It was raining when I woke up this morning and as I walked from my bus stop to the Piazza del Duomo, I told myself that this was a sign that I did not have to climb the bell tower. This was a relief since my calf muscles were aching from the climb of the dome yesterday. Instead, I would go to the Baptistry as planned, then head for the crypt.
As on my first visit to the Baptistry this past spring, I was immediately struck by how the colors of the mosaics glowed – it’s like being inside a jewel box. Because the one other visitor was there only briefly, I was able to get photos of the mosaics in the low light by resting my camera on the floor. That brought to my attention the design of the floor. I read in the brochure that “the floor evokes the Islamic world: oriental zodiac motifs are visible in the ‘carpets’ between the Gates of Paradise and the hall’s center” and that the mosaics reflected the influence of Byzantine art. The brochure goes on to say that “the overall effect reflects the magnificent crossroads of civilizations that was medieval Europe,” something I had also read in the museum yesterday.
Coming out of the Baptistry, the lure of the bell tower proved to be too strong (either that, or it was the lure to a compulsive person of going to all five of the places covered by the ticket). As you can imagine, the stairs were mostly free of other people, although that could have been the early hour too. Even on a rainy day, the views were beautiful. I like the look of tile rooftops in the rain – as a friend of mine says, they look varnished. The umbrellas held by pedestrians below were a bright spot, as was the line of tourists heading down Via Roma – a line that made me think of the opening to the book Madeline.
Staggering down the stairs, I found I was too early to go into the church and the crypt. I walked around, watching one of the guards (who are very much in evidence these days, patrolling the piazza) suiting up; that equipment looked heavy. As I was taking pictures of a detail of the cathedral front, I was approached by two young women who asked if I minded that they had filmed me. They are attending university locally and were told by their instructor that they should ask people’s permission if they took photos or video. They explained that they were very conscious of this anyway because the laws regarding use of people’s images were so strict in their country (Abu Dhabi).
When the church opened, I lit a candle before heading downstairs to the crypt. I was surprised when Angela told me the day before that the remains of the church of Santa Reparata had not been discovered until the 1960s. Once again, I saw details I had not noticed on my previous visit (maybe the exhibits had changed or I was paying a different kind of attention). I remembered the mosaic floor, dating back to the Roman city of Florentia; it’s amazing to see something that old. What I noticed this time was the peacock, symbol of immortality, and the list of fourteen donors who financed the construction of the first church, along with the number of feet for which each accounted!
I finished my visit to Il Grande Museo del Duomo by paying my respects at Brunelleschi’s tomb. Although tradition has that Giotto, Arnolfo di Cambio (who designed the cathedral) and Andrea Pisano (who made the bronze doors on the south side of the Baptistry) are also buried here, no trace has been found of their graves.
What a grand twenty-four hours at Il Grande Museo del Duomo!
Piazza del Duomo: Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore.
Images © Melissa Corcoran.