Climbing the 463 Steps of Florence’s Duomo

During my recent trip to Florence, Italy, my girlfriend Kristin and I decided to do something we’d never done before: visit the top of the Florence Duomo. Every Italian city has a duomo. Though there is no English equivalent, to define duomo is easy enough: it is the most important church in a city. The Italian duomo is usually located in the largest and most important piazza in the city. The duomo is a place for people to convene and to worship. As a result, duomos commonly tout architectural designs and magnificent artworks that rival those of museums.

Florence’s Duomo is technically titled the Santa Maria del Fiore Church, and it is located in Piazza del Duomo. This piazza contains several sights, including the 270-foot Giotto’s Tower, the Duomo Museum, and the remarkable Baptistery, which features the fastidious work of Ghiberti. Entrance into the Duomo is free, and there are almost always long lines to get in. The inside is rather sparse; much of the original artworks now reside in the Duomo Museum. One artwork however, could not be removed: Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari’s painting, The Last Judgment, which is painted on the inside of the dome. It was this painting that I wanted to see up close and personal. What better way to see it, than to climb it? And the church gives you just this opportunity.

The entrance to climb the Duomo’s dome is located on the side of the church. If you are outside, facing the front of the Duomo, the entrance will be down the side on the left. Long lines to climb the dome are common, but I found that the lines were almost non-existent around 4 pm each day (and this was during June). In fact, Kristin and I didn’t have to wait at all. The eight euro addmission cost allowed us to climb the 463 steps to the outdoor terrace at the top of the dome. There were no elevators, and multiple signs warned visitors that they should be healthy and prepared to climb.

The beginning and middle of our trek was simply this: climbing. Suddenly, we came out onto a walkway that hugged the inside of the dome. The walkway went nearly a third of the circumference, bringing us face to face with one of the largest paintings of the Renaissance. It had all of my favorite Renaissance themes and reminded me of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment located in the Sistine Chapel. Sinners were being roasted alive, skewered, and flogged by the devil’s minions. The devout were being welcomed to paradise.

Next, the walkway took us inside the dome’s trusses. This thin area between the inside of the dome and the outside of the dome gave insight into the complexity of the dome’s architecture. Originally, the church was built only with a hole where the dome would be because the technology of the time was not advanced enough to build a dome of that size. This almost unbelievable feat of faith paid off, when Brunelleschi designed and built the dome in the early 15th Century.

The four-hundred-and-sixty-third step landed us on the tippity-top, where we beheld a panoramic view of Florence. It was a clear day and I could see everything from the Arno River to the surrounding foothills. Fiesole’s Monastery of San Francesco gleamed in the distance, and I felt I understood the area in a whole new way. Even today, Brunelleschi’s dome is the tallest building in Florence.

Written by and photos by Mattie Bamman for

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