomo was reopened—hooray! This is my favorite site of Piazza Duomo, and you could spend an entire day here without seeing anything else. This museum houses all of the items that were formerly in the basilica. Most of them have all been restored to their former glory, and they are kept in the museum for safekeeping. The Opera del Duomo gives you an idea of the sheer amount of wealth that Florence had during the Renaissance. (And a glimpse at a beautiful Michelangelo.) You will need a ticket.
The most famous monument in the piazza, Brunelleschi’s work of architecture has captured imaginations for hundreds of years. It rises above everything else in the city, and countless tourists have girded their loins and made the climb up to the top. Brunelleschi was an unknown when he came up with the design for the dome. Today, it is still the largest brick dome in the world. Tickets and a reservation to climb are necessary.
A little history lesson
Builders had been running into the problem of creating a dome that wouldn’t collapse for decades. With the creation of an egg-shaped design, Brunelleschi was able to come up with a solution for holding up the structure’s massive weight. He pioneered the idea of “centering,” which is using the dome’s own weight as support. It took more than a hundred years to complete.
Crypt of Santa Reparata
For most of my time in Florence, the crypt was kept shut for repairs. It’s now possible to check it out with a ticket. The most intriguing part of this site is the layers of architecture below. Before the current cathedral was built, that spot was also home to several different church buildings. Several Florentine giants are also buried there, including Brunelleschi, Giovanni Di Alamanno de’ Medici, and two popes.
What is your favorite attraction in Florence? Have any tips for visiting the Piazza Duomo?