Florence: Piazza del Duomo

Whatever you call it - Florence Cathedral, il Duomo di Firenze, Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or, simply, il Duomo - Piazza del Duomo is home to Florence's most iconic landmark, which stands out because of its red brick dome.

You'll find more than just the cathedral in Piazza del Duomo though; it's also home to Giotto's Campanile - that's a bell tower to you and me - as well as the Baptistry of Saint John and Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. These, as well as the Crypt of Santa Reparata inside the cathedral, make up the cathedral complex.

I could have stared at the stunning façade of the cathedral for hours, especially at night when the white, green and red marble appears to shimmer and glow. Day or night crowds gather to take in the magnificence of il Duomo, which is one of the largest cathedrals in the world.

Work started on the cathedral in 1296, and it was finally consecrated in 1436. The cathedral itself is free to get in but remember that your shoulders and knees must be covered. Look up when you get inside and you'll see The Last Judgement, painted by Vasari and finished by his student Zuccari, but the rest of il Duomo feels very empty. It's exterior is rich and complicated, whilst the interior is sparse - a very different story to the story the façade tells.

Buying a ticket gives you access to the aforementioned cathedral complex, though the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore is closed until November 2015. Costing €10 (to access all the ticketed parts of the cathedral complex), you can now climb the 463 steps to the top of the dome and inspect Vasari and Zuccari's masterpiece up close and personal, plus stare out at the stunning view of Florence from up high.

Or, you could climb the 414 steps to the top of Giotto's Campanile, which we decided to do. We had planned on climbing to the top of the dome after that but, truthfully, couldn't face any more stairs!

It was an exhausting climb, especially since I was wearing trousers on a shorts kind of day (I didn't want to risk not been allowed up if my shoulders and knees weren't covered), but the climb is worth it for the view if you can just persevere. 

At 84.7 metres tall you're guaranteed an excellent view of Florence, plus you can peek at the people at the top of the dome. Make sure you take a bottle of water if you decide to brave the steps, though you'll probably want to give it a miss if you suffer from claustrophobia as the stairs are extremely narrow.

Opposite the cathedral and bell tower is the Florence Baptistery, aka the Baptistery of Saint John (again, you need your ticket to enter). It's even older than the cathedral, though the exterior was covered whilst we were there for restoration work. We could still view what Michelangelo dubbed the Gates of Paradise, though it was actually Lorenzo Ghiberti who made these doors as well as the ones on the North side of the Baptistery. (The doors are a copy though - the originals are tucked safely away.)

As with a lot of things when you're out and about exploring, look up once you're in the Baptistery and you'll find the good stuff. Not bad, huh?

PS: It's not the greatest of names, but Mr Pizza in the Piazza del Duomo do excellent pizzas if you need a lunchtime pit stop after climbing all those stairs, plus if you sit outside you get a view of the cathedral if you want to soak it in some more. 

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