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The Florence Cathedral - 463 Steps, 3 Turtles

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In January 2014, my husband and I traveled to Italy, stopping in Rome, Florence, and Venice. Despite the pouring rain, we ventured out to see the Florence Cathedral. The museum technically consists of five parts: the Cathedral, Dome, Baptistry, Bell Tower, and Crypt. The great news is one ticket for 10 euros gets you all five! Talk about a deal! That barely covers cappuccinos and pastries for two. You can buy your tickets in a few places, but the closest and easiest are the Bell Tower and inside the Cathedral at the Crypt’s desk.

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My husband is all fun and smiles now … 

We checked out the inside of the cathedral first. Nothing like staring up at the freakishly high dome to realize, “Hey, I’m going to climb to the top of that today!” Before starting our long trek, we stopped for a light snack of cappuccinos and cream-filled croissants. We were going to burn all those calories anyway, right? 

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The Cathedral was influenced and created by a bunch of artists, including three out of four of the ninja turtles: Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo. Rafael was a bit too young, but his work can still be seen in the Uffizi Gallery. Building this massive church took over 140 years, outlasting many of its designers. After the original copper ball on the top of the dome got hit by lightening and fell off, Leonardo helped design the current bronze ball. Donatello created sculptures on two of the doors of the Baptistry: Doors of the Canonici (south side) and the Door of the Mandorla (north side). He also designed the Coronation of the Virgin (stained glass-window in the drum of the dome). Baccio de’Agnolo created alternate designs for the drum but Michelangelo ultimately rejected them. A little turtle nepotism?

There are a lot of entrances and doors around the cathedral, but there is only one that leads you to climb to the top of the dome. We must have walked around the building three times looking for the specific door. I’ll save you the energy- it’s on the opposite side of the Bell Tower. 

Once inside the cathedral, you’ll scan your little ticket, head through the turnstile and you’re on your way. The stairwells are only wide enough for one person, so hope that you’re not behind anyone slow. And hopefully you’re not the slow poke holding everyone else up. 

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A slowpoke. Plus past visitors deface the centuries old stone. 

The stairs wind and wind upwards with small breaks of sunlight peeking in through grated windows reminding you that civilization outside does still exist.

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There’s a break in the climbing about half way up as we emerge into the dome. It’s a stunning view like you’re part of the paintings. The fresco inside the dome, the Last Judgment, is by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. It’s um … interesting? You can definitely see the division between heaven and hell at that last judgment and we’ll just say that the guys who painted hell are very imaginative. 

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There’s tall Plexiglas, most likely installed after one too many cameras went tumbling down. Looking down into the cathedral is astonishing. I’m sure everyone’s initial reaction is “I was one of those small specks earlier!" 

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After the short break, we press on. The path takes us on odd turns and the space seems to get smaller and smaller. I started to wonder if anyone back in the day actually went up to the top of the dome or if this was literally a tourist trap. After climbing what seemed like the most vertical stairs ever, we made it to the top of the dome. 

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Worth the climb? Absolutely. You can see the entire city and notable spots like the Uffizi Gallery, Arno River, and Ponte Vecchio. You can also see classic Tuscan villas in the distance, seated on rolling green hills surrounded by those typical skinny Italian trees. There are benches up there, so bring a snack and you could spend hours admiring the view.

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But our adventure had to continue and what goes up must come down. Yup, all those stairs you just climbed? You get to go down. ALL. OF. THEM.

As we made our descent down those skinny little stairwells, my husband casually asked "What do you think happens in an earthquake?” Nothing like that thought to put a little pep in your step.

And for all you video game nerds, you may recognize the cathedral in the game Assassins Creed 2. Just don’t get any ideas of jumping off the top of the dome. 

Text and Photos by Kimber Rivadeneira

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Kimber Rivadeneira

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