Florence‘s Cathedral, the Santa Maria del Fiore, is simply one of the most beautiful things to see in Italy. The iconic landmark leaves a lasting impression on anyone who enters, it really is everything it’s hailed to be. So, what should you have on your list to see while visiting? Here’s our guide to the top things to see at the Florence Cathedral.

The Cathedral or, “Il Duomo” as referred to locally, is an entire architectural complex of not one, but a few sites, all combined on one ticket. This is great, as you can choose if you’d like to spend an hour or a full day at this one site alone. First of all, the square in which it is located, Piazza di San Giovanni, is a sight to behold and an event in itself. 

15. Piazza di San Giovanni (The Piazza di Duomo) 

Florence Duomo Cathedral Dome

Stop and take in the fact that you have arrived at one of the most incredible historical locations. Look out for the Medici family coat of arms carved onto palazzo facades, the horse and carts that echo bygone times, and old school coffee bars, such as the atmospheric Antico Café Scudieri.

The cathedral can be seen from almost every corner of the city, as you catch glimpse of its stripy marble facade in the distance of every twist of turn on the ancient cobbled streets. Sometimes it takes you by surprise. And now you have arrived.

So, how best to visit this incredible structure?

14. Florence City Pass

The Florence City Pass is valid for 72 hours and gains you entry into all the sites referred to in this article. The highlights being the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Cathedral, the Dome, the Baptistry, Museum, and Bell Tower. However, the dome climb is subject to availability and you must reserve a time slot ahead of your visit. In the high season, this is like gold dust, as for security reasons and it being such an old building, they do limit the numbers. Our guides can help arrange this time slot for you and advise as to the ideal times to go and avoid crowds.

You can line up and only get individual tickets for each option, if you only would like to see Giotto’s Bell Tower, instead of the one combined ticket. Lines are long, but then all the more time to read our lovely city guides whilst you wait.

The Florence City Pass omits said lines. Although, as with all of Italy’s special heritage sites, one must allow a lil extra time for security inspections.

If you are tight on time, and or on a tight shoestring budget, you can always see it all from the outside. It’s absolutely amazing to stroll around and absorb all the architectural details on the facade.

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Michelangelo is considered the greatest Renaissance artist and the David statue is widely known as his masterpiece. Join our English speaking guide as you skip the line to Accademia and see David. Then venture out to see the center of Florence including the Duomo (outside), Baptistry Doors, Leather Market, and more. Admissions included.

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13. The Facade

The Tour Guy Florence Tour Duomo

The carvings on the facade of the Florence Cathedral are so intricate, it almost looks like lacework. At a first glance, you are so in awe of the striking pink, green and white marble geometric facade, you don’t even notice the sophisticated finer details. On closer inspection, see how the small spiral columns have delicate carvings that adorn the framework and windows of the already amazingly detailed structure. Immaculate craftsmanship at its finest. You could stand admiring this building a thousand times and still spot something new. 

Interestingly, the style of the facade is Gothic Revival and relatively new, designed in the late 19th century by Florentine architect Emilio De Fabris. Although the original Gothic facade dates back to the 13th century, began in 1296 by Arnolfo di Cambio.

In 1331, the Arte della Lana, Guild of Wool Merchants, took over the patronage for the construction of the cathedral and in the 1330s appointed Giotto to oversee the work. Giotto, assisted by Andrea Pisano, continued di Cambio’s design. Although Giotto is actually more renowned for the ‘campanile’, the bell tower.

12. Ornate Sculptures on the Exterior

Cathedral Statues

Under the rose window, there is a little row of sculptures. If you don’t know who every single one of these are, then you would love our Florence tour. And let’s face it, Florence is home to so many historical geniuses, it’s hard to keep up. In order of appearance, from left to right we have: 

Arnolfo di Cambio, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Andrea Pisano, Petrarch, Dante, S. Ambrogio, Guido Monaco, Palestrina, Beato Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, Orcagna, Giotto.

One of which you may be less familiar with. Guido of Arezzo, the Italian music theorist and pedagogue of the medieval era. His text, the Micrologus, was the second most widely distributed treatise on music in the Middle Ages. Did you know he credited with the invention of the Guidonian hand? A widely used mnemonic system where note names are mapped to parts of the human hand. Amazing.

