Insider’s Florence: In the Shadow of the Dome

From the Carrier Dome to il Duomo di Firenze.

Il Duomo di Firenze. Fun Fact: that little golden ball at the top can comfortable fit four people.
Il Duomo di Firenze. Fun Fact: that little golden ball at the top can comfortably fit four people.

My first all-school field trip with SU Florence was a day centered around the most recognizable feature of the city: il Duomo di Firenze.

We started the day with a visit to the Baptistery – an octagonal structure just west of the cathedral. Almost all Florentine baptisms up until the late 19th century took place in this building – including many of the most prominent artists behind the Renaissance as well as the Medici family. (And, more recently, my host mother!) I was most struck by the stunning mosaic artwork covering the ceiling. Flecks of tile and precious metals, expertly placed by Venetian artists to sparkle in dancing candlelight, depict many scenes from the Bible.

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So many mosaics!
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Looking straight up into the mosaic.
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One of the most prominent scenes depicted is “Christ at Judgement.” On his right, the saved are being raised into heaven, and on his left, the damned are being cast into hell.
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More of the massive baptistery interior.
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The Baptistery from the top of Florence’s bell tower.

Then, it was time to head next door to the cathedral. We passed through massive and ornate doors into the biggest church I’ve ever seen, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. (Fiore, like the Italian word for “flower,” reflecting some of the city’s earlier names.) The building’s official construction began in 1296, and, after many long, complicated years of planning and building, ended in 1436. The structure’s cupola remains the largest brick dome in the world.

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Front facade of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral.
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In we go!
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The cavernous interior.
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Candle offerings.
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The massive fresco is painted on the inside layer of the famous cupola.
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Looking toward the back of the church from the halfway point.

Thoroughly impressed, we made our way to the newly-opened Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Inside we found multiple statues that were once in or on the cathedral, pieces of its original construction, artifacts once used in its religious services, and the original baptistery doors (once dubbed “the gates of paradise” by Michelangelo himself).

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Sculptures and an old choir book on display at the Duomo Museum.
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The names of the artists who worked on the cathedral and dome.
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Original doors.
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All of the museum’s statues were either in or on the cathedral at some point in history.
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“The gates of paradise,” as Michelangelo once said.
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More statues.
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Michelangelo’s heavily debated Pieta that he constructed for his own tomb but mysteriously destroyed before it could be used.

It was nearing lunchtime, so we hopped on a bus to the nearby town of Fiesole. Characteristic of old Etruscan settlements, Fiesole was built on a hill for defense purposes. Such hill-top defense tactics are, of course, no longer necessary, but now at least the people of Fiesole can enjoy some great views. While there, we re-energized with lunch and gelato, and were set free to explore the area.

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We started with some gelato…
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…Then burned off the gelato calories by walking to some spectacular hilltop views.
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If you look really closely (middle/right-ish) you can see Florence!
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We made it to the top of the hill!
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Fiesole was full of fascinating finds.
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Wild grapes!
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Remnants of the old Etruscan settlement in the bottom left.

The guided field trip ended in Fiesole, but our leaders informed us of what we could still do with our Duomo tickets. (One ticket is good for the museum, cathedral, baptistery, climbing the dome, climbing the bell tower, etc.) So, wanting to make the most out of the rest of the day, my friends and I decided to climb both the dome and the bell tower. A grand total of 877 stairs one-way. The views and the experience made it totally worth it though!

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Trying to get close enough to the edge to take a picture.
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I did it!
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Beautiful Florence.
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Fiesole, as seen from the Duomo.
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Next it was time to climb the Bell Tower!
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Inside the massive Bell Tower.
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The sun was setting and the bells were ringing – truly perfect timing!
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The Duomo from the Bell Tower.
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Looking down into the piazza.
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And the sun sets on another wonderful day in Italy.

By then, having worked up some serious appetites, we headed toward the Mercato Centrale for dinner. What a cool place! It’s sort of like a very diverse, very “hip” cafeteria, but with good Italian food. I’ll definitely be back!

 

 

Gelato Count: 14

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