Florence, the Duomo’s Cupola

The Cupola
Hours: 8:30 AM to dusk
Tickets: 15 euros (for the 4 pay-for-view sections of the Duomo) can be bought from the central ticket office in Piazza del Duomo. Entry to the Cupola is via the Porta della Mandorla.

As far as Cassandra’s concerned, the climb up to the top of the Duomo of Florence’s cupola is not ghoulish, it’s ghastly. “The climb is not recommended for people suffering from heart problems, vertigo or claustrophobia” says the Duomo’s website. Cassandra would like to add a variety of other ailments to that list, but now a word or two about this architectural wonder.

The cupola was built between 1418 and 1434 following an innovative proposal by Filippo Brunelleschi. No one was really sure how to cover the huge area of the Duomo of Florence’s transept. Tradition building methods wouldn’t get the job done, but Brunelleschi came up with a solution that is a masterpiece of engineering- the dome, 45.5 meters in diameter, is made of two shells with a space in between. The inner shell is made of bricks set in a herringbone pattern and is self-supporting. The outer shell is weather (and they say earthquake) resistant.

The space between the two shells was never and Cassandra repeats NEVER intended to be a tourist attraction, but somewhere along the line someone figured out that there were people in the world who would pay good money to push, shove and squeeze their way to the top. Cassandra supposes it’s the rat race, literally.

This is the dirt on the Cupola climb: if you see even the smattering of a line outside the entrance do not go up! Because the line outside will be the line inside too; you will find yourself in a very small, very airless place with lots of very big, very smelly people. There is no room for the crowds to go up and down at the same time so pushing and shoving become rather important. None of the ushers on the way up (or down) even attempt to direct the traffic and it is truly a nightmarish experience. Most people can’t handle the stairs (there are 463 of them) lots of people can’t handle the heat (you’ll be trapped in a very small space.) Cassandra couldn’t handle the quality of the conversations that her co-climbers were having. “Yo bro, my hand smells like butt,” was just one overheard gem.

IMG_3595If this looks like fun to you, come on up!

Plus, there’s the little matter of age involved. Not Cassandra’s the Cupola’s: this marvelous structure has been standing, unsupported, since 1434. That makes almost 600 years, or over 200,00 days. Which means, as far as Cassandra’s concerned, that it could fall down any day now, the time is ripe. What happens if the Cupola cracks under the weight of a herd of tourists that it wasn’t built to withstand? What if it happens when Cassandra’s there? Which side of the Last Judgement frescoes (truly terrifying, done by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari from 1572 to 1579,) will she fall on? The side of the Just or of the Damned?

The Last Judgement frescoes are wonderfully horrifying, but Cassandra can see the cracks in them from the ground. Must she climb the Cupola and test her luck? 


Take Cassandra’s word for it: either go first thing in the morning, preferably in the off-season, or don’t go at all.

Suggested reading: Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Suggested Listening: Culture Club, Do You Really want to Hurt Me



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