Question: What do tourists do when they see a massive structure?
Answer: They are willing to spend money and wait in long lines just to climb it.
When you look out over the skyline of the historic city of Florence, Italy, the innumerable towers, churches, and other historic buildings from the Renaissance are all dominated by one of the greatest and most important architectural structures ever. This cathedral, so iconic and important that it simply goes by Il Duomo, or the Cathedral in English. The reason for this building's importance, however, is not its beauty, or scale, or location, or even the Renaissance artwork created by masters such as Donatello, Michelangelo, and Ghiberti. The Duomo is important because of the massive dome that sits on the colorful marble sourced in the nearby mountains. When construction on the original gothic cathedral began in 1296, Europe still had both feet in the dark ages, but as construction moved forward, so did the continent. The architects had created a beautiful basilica that evolved over the one and a half centuries as Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance slowly crept out of the shadows; the Florentines wanted to cap off their masterpiece with a beautiful dome. There was just one problem- a dome had not been built since the fall of Rome almost 1,000 years before. Luckily, Florence was home to some of the greatest minds that the world has ever known. Even without the knowledge the Romans had accumulated over centuries, an architect, named Brunelleschi, reinvented how to build a dome. Now Brunelleschi's dome is a beacon of knowledge, faith, and the Renaissance that thousands of tourists visit every year. Naturally, they all want to climb it, and of course I was in this majority.
While my family and I were walking enjoying gelato and other Italian fare we noticed one peculiar thing: the usually long line for the 463 step climb to the Cupola Santa Maria del Fiore, the official name for the apex and viewing platform of the dome, was nonexistent. Quickly realizing that now was our best chance to make the climb, my Dad, Paul, my sister, Abigail, and I headed through the side entrance of the cathedral while my mom, Kelly, and my other sister, Anne Lois stayed on the ground. The climbers made it partially up the first series of stairs and part of a spiral staircase before being impeded by a slowly moving line that moved single-file up towards our goal. When we emerged from the spiral staircase into a small room, we started to wonder how high we were and how much further we had to go. We were about to find out. That room led onto a three-foot-wide walkway that wrapped around the interior of the famed dome. The stone walkway is supported by ornate stone beams that were not very convincing. With only a railing and a plexiglass wall that prevented you from falling, but still allowed you to see the entirety of the dome, and a little less fortunately, it allowed a clear view of the cathedral floor. We made our way confidently around the walkway until suddenly we came to a halt halfway between the two doors that cut the dome in half. The delay was not all bad though- it allowed us to admire the frescoes and stained glass overhead; but, they could not hold our attention forever. Eventually, my eyes slipped down to the dizzying gap between us and the horde of tiny tourists that swarmed like bees on the cathedral floor. My eyes quickly snapped up but even the ongoing battle between demons and angels above could not distract from the long drop to the floor below. Inching back, I hugged the wall and glanced over at my dad who empathetically looked back as he came to the same realization. A nerve racking twenty minutes passed by as we wished the line would continue to move forward. Finally, the line moved forward and we stepped safely through the portal that bestowed a renewed sense of security to those who passed through. We then endured a slow second half of the climb because from that point on there was only one path for both up and down. Finally, we completed the last portion of the climb where the stairs were more related to a ladder. Coming out of the trap door on the cupola, we witnessed the breathtaking view of the surrounding city. I knew without a doubt that it was well worth the climb (time spent under the dome included). Not only the view but the inner passages and architectural features of a building that were never meant to be seen by the public eye were amazing to witness. Without a doubt, the Duomo is an architectural marvel and a treasure.
photos by Wilson and Paul