Piazza del Duomo
The Piazza del Duomo is the heart of Florence, and it's not just some dusty old cathedral - all the buildings in the Piazza are a startling vision in pink, white and green marble, with stripes and rectangles, rosette windows, licorice-rope arches, geometric patterns, shining sculptures, every inch is covered! These are buildings kids can relate to, like giant stone gingerbread houses, brilliant in the sunlight.
Tips: Before going into these landmark monuments, first visit the Opera del Duomo Museum (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo). The museum is an excellent introduction, and kids can see things up close, such as the reliefs from the Bell Tower, stained glass windows in the dome of the Cathedral.
Tickets - It's a combination ticket - "Il Grande Museo del Duomo"- including Baptistery, Bell Tower, Santa Reparta, climb the dome, Opera del Duomo Museum. Visiting the Cathedral is free, but a reserved timed entry is required to go up the Cathedral dome. The ticket is good for one entry to each site, good for 48 hours.
Cathedral - The Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) -
The Duomo, with its brick red cupola, is a Florence landmark and architectural tour de force. In the 15th century nobody had plunked such a big dome onto a cathedral, and skeptics thought it would fall down - hundreds of years later, the dome is still the largest masonry (stone and bricks) dome in the world.
When you go inside the cathedral, it's quite a contrast to the vibrantly decorated exterior. Stained glass windows and frescoes provide color, but it's amazing stand under the dome itself and look up - what an incredible sense of wide open space, it takes your breath away. Kids can imagine what it was like for the workman to build the dome, using 15th century tools and techniques (no cranes), eating their lunch inside the vault high above the ground.
Also look for the fresco, with Dante in his stocking feet, showing off an open book, the Divine Comedy. Behind Dante on the left is a wedding cake topped by Adam and Eve and other poor people in purgatory, and on the right, a scene of the Duomo itself.
Coats of arms -Throughout the cathedral, find coats of arms - white lamb (wool merchant's guild), red lily (symbol of Florence), keys (the pope), red cross ("people" of Florence).
-The Cathedral you see today was constructed over an earlier 5th century church, which was built over early Christian mosaics and Roman ruins. Take the stairs down into the excavations, don't miss mosaics in geometric patterns and a lovely peacock (symbol of immortality), and medieval tombs, including Giovanni de' Medici, a knight who died 1352, his sword and spurs are on display.
Climb up the dome (cupola)
- For kids 6 and up, climb up the dome for panoramic views of Florence (timed entry required). Walking up the stairs between the dome brickwork will give kids a first hand experience what it was like building the dome.
- After touring the inside of the Cathedral, go outside and walk all the way around it. Every inch is richly decorated - geometric designs in pink, green and white, spiral columns, some with lions at the base, carved reliefs above doors, such as Mary (in an almond shaped halo) and angels on the Porta delle Mandorla.
Baptistery - The Baptistery is the oldest building in Florence, and the spot where kids were baptized each year on March 25.
Before going in, walk around the building, stopping to look at the each of the three monumental doors, portraying Old Testament stories from the Bible. The most famous is the east door Door of Paradise; over the north door, look for an eagle, symbol of the Calimala guild that looked after the Baptistery.
See all three original doors in the Opera del Duomo Museum. (Baptistery doors are copies, for preservation originals have been removed to the museum.)
When you step inside, the effect is dazzling - floor inlaid with geometric zodiac designs, ancient Roman columns, murals of plants and animals, and in the eight-sided dome (almost as high as the Pantheon in Rome), shimmering golden mosaics of the life of Christ and John the Baptist (patron saint of Florence).
Tip: Bring binoculars to see the amazing detail in the mosaics.
Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto) - Next door to the Duomo is the Campanile, the bell tower started by Giotto in the 14th century.
Climb up the tower, the stairs go round and round, with cool slits to peer through as you ascend. At the top of the Campanile are stellar views of the Duomo, across the way, and views all around of Florence. Each level is fenced in, so there's no worries about the safety of kids. Go early in the day to avoid lines.
Tip: In the Opera del Duomo Museum, check out the Galleria del Campanile with the original reliefs and statues from the Bell Tower exterior, to see them close up.
Opera del Duomo Museum (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo) - For centuries, the Cathedral Works Office (Opera del Duomo) was responsible for building and maintaining the Cathedral, Bapistery and Bell Tower. Today this museum also preserves original artworks from all three sites, beautifully displayed to view close up.
In the ground floor Hall of Paradise (Sala del Paradiso) are the three original bronze doors from the Baptistery, and statues above each door.
One of our favorite galleries is the Galleria del Campanile, with reliefs and statues from the Bell Tower. The statues, by sculptors such as Donatello, are of Old Testament figures - King Solomon, Abraham and Isaac, Moses. 14th century reliefs portray fascinating medieval life and work - herding sheep, weaving, building, astronomy, horseback riding, agriculture, theater, painting, music.
In the Dome Gallery (Galleria della Cupola) are excellent models of the dome, historic building tools, and images of the stained glass windows in the dome (windows are too high up to easily see in the Cathedral itself).
In other galleries don't miss Michelangelo's haunting Pieta sculpture, charming reliefs of children dancing and playing music in the Singing Gallery (Sala delle Cantorie), and silver altar, scenes of John the Baptist in the Treasure Gallery (Sala del Tesoro).