Reports of various sleep patterns (some slept through the night, others woke up at 3:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep) were shared over an early and brief breakfast before we were out the door at 8:20 for a full day experience of the complex associated with Santa Maria dei Fiori, the cathedral of Florence. Several structures make up this religious center: the basilica, baptistery, and a campanile (bell tower).  On our combo-ticket, we had exactly 24 hours to:

  1. Climb the cupola (460+ steps)
  2. Visit the basilica
  3. Check out the excavation of Santa Reparata (the earlier church over which the “new” cathedral was constructed
  4. Explore the Baptistery
  5. Go through the Museo del’Opera

Ready, set, GO!

At 9:00, we were ascending the steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome. Spiral staircases, narrowing as we move upward, lead us to the base of the dome and a close-up view of the fresco that spans the entire interior surface of the dome, designed by Giorgio Vasari. More stairs, more climbing, now running into other visitors who are descending, squeezing by, waiting, more climbing and we arrive to sunlight, fresh air, and the top of the dome. This is the best 360-view in the city and gave us all a chance to locate landmarks (the Pitti Palace, San Lorenzo, the Synagogue, San Miniato, etc.)

By 10:30, we were back on firm ground (with shakey legs) and queued up to enter the basilica. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio with the grand goal of being the largest in Christendom, the crossing at the transept providing an almost incomprehensible challenge of designing a dome to cover a span not yet seen in the history of architecture. The interior of the basilica is both inspiring and underwhelming (space vs. ornamentation.) A quick visit to the excavation of the earlier church ended this portion of our program.

Then, out to the piazza to line up in front of the baptistery, dedicated to St. John, the Baptist. Completed nearly two centuries before the basilica, the eastern influence of Byzantine mosaics is readily apparent. One could imagine the shimmering qualities of the tesserae when illuminated by candle, pre-electricity.

Lunch time. Off to the Mercato Centrale to pick up panini and beverages to take to a park by Piazza Independenza. Salami, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated zucchini and cheese on a crusty ciabatta roll. Delicioso.

Wait, there’s more! Back to SM dei Fiori to climb one more monument — Giotto’s tower. Slightly shorter than the cupola climb (by maybe 50 steps), we pushed ourselves to the top to enjoy another fantastic view of our new home (and a unique view of Brunelleschi’s dome.)

Basta (“enough”). Time to call it a day. It’s now 2:00 and we disperse to run errands, take a nap, finish unpacking and ponder the possibilities for dinner. We agree to regroup in the morning at breakfast to head out to the final site: the Museo del’Opera.

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