What’s so special about Florence Cathedral?The Gothic Duomo of Florence is one of the city’s star attractions, and it’s located at the very heart of the town. The cathedral is one of the largest and most impressive churches in Italy, and Brunelleschi’s Dome is the largest brick dome in the world. It’s currently the seat of the Archbishop of Florence and is the final resting place of two popes, Pope Nicholas II and Pope Stephen IX. Construction began in 1296 but the work on the structure was only finished in 1436 with the completion of the Dome, and the final touches were only added to the outside in 1887, nearly 600 years after the first stone was laid. The interior of the cathedral is lavishly decorated with frescoes and the largest stained glass windows created in Italy during this timeframe, including one designed by Donatello.
Should we take a guided tour of the Duomo?Official guided tours take you to the Baptistery, the cathedral, and the Dome, and give you the ability to skip the lines at each of these sites. The guides will be able to fill you in on the history and cultural significance of what you’re seeing, and you’ll understand more about the complex than if you visit by yourself. Guided tours are usually provided in Italian or English, but French, German, and Spanish are also available on request. For the Opera Duomo Museum, there’s a free app available to download for both Android and iOS devices which provides multimedia content to explain the artwork around you.
Is there an elevator to the top of the Dome?There is no elevator that can take you to the top of Brunelleschi’s Dome, so it is unfortunately not accessible to visitors in wheelchairs or with mobility problems. The climb is also not recommended for visitors with heart conditions, or those who suffer from claustrophobia or vertigo. There are 463 stairs to the top, and while the view is magnificent, it’s worth considering whether you’re prepared to take on the strain. You’ll also get to see the frescoes on the inside of the dome during your climb, and you’re sure to enjoy seeing Vasari’s The Last Judgement up close. Giotto’s Bell Tower is an alternative option to the Dome, but the tower is also only accessible via stairs - there are still 414 of them, not many less than the Dome, and the same restrictions apply.
What is the Baptistery?The Baptistry of San Giovanni was built in several phases, with medieval Florentines believing that it was a Roman (pagan) temple that had been converted into a church. The present Baptistery was extended from the original building, which was built in the 4th or 5th Century and was decorated with mosaics in the 13th Century. It was also the original home of several important artworks, including Penitent Magdalene by Donatello, but most of these have been moved to the Opera Duomo Museum where they can be properly conserved. The Baptistery’s purpose was to baptize infants and converts, as only baptized Christians could enter the Cathedral. The modern church no longer applies this restriction, but you’ll notice that many churches still keep their fonts at the entrance so that baptisms can be performed as soon as the soon-to-be-baptized person crosses the threshold, and in Italy some larger churches and cathedrals still have these separate buildings for their fonts.
Can we go to church services in the cathedral?Yes, services at the cathedral are open to all. On weekdays, masses are said at 7.30 am, 8.30 am, 9.30 am, and 6 pm, and additionally at 10.30 am in the Baptistery. On Sundays and holy days of obligation, mass is said at 7.30 am, 9 am, 10.30 am (in Gregorian chant), 12 noon, and at 6 pm (with organ accompaniment). On Saturdays, there is a mass in English at 5 pm, and an evening mass at 6 pm. It’s also possible to attend confession every day from 9 am to 12 noon and from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm.
How long does a visit to the cathedral take?It depends on which areas of the cathedral complex you’re interested in seeing. During the peak tourist season, it’s likely that you’ll have to join lines to enter the cathedral, the Dome, the Baptistery, and the campanile, and that will add to the total time you’ll spend on the site. If you want to see absolutely everything, then aim to spend at least three to four hours at the site. If you’re only interested in the cathedral, then you can expect to spend an hour or less, depending on the lines to get in.