The queue moves quickly and before you realize it you are squeezing through
a narrow door manned by a priest who is there to ensure the orderly and
dignified entry into this holy place. You walk into a huge open space
with floor to ceiling columns down each side about a quarter of the way
in. This left a large area leading to the alter under the coupola. You
walk in slowly and feel all those around you disappear into the shadows.
It is not bright with windows letting in light but rather gloomy. The
floor is heaved in places and the mosaic floor design has been warped
by 700 years of existence. You see the 1966 flood line on the wall.It
is easily 5 feet up from the floor. You come across a small tour group
and the leader is giving some details about the construction and subsequent
history of the church. Some people are listening, those standing right
in front. Those further to the back are looking around in an trance like
gaze as if unable to totally comprehend what it is they are feeling. They
somehow know intuitively that no list of facts is going to explain this
place and the best they can hope for is remembering this sense of awe
they are feeling right now. The guide is talking too much, you think.
She is wrongly the center of attention and you understand why no one is
paying attention. You move on.
You walk under the coupola and look at the frescoes along the top and
around it. You remember your Art History professor in college and you
wish you had paid more attention to his slides. You turn in a complete
circle as your neck strains back and your eyes follow the arc of the dome.
Aside from the obvious aesthetics of the space you marvel at the human
physical requirements needed to complete the job. That dome was a long
way up and the lighting was poor and it was probably damp and cool. Not
the most conduscive situation for artistic inspiration or technical perfection.
Yet, there it is.
You see a group of people disappear through a doorway off to the left
and then another four people go in. You go over and see it is a doorway
to a stairwell and you see the sign that tells you they are the stairs
that lead to the outer dome, all 463 of them. You look at your watch and
you wonder if you have the energy. It is 330PM and your legs are tired
and you wonder should you do this some other day. You are here now so
you decide to make the effort and this will be the last thing you will
do this afternoon.
You join the procession of stair climbers. The steps are narrow and made
of stone. They are well worn and sag towards the center and there is an
obvious indentation where millions of feet have stepped. The sound of
the shuffle of feet on the stairs is hypnotic. You try not to keep track
of the steps and go into a deliberate daze. After a few minutes you start
to feel the strain on your lungs and heart. Your breath is getting a little
short and you can hear the labored panting of someone ahead. You pass
gingerly an older woman who is stepping heavily and she is being helped
by a younger woman. They are both struggling and you wonder if they are
going to make it. They stop for a moment creating a bottle neck in the
tight surroundings. Other people squeeze by and you hear a series of excuse
me's from behind. You feel the sweat start to break out on your forehead
and you wonder how much further. Another couple of twists in the stairway
and you come to a small opening and a door leading out to an observation
deck on top of the dome.You open the door. Jesus! you say to yourself
as a wind hits you and your eyes are temporarily blinded by the sun shining
brightly. You squint and bring your hand up to your face to shield the
sun from your eyes. Before you lies all of Firenze. You walk around the
top of the dome and look out over the Tuscan hillsides to the north. The
walkway is crowded and everyone is taking pictures. So you take pictures
of everyone taking pictures.
As you are about to head back down you see the two women you had passed
on the stairs. You are glad they made it and the sudden change in their
expressions as they receive their visual reward, from utter fatigue to
exhilaration, is noticeable.
You make your way down using another set of stairs. The piazza is still
crowded and there is still a queue waiting to get in when you leave the
Duomo. You had planned on taking a taxi home but now you realize that
there is very little traffic in the old center and your chance of finding
a cab is slim. So you decide to walk. Back to the river, west along its
bank to via Magenta and then down that street to the Pensione Ariel. Shouldn't
be too bad.