Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the "Duomo"
Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, is the cathedral church of Florence, dedicated to the Madonna of Florence. The basilica is one of the largest churches in Italy and until the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. The church's three buildings (including the baptistry and Giotto's tower) form part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic center of Florence.
The church was originally built in the 6th and 7th centuries and then reconstructed several times in the Romanesque period. In the 13th century, it was deemed necessary to build a larger cathedral to suit the city's growing population and to match the constructions of other Tuscan cities. Arnolfo di Cambio designed the new church which was finally "completed" around the 15th century.
The colorful exterior walls are made from marble; white from Carrara, green from Prato, and red from Maremma. The duomo is composed of the cathedral, the Battistero di San Giovanni and Giotto's bell tower. The majestic