Linda's Blog—Travel and Art


    How NOT to Climb the Dome in Florence

    images of the cathedral in Florence and inside the dome


    Climbing the Dome of the Cathedral of Florence—Il Duomo, aka Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore 

    As many of you know, my ‘partner in crime’, Brenda Bickerstaff-Stanley, passed away suddenly January 5 (see what I wrote on my website). I have decided the best way to get back into my blog was to write about one of the many travel/art adventures we had together. Climbing the Dome of the Cathedral in Florence Italy. 

    Both Brenda and I had been to Florence before; she just a few years before, I about 39 years ago. In 2014 we travelled with a group to Cinque Terre, landing and leaving from Florence (thank you, Garry-Lou Upton!). Two of the highlights there were climbing the Dome of the Cathedral, and later that afternoon touring the Uffizi Gallery with a tour of the ‘secret corridor’  (the Vasari Corridor) above the Ponte Vecchio that connected the Uffizi to the Boboli Gardens. It ended through a small, unassuming doorway in the corner of the garden. Very cool. I expected attic-like rafters and cobwebs, but what we got was wide corridors with huge windows, plastered walls, and lots MORE ART. The corridor was not crowded, and what spectacular views of the city! FYI, the corridor is much longer than the section we walked.  Read about the corridor


    view of Vasari's Corridor    view of the Arno River from the corridor    door from the corridor to the Boboli Gardens


    Climbing the Dome

    October may be good time to avoid parents with children, but that’s when everyone ELSE comes out. Florence was very crowded. You buy your tickets to enter the Cathedral (at 10 am) in a small office near the church, and we got early tickets. The line moved quickly; backups had not yet begun. 

    There are a lot of steps. A LOT. (I read 463, but I’m sure someone left out a zero). These were designed so workers could work on the dome; they were not designed for two-way traffic accommodating thousands of visitors. I am going to describe what I REMEMBER:

    We walked up stone stairs, until we came to the base of the dome. At that point you came out through a door and could see the basilica below, and the great frescoes not just above, but BESIDE us. The area closes to us was covered with plexiglas so there would be no damage, and you could walk around the perimeter of the dome base. A great way to see Giorgio Vasari’s fresco of the Last Judgement.

    Our mind was on getting to the top of the dome and walking around. Which I had done years ago; when I was 39 years younger. And much more stupid. And yet, I was doing it again. 

    Brenda and I had packed light; almost empty purses with small sketch pad and pens. And water.  Thank goodness, because it is a long, long walk. Did I mention there are stairs? And no railings. Just lots and lots of stone stairs, winding ever higher, with just the walls to brace yourself. Maybe there were railings; I don’t remember.

    photo of stairs

    Nope, no railings.

    At certain junctions, the stairs would change—they became less wide; less wide became narrow; light became darker; darker became lit by slits of windows. At one point a guard stood to stop the crowd going up so others could go down, or vice versa, This was a good thing, because it gave you a chance to rest. 

    Then we got to continue. More steps. Fortunately, we had started early, so there were not many ahead of us, or even behind us, but as you climb you do go slower. And then we got to the last section before the final ascent…

    At this point you begin to go straight up. The STAIRS go straight up, leading to ladders. In general, you would not know this until it was too late (because at this point there is NO GOING BACK). Fortunately, I looked. Well, I was trying to figure out how to lift my legs high enough, because the steps had a rise of 10” , and my legs have a rise of 8” (the average rise of a step in the U.S. is 7”, with an 11”  run). I know the height, beause I measured it, because I always carry a small measuring tape with me. I tried once more, and as I did I looked up. And saw what looked like a ladder, waaay up over my head. 

    side view of final stairs        looking up the final stairs

    OK, I see now it is not a ladder, but at the time that is what I thought. Must have been the rarified air.

    NOPE, nope, cannot make it. I stepped aside, and we stood there, trying to decide if would be possible to go on, or should WE give up. Brenda is a few inches taller than I, and the riser height was not quite as much as issue for her. 

    And then the rest of the crowd caught up with us, and suddenly Brenda not so much STEPPED up as was  PUSHED up…. She never had a chance. I yelled I would ‘wait for you here’, and she was gone. 

    I waited, and waited, with enough time to measure the steps, and take photos, and wonder if there was another way down that we had missed and should I go down, and then people began coming by, and finally, Brenda appeared. In response to my question, “Did you make it, was it worth it?”, her response was a terse, “Yes, and no”. 

    Well, we began our descent, waiting for others along the way (because, REALLY, you do not want to have to pass people on those stairs). And then we started laughing. Laughing so hard, in fact, that we had to stop to breath, because at that point the absurdity of what we were doing hit us. 

    We got out in the bright morning sunlight, and immediately walked/stumbled to a cafe for coffee/soda/croissant so Brenda’s legs could stop trembling. We got some great sketches done (I wish I had some of hers now), she got a cab back to the hotel, and I went into that little museum/orphanage we sketched. 

    And I think she eventually forgave me. 

    sketch of the dome         sketch

    VIew a great video   at 6:11, he mentions 'the final assault'. I think this is where we were. If the link doesn't work, copy and paste this URL:


    Next blog: How I came to sketch with pens...another story about Brenda



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