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Climbing Brunelleschi’s cupola

Friday 24 September 2010

In Florence, at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, tourists are welcome to climb to the top of the dome. The other day we joined the horde queueing in the piazza outside, bought tickets and threaded our way through a turnstile and along passages and up stairs. Many, many stairs. Stone stairs spiralling up inside the walls until I was giddy. Stone stairs stepping up the curve of the inner dome. Stone passages low and narrow, patinated with the sweat of visitors accummulated since the completion of the dome in 1436, and decorated with mundane graffiti.

Near the springing point, where the dome starts curving inwards from the supporting walls. On the left is the upper surface of the inner shell, on the right the outer shell.

For the final climb to the top of the dome, stairs run radially on top of the inner shell. A round hole in the outer shell lets in light and air (and water, when it rains).

For parts of the climb people move upwards and downwards through the same passageways, their progress stymied by people headed the other way. We climbed early in the day, in autumn, and general good humour prevailed​—​in summer afternoons these blockages would be unpleasant, and outright disturbing for the claustrophobic.

In the nearby Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, among a fabulous collection of scupture, pictures, vestments, models, drawings and architectural relics connected with the cathedral, is this set of moulds used for making the bricks for the dome.

filed under Architecture + History

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