11. The Rose Window

The absolutely stunning rose window above the door of Arnolfo di Cambio’s facade is the largest of the 44 glass windows that wrap around the cathedral. The 28 glass panels, measuring a total of six metres in diameter, are by Niccolò di Piero Tedesco, based on Lorenzo Ghiberti’s 1405 designs depicting the Assumption of the Virgin. If you have time, get up close and personal to all the windows here. Zoom in and admire the designs made between 1394 and 1444, based on drawings by artists Donatello and Paolo Uccello. 

In 2015, Florentine glass-making firm Studio Guido Polloni & Co. restored them, bringing them back to their fully glistening glory.

10. The Interior

florence cathedral interior 700 x 425

Once you step inside, the austere bare masonry interior is a stark contrast to the elaborate exterior, somewhat typical of Florentine churches. As a result, it leads your eye upwards to the pièce de resistance, Giorgio Vasari’s ‘Last Judgement’ fresco.

As you stroll up the aisle, look out for the two memorials to condottieri (mercenary commanders) on the left-hand aisle. Paolo Uccello’s fresco masterpiece and monument to Sir John Hawkwood, and Andrea del Castagno’s monument to Niccolò de Tolentino. As with much Florentine art, you can see an ancient Roman influence in the equestrian monuments of emperors and generals.  

History oozing out of every seam, it is here that Girolamo Savonorola once addressed a congregation of 10,000 locals.

9. The Dome (‘Duomo’ in Italian)

Florence Cathedral Dome

Reaching new heights, this dome of this building is an architectural wonder of the world. Rising above the ground at almost 177.165 ft (54m) with a diameter of 149ft (45.5m), it was the largest dome to be built in 1000 years since the Pantheon. It’s still the largest masonry dome ever built in history and it wasn’t even built by an architect. Goldsmith Filippo Brunelleschi won the competition to build the dome back in the 1400s and engineered an outstanding masterpiece. We’ll have what he’s having!

A Room With a View: A great idea is to get a hotel or apartment with a view of the dome. Its scale is so incredible and imposing, the way it dominates the cityscape is unrivalled in any other Italian city.

Now, there are 463 steps to climb the top, and in the summer months, the tiny winding medieval stairwell might be a lil too much if you suffer from claustrophobia. But it is a must-do, if you have the time, tickets, and the right footwear. Go with a guide and learn information as you climb to the top. Every step of the way holds an incredible story, from Galileo to Giotto, Giorgio Vasari to Arnolfo di Cambio, and Paolo Uccello.

There is so much to learn and know. If you are thinking Paolo Uccello, who? He designed the clock.

8. The Clock

Above the main door inside the Cathedral is a 24-hour liturgical clock, and the only one of its kind in working order anywhere in the world.

It has one hand and moves counterclockwise. The clock, in fact, registers the ora italica (‘Italian time’), also known as Bohemian time or Julian time, after Julius Caesar’s 46 CE calendar, which began at sunset and ended at sunset. In the 17th century, physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei added a special pendulum, and the complex cogs (weights, counterweights, wheels and pulleys) were designed by Florentine clockmaker Angelo di Niccolò.

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This tour is your best value in Florence. See Michelangelo’s David statue in the Accademia Gallery with a licensed guide and the Uffizi Gallery. It also visits the Florence Cathedral (outside), Baptistry Doors, Ponte Vecchio, and more. All your admissions are included to skip the lines and visit these great museums with an English speaking guide.

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7. The Baptistry Doors (aka The Gates of Paradise)

The Baptistry doors are one of the main highlights to see in Florence. A young talented goldsmith Lorenzo Ghiberti created 10 storeys of gilded bronze doors and relief panels depicting the Old Testament. Ghiberti was an early master of perspective and depth of field. It took 20 years to make and as long to restore. 

“Before him, nobody in Italy was able to create something in bronze so big in dimension, not since the end of the Roman Empire,” says Annamaria Giusti, the director of the Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure, which oversaw the restoration of the doors. 

Florentine historian Giorgio Vasari, author of Lives of the Artists, described them as “undeniably perfect in every way and must rank as the finest masterpiece ever created”.

