Heather Darsie’s Adventure in History

For this month’s adventure, I will discuss how I felt about visiting the city of Florence, Italy, a place rich with history. I first became interested in the history of Florence back in 2009, when I was gifted a fiction book about one of Cosimo I de Medici’s daughters. I was hooked. I picked up several books about the city’s most famous residents. However, I picked up a book about an architectural feature of Florence, and a life’s desire was ignited.

The book was “Brunelleschi’s Dome,” by Ross King. It discusses the life of Filippo Brunelleschi, who designed the “Duomo,” or dome, of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It tells of how, originally, Brunelleschi competed with Ghiberti to create the bronze doors of the cathedral’s baptistery, but lost. Instead, he took on the much more enormous task of figuring out how to create the great Duomo. Brunelleschi invented new machines to help hoist materials for the builders to delicately interlock in the inner and outer shells of the Duomo. Sadly, Brunelleschi did not live to see the Duomo completed.

While in Florence, I went to the Piazza del Duomo to complete a life goal; namely, climbing the Duomo. I arrived at the Santa Maria Novella Train Station. Immediately across the street from the train station is the monastery of Santa Maria Novella, but, off in the distance, one can see the Duomo peeking out from behind the other buildings. After spending the night exploring the Uffizi Gallery and Florence, generally, I was ready for a new day to be spent in the Piazza del Duomo.

I wandered down narrow streets and arrived at the Piazza. None of the books I’d read or pictures I’d seen prepared me for how beautiful the exterior of both the church and the baptistery are. And I hadn’t realized there was a bell tower, too. All of the buildings were clad in gorgeous white and green marble. I first had the pleasure of walking through Ghiberti’s doors, which were at one point the toast of the church until Brunelleschi started his Duomo. The floor of the baptistery was covered in mosaic tile. Although the intimate building itself was not that large, it had a high, octagonal ceiling.

Next, I went outside, where there was a cluster of people behind a taped-off area at the front of the cathedral. Apparently, a television programme was being filmed; I had to wonder if I saw someone who was famous in Italy. I later asked one of the actors what the show was about, and he told me the Medici. After watching the same scene at least three times, I decided to climb the bell tower.

The bell tower is a square-shaped structure with very narrow staircases. I do not know how I made it to the top! There were a couple landings, including where the ropes for the bells used to be and some other intermediate levels. The bells actually rung while I was standing inside the tower. They were not as loud as I would have thought, but still vibrated the building.

After reaching the top, I gazed out over the beautiful Florentine landscape, my eyes settling on the Duomo, just behind me. Although a cliché term, the view was breathtaking! I hurriedly hustled down the old, stone staircase and walked around the back to the other side of the church. The back was also finished with the same geometric green-and-white marble pattern as the front and the baptistery.

Then, I finally did it! As tired as I was and after some lengthy waits at the top, where the staircase was even more narrow than that of the bell tower, I climbed on top of the Duomo and looked out over the city. I saw the herringbone pattern of interlocking bricks and the infrastructure used to hold it together. I again saw the beautiful view from the top of the Duomo. And I felt a sense of something almost like achievement, but more peaceful and less victorious. I had felt that way only one other time, and it was after visiting Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, which was another life goal. It was a feeling that I can die happy, now that I have experienced this. I look forward to finding my next experience.

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