There probably isn’t a single person who’s spent any time in the iconic Renaissance city of Florence who hasn’t visited and been awed by the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – aka the Duomo. All the best Florence tours place this stunning site high on the itinerary, and even those who come to the city just for a weekend break will invariably find themselves in front of this architectural masterpiece with their jaws heading for the ground.
Once seen, the Duomo is never forgotten and it is undoubtedly one of the most impressive constructions in Europe, if not the world. Even from the outside, the grandeur of its proportions and the majesty and engineering of Brunelleschi’s dome are impressive, and when you step inside its cavernous interiors, it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
We’re proud to offer the best Florence tours available and the Duomo is a vitally important part of the city’s history. But before you visit this unforgettable piece of architecture for yourself, it might help to have a little information at your fingertips so you can appreciate it even more.
Top Tip: We want to make your experience as fun and fulfilling as it can be and our pre-booked Duomo tickets and exclusive Walkabout Guide enables you to explore, learn and discover at your own pace. The Walkabout Guide is a digital sightseeing guide, filled with history, information and engaging commentary. It makes for one of the best Florence tours and it’s like having your very own friend as a tour guide!
A Little History
Construction of the Gothic cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, began in 1296. It took nearly 140 years to complete, and even though plans for the mammoth domed roof were put into place, there was actually no technology in existence at the time that would be able to bring it to fruition.
An interesting fact is that the cathedral was built on the site of the remains of another church – Santa Reparta, which dates back to the fourth century. Today you can descend into what is now an underground museum and see a range of religious artefacts on display.
While construction ploughed on into the fourteenth century, there was still no provision to fill the gaping hole left in the roof for the dome until a man called Filippo Brunelleschi (a goldsmith, not even an architect!) came along and dared, not only to dream, but to follow through with his genius. He was the winner of a competition run by civic leaders and, clearly, his secret design and claims that he could build a dome of unprecedented size without scaffolding managed to intrigue and, eventually, convince them to give him the job.
Whereas previously the only way architects could find to support a dome of such a massive scale was through the use of flying buttresses, Brunelleschi came up with a system of herringbone patterned brickwork and huge internal chains around the dome to support and distribute its weight.
Some 600 years later, Brunelleschi’s dome is still one of the largest ever built, anywhere in the world. Not a bad achievement for a humble jeweller.
Why it’s Such a Must-Do
As one of the most visited sites in Europe and a staple on all the best Florence tours, you know it must have a huge appeal – but just what is it that makes it so visually and historically compelling? There are plenty of reasons, but here are some of the most important.
It’s a True Architectural Marvel
To get a true orientation of the building it’s a great idea to take a walk around the outside in its entirety. That way you’ll get a feel for the scale of what is such a monumental piece of architecture – and try to imagine what it took to construct it. All around the outside you’ll discover countless carvings and statues embedded in the walls, and the pink and green tiles for which it is so famous are even more beautiful up close. As for the dome itself, there are barely words to describe its presence, but you’ll know what we mean when you see it for yourself!
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The entire centre of the city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and this includes its historic buildings. Quite apart from its impressive visuals, as the fourth largest construction in Europe, the cathedral is an incredibly significant cultural icon.
The Interiors are Amazing
It should be noted that it is free to enter the cathedral but you need to respect the dress code (no uncovered knees or shoulders and no hats). The interiors are every bit as impressive as the exterior, with countless priceless art works to admire along the walls and its magnificent centrepiece, the frescoed ceiling of the cupola. You can spend quite a long time simply wandering around, but you might want to take on the challenge of visiting the upper levels and climbing the dome itself (highly recommended, costs apply). You will likely have to wait your turn, as there are limited numbers allowed on the climb per day, but it’s absolutely well worth it because…
…the Views Are Incredible!
For those bold enough to take on the task of climbing the dome, the rewards are many. Not only will you get a privileged up-close-and-personal look at the upper levels, and a macro view of the stunning frescos of the inner shell, once you’ve climbed those 463 steps (yes, you’ll need all your energy to make it!) the views from the top are nothing short of jaw-dropping. As well as the best view of the red tiled roofs of the low rise city buildings, on a clear day you’ll be able to take in the panorama of the Tuscan countryside for as far as the eye can see. Of course, not everyone will physically be up for the climb, though, so you shouldn’t feel let down if it’s not for you.
Visit the Duomo on the Best Florence Tours
We understand that a guided tour with other travellers is not everyone’s cup of tea, which is why we developed our very special package that covers tickets to all the buildings in the Duomo complex (including the Bell Tower, the Baptistery and the Museum), along with our exclusive digital Walkabout Guide. We think it offers you one of the best Florence tours (with a guided commentary) while still allowing you to do and view things at your own pace.
We Are Walkabout Florence
At Walkabout Florence we’re proud to be considered one of the best independent tour operators and we live up to our stellar reputation every day. We offer the best small group tours in and around Florence, to introduce you to the authentic culture, history, art and food of this wonderful region. Our passionate and knowledgeable guides are dedicated to helping our guests make the most of their experience, so from food and wine safaris, to cultural day tours and Fiat 500 and Vespa tours, we’ll show you the best of Italy in the most fun and fulfilling way.