Ghiberti had won a competition to design doors for the Baptistry, organized by the Calimala, a guild of wealthy wool-cloth merchants who funded the project. The first set of doors by Andrea Pisano 70 years before, was a triumph of bronze casting in itself. However, Ghiberti’s creation was one of the defining masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. It remains a mystery how he learned the technique, as he did not discuss it in his autobiography. “He loved to present himself as a self-made artist,” observes Giusti.

In the temptation scene in the “Adam and Eve” panel, Ghiberti imported a symbol of wisdom from Roman mythology, Minerva’s owl, and placed it in the apple tree. The perspective is so advanced, Ghiberti was likely influenced by Arab polymath Alhazen and his Book of Optics, translated into Italian in the 14th century as Deli Aspecti.

An impressed Michelangelo likened the gilded bronze doors, 4m tall and 3m wide, to the “Gates of Paradise”. 

Bronze Door designers:

South – Andrea Pisano, 1330

North – Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1403 and 1425

East – Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1425 – 1452

Look out for Ghiberti’s self portrait in the frame of the left hand-door.

6. Giotto’s Bell Tower

Giotto's Belltower Florence Cathedral

The tower is a fine example of Florentine Gothic architecture and one of the most important monuments of Christianity. A massive 84.7 metres tall, it’s an unimaginable feat for its day.

Giotto di Bondone (1266/7-1337) is one of the greatest artists of the Medieval Age and was ahead of his time artistically. He paved the way for artists like Masaccio and, as a result, the Renaissance. Story has it, he once painted a fly on his master’s canvas that was so lifelike, his master tried to flick the insect away. He was also a genius in freehand drawing. According to Vasari, he was able to draw perfect circumferences without a compass: this is the famous “Giotto’s O”.

The great thing about climbing this elegant tower is you get a fantastic view of the dome from up high.

5. Church of Santa Reparata

Of course, this is Italy, so it’s no surprise that there is also an ancient church you can visit UNDERNEATH the Cathedral. The early Christian foundations date back to ancient Roman times and are 2.5 metres below the cathedral you see today. This vast underground area, which opened to the public in 1974, contains remarkable mosaics dating back to the Roman city of Florentia. One of the more famous mosaics is of a peacock, which in early Christian art represents immortality.

4. The Terraces

Around 150 steps up, there is a little side room leading to a series of secret terraces. Overlooking Florence from a lil side terrace is not a bad opportunity for a photo momento.

3. The Tombs Inside The Cathedral

The Tomb of Brunelleschi lies beneath the cathedral in the Crypt of Santa Reparata. ‘The Body of a Man of Great Genius,’ is inscribed on his tomb. His death mask can be seen inside the Duomo museum.

Other tombs inside the crypt are:

Lando di Giano, a chaplain of Santa Reparata who died in 1353.

Giovanni Di Alamanno de’ Medici who died in 1352

It is also believed, although yet to be confirmed, tombs of two popes rest in the crypts. Stephen IX and Nicholas II, who was the bishop of Florence in 1058. Similarly, although archaeologists discovered the tomb of Filippo Brunelleschi, no trace has been found of the graves of Giotto, Arnolfo di Cambio or Andrea Pisano, yet tradition has it that they too are buried here.

2. The Museum

The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is the HQ for Gothic and Renaissance sculpture. Amazingly, it houses the largest concentration in the world of Florentine sculpture. A somewhat hidden gem of sorts and less famous than other Florentine galleries, artworks here cover 700 years of history. Most of the masterpieces on display were designed for the Baptistry, the Cathedral, and Giotto’s Bell Tower.

It is on this site that Brunelleschi had his workshop and Michelangelo carved the David, originally intended for the exterior of the Cupola. It’s actually really atmospheric entering the museum hallways and seeing the signs that say who once walked through these corridors.

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See Prices

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See Prices

1. Giorgio Vasari’s Last Judgement Frescoes

Florence Cathedral duomo ceiling

Giorgio Vasari’s Last Judgement fresco fills the interior of the dome like a painting in the sky.

His graphic interpretations of hell, referencing Dante’s Inferno, are absolutely terrifying. As you can imagine, it instilled absolute fear in anyone who saw it 500 years ago. A great admirer of Michelangelo, Vasari was also inspired by his Sistine Chapel Last Judgement altarpiece. 

If you haven’t read our blog post on Giorgio Vasari, you can check it out here.

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