In the last three months I’ve climbed a heart-busting smidge of the Great Wall of China, crawled up and down hot hills in Cinque Terre and hauled an overstuffed backpack up dozens of stairwells in old apartment buildings in cities across Europe – THANK GOD cos it meant I could scale the 463 steps in the Florence Duomo today without collapsing in a heaving mess.
Admittedly my fear of being the weakest link in some physical group endeavour has been realised on occasion, usually when a cocktail of heat and height is involved, so setting out for the big climb at 32 degrees celsius came with a bit of a gulp and hope for the best.
I felt for the older bloke gasping at the rear of the group while his wife and daughter bounded ahead. Laressa and I hung back discreetly to keep him company. A bit of distance from the rest of the group probably freed up the oxygen flow.
The first section was narrow and steep but no harder than the five flights to our attic room nearby. Six huge statues of bishops crowded the space we took our a breather in. It wasn’t really clear why they were there, maybe not enough room around the edge of the church.
The tour guide Mario stressed the significance of the techniques involved in balancing the duomo halves. “They lean into each other,” he said, demonstratively leaning into a tour member.
We headed up a spiral staircase to a narrow viewing platform that encircled the inside of the duomo to view Vasari’s Last Judgement on the ceiling: the biggest painting in the world inspired by the Sistine Chapel.
Mario pointed out some key bits: the devil in hell at the bottom, God up on the left of us, Nature depicted by ‘naked ladies’ made irrelevant on the day of judgement, the Virtues. Lots of friends and sponsors of the artist or bishops made it on the wall and possibly into paradise.
Being from an earthquake-prone isle, I enquired about the large cracks running the length of the painting when Mario asked if we had any questions. He pointed out a mechanism measuring the millimetres of movement in the cathedral. All good but I was left wondering how often they needed to patch things up.
Reaching the external platform at the top of the dome was a lengthy haul along tunnels and up very steep stairs spanning the curve of the dome. The queues of people descending and ascending bottlenecked at times in stuffy cramped spaces. Signs reminded us not to write on the walls.
Finally a short ladder led us out into the sun-drenched view of the red city and green hills. Mario pointed out the towers and palaces so quickly it was hard to take in quite what we were seeing. He mentioned something about three buildings being connected back in the day so the residents could sneak between them “even in their pyjamas”.
We were a bit over our tour guide to be honest, especially when he’d answer questions with “as I’ve already said…” Our ears are ringing and our eyes are burning, dammit man, have some patience.
Mario aside, the duomo is a stunner. Here are some photos from the climb and the view of the dome from our terrace and street level taken the night before.