Located in Florence, Italy, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, a.k.a. Florence Cathedral, a.k.a. El Duomo, has loomed over the city since its first brick was laid in 1296. A brisk century and a half later, the whole thing was finished. At the time, it sported the largest dome ever created, and, as I already mentioned, it still to this day maintains that honor in the masonry category.
The current façade of the church only dates back to the 19th century, but even so is arguably its most striking feature with its complex array of clean geometrical shapes all outlined in a unique pink, green, and white color scheme. Adjacent to the cathedral itself is an unconnected but matching 28-story bell tower and a separate octagonal baptistery.
In its crypt are the remains of two popes and the architect of the dome, in its ceiling, the last judgment. The almost 40,000 square foot mural was painted by many artists over the course of a decade and is packed with glorious ascensions, infernal destinies, and the entire panoply of a supernatural cosmos bent on weighing out the lives of billions of naked apes.
The best part about the Florence Cathedral is not that you can be shriven from your sins mere feet away from a city where it’s a lot of fun to commit them, but that you can ascend to the top of the dome for an astounding view of the city. It’s about 460-odd steps to the lantern crowning the 300-foot-tall dome, and the path that gets you there wends its way up through tiny hallways and steep stone shafts. About half way up, it deposits you on a landing just under the ceiling of the dome and within slobbering distance of an engorging Satan.
A few cramped chimney stairwells later, though, and you’re out in the open air, viewing the red-tiled roofs of a breathtaking city from a dizzying height, mentally retracing the routes you’ve taken so far, and pleasurably taking God’s name in vain at the top of one of his holy places as it hits you in a way that bruises that you really, really are in Florence.