I mentioned in the previous blog post about Florence (read more here) that we stayed close to the Duomo di Firenze, which is a large church in the middle of the city. Our house was about a 5-10 minute walk away. Different from Milan, the Florence Duomo also had a bell tower and they allowed patrons to walk to the top of both. I knew that this was something that I couldn’t pass up. I mentioned Aaron’s fear of heights in the Milan travel recap (read more here.) He explained to me that the feeling intensifies when he’s closer to an edge or if the ground is more visible from the tall height that he’s at. At this Duomo, the top is a very small space with open air and it was much higher than the previous one.
Since there was no way that Aaron would go with me to the top of either, I woke up early on Saturday 5/6/17 and made my way to the Duomo ticket office. The climb to the top of the Duomo was sold out until Monday at 8:30am (Note: purchase your tickets in advance), so I purchased a reservation and went to Giotto’s Bell Tower instead, which does not require reservations. Starting the hike up the bell tower, there weren’t many people there with me. The area wasn’t as small as the Duomo in Milan and the stairway went all the way around the bell tower, so the staircase actually didn’t feel like as small of a space since we weren’t turning corners as often. I realized how nice it was to do the climb with someone else because it was a great distraction. Instead I focused on the mom and daughter in front of me and how lovely the print was on the mom’s skirt.
There are 5 levels in total in the bell tower, the ground level, three landing areas and the very top, which I did not realize when I was climbing. I came to the first landing pad and without looking around I kept going because I figured there was one more level to the top and I wanted to face my fear and get it over with. I knew that once I got to the top and out of the confined space I would feel much better. The second landing I stopped to take photos and look around. I could see down to the first landing (2nd level) and thought, “oh what a great hike!” I thought I was done until I realized that people were going up another flight of stairs. So, I continued up and at this point I was breathing out loud (aka hyperventilating slightly) and could tell that I worked up a sweat from the exercise, or the fear, or probably both. The third landing had the bell, which is not in use and I saw once again another flight of stairs. Then I finally got to the top and as you finish the hike, you are actually enclosed, so you don’t see the view right away. You have to walk out of a doorway and then you’re on the very top of the bell tower, which has a walk way around the perimeter with a railing about waist high and a wire netting overhead. The views were worth it and so beautiful. The city really is remarkable. The way down was much better than the way up and I allowed myself to take my time and take more photos of the way down, so that you can see for yourself what the hike looks like.
Total Bell Tower Stats – 450 Steps and 277.9 Feet Tall
When Monday morning (5/8/17) came I was ready for my hike to the top of the Duomo. It was my last experience of Florence before we left for Rome and I knew it was a rite of passage before leaving, even though I was a bit scared to hike to the top alone again. Also, I realized that the Duomo is much higher than the Bell Tower, about 100 feet. This is not something I was aware of when I signed up! But, I would have still purchased a reservation either way.
I waited outside in line until 8:30am and started my climb. It started out pretty easy, they even have a landing area with sculptures for you to look at on your way up. The stairway doesn’t really make sense, it seems like it’s very narrow and winding to the top, then it spreads out and it feels like you’re climbing at a great height with less stairs. There are a bunch of doors with numbers throughout the climb and different areas that were roped off that people could go to change the path. The next opening or rest area was when we were on a walkway that lines the upper area of the dome. It’s not the highest walkway and I saw another walk way below, but it is almost to where the painting starts on the dome ceiling. There is a plastic covering, so the photos are a bit blurry, but you can see the ceiling art perfectly. This walk way area is about a person wide and right on the edge. All I could think was that Aaron would have walked down if he came this far. Also, I noticed a giant crack in the painting on the ceiling of the dome, which was terrifying, but obviously not structural damage, right?! We continued up the dome and the stairway gets more interesting. It curves along the shape of the dome with very steep steps and narrow walk ways. At one point the stairway was so tight and so circular that two people going opposite ways couldn’t fit to pass each other (which is why the dome traffic is only one way – I found this out later.) I could barely fit on my own. When you climb to the very top, you are almost on your hands and feet on the final stairway and then you’re magically outside. There wasn’t a landing area before getting to the very top. The only protection was a waist high railing. I couldn’t believe how much higher these views were to the Bell Tower views. I could see the people at the top of the Bell Tower and it looked tiny compared to where I was. I could see the green hills in the background and just about every tourist spot that we had visited throughout the weekend. As I walked down, I realized that there is a different exit path than the path that I followed to the top. I also noticed several workers in rooms at the top and along the pathway. That helped me to feel reassured after seeing the crack in the ceiling painting!
Total Duomo Stats – 463 Steps and 376 Feet Tall
If you’re in decent health, not afraid of heights or small dark spaces, then I suggest doing it! It’s such a crazy experience. The adrenaline stayed with me for an hour after hiking to the top of the Duomo. My legs were weak and my heart was pounding. It was a huge rush and way better than any roller coaster I’ve ever been on. Plus the views are well worth the nerves. Both hikes took me about 35 minutes from the very bottom to the top and walking around snapping photos. If you do go – let me know about your experience! Am I a big wimp or was it just as scary for you too?