During the many years I lived in Boston, one of my favorite places was The Brattle Theatre, which showed second-run and classic films. I got to see some of my favorite movies on the big screen that I had previously seen only on television, like “Singing in the Rain” and “Rear Window.” The problem was that when the movie came around again in a couple of years, I’d want to see it on the big screen again. Not sure why, but I thought I had to justify a return visit and resorted to saying things to myself like ‘well, this is a restored version, so I can go see it again.’
Similarly, I justified my visit to Il Grande Museo del Duomo today by buying a ticket that included a tour of the north terrace, an area closed to the general public. The ticket included admission to the dome, the crypt, the baptistry, the bell tower, and the new Opera Duomo Museum.
The tour exceeded my expectations. First of all, my guide Angela was wonderful. She introduced herself to me in English, which is how I responded. Then I realized that I knew the Italian for that and repeated my introduction in Italian. She was so encouraging, telling me to try speaking Italian whenever I could, even if it wasn’t perfect.
I didn’t realize that the tour would include more than climbing up to the terrace. Angela took me into nave, pointing out and explaining various elements of the church. This added another layer to my understanding and appreciation of the cathedral as a whole, which, after all, is not just about Brunelleschi’s dome. A symbolism I particularly liked is that the colors of the robes of the three virtues depicted in the dome’s fresco – Faith (white), Hope (green), and Charity (red) – are echoed in the colors of the façade of the cathedral. My curiosity was piqued when Angela pointed out the door that leads to the stairs the clock keepers use to adjust the twenty-four clock over the center doors (hmmm, wonder what tour lets you up there?).
Leaving the nave, we climbed to the north terrace. What a view! Angela pointed out an observatory that is still in use, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi (you can’t go ten feet in this city without falling over a Medici), and the unfinished façade of Basilica di San Lorenzo. It was wonderful seeing the city from that in-between height, but best of all was seeing the outside of the dome from a different angle.
I said goodbye to Angela with a ‘grazie mille,’ which elicited a smile and more encouragement about using whatever Italian I know, and started the hike to the top of the dome. Perhaps because my eyes had already been opened to new details, I noticed some things I hadn’t noticed on previous climbs, for example, that the depiction of hell on the fresco is quite gruesome. A more-pleasing moment was noticing the herringbone pattern of the bricks, one of the techniques used by Brunelleschi to support the massive dome.
Reaching the top, I found it blissfully uncrowded. I performed one of my minor jobs in life, which is taking photos for people. After all, how could I say no to the young woman who asked me to take a photo of her with Giotto’s bell tower – I mean, she used the proper name! When I offered to take a picture of a couple from Australia, I met Colleen and Peter, with whom I started a conversation that went from the cupola to the bar of the museum. We talked about politics, the medical systems of our respective countries, and how good the house wine is at restaurants in Italy!
My next stop was the museum, which recently reopened after an expansion and renovation. It is stunning. The size has more than doubled, which allows for some fantastic exhibits, including a reconstruction of the earliest façade of Santa Maria del Fiore. One of my favorite galleries was the Galleria della Cupola, focusing on Brunelleschi and the construction of the dome. Here I found a connection to an area I love – the Casentino Valley – in the three ‘tree trunks’ that represent the forests of the Casentino from which came the wood used for the scaffolding and machines used to build the dome.
Leaving the museum, I calculated how much more I could see the next morning. The ticket is good for twenty-four hours, and my first entrance was around 10:45, so I should be able to see two of the three remaining places if I start early.
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The dome from the north terrace.
A view from the north terrace. On the left, the Basilica di San Lorenzo.
The reflection of one of the stained glass windows of the drum overlays the dome’s fresco.
These figures look as if they are climbing over the rail!
Light and shadow on the way to the cupola.
A vertigo-inducing look along the curve of the dome to the street.
The shadow of the dome.
Giotto’s Bell Tower. I was on top of the cupola when the bells started ringing at noon, which was lovely.
The Corridoio dell’Opera of the museum, listing some of the thousands of names found in documents relating to the Opera del Duomo, founded to oversee the construction of the cathedral.
Dusk in Piazza del Duomo.
A Duomo day, part 2
Images © Melissa Corcoran.