Florence's massive, striped cathedral is topped by Brunelleschi’s iconic dome.
To get a true grasp of the sheer size of Florence’s massive green and white striped cathedral with its wedding cake façade, you really need to walk right round it, a much more pleasant prospect these days now that all traffic has been banned from Piazza del Duomo. Designed to surpass all other churches in Christendom in terms of its dimensions and magnificence, building began in the 1290s under the direction of Arnolfo di Cambio. Filippo Brunelleschi added the iconic dome in 1418 and it is this, above all, that symbolises Firenze today. An extraordinary piece of engineering built without supports, you can climb inside it (Mon-Fri 8.30am-7pm and Sat 8.30am-5.40pm) which, besides bringing home the sheer size of the thing, gives you close-up views of the stained glass in the seven circular windows. I must confess that I’ve never had the guts to do it; I get dizzy just standing on a chair.
The cathedral’s vast interior is quite austere and there is little worthwhile art inside (it’s all been carried off to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo), but you can visit Brunelleschi’s tomb in the Excavations of Santa Reparata; he is the only Florentine to have been given the honour of being buried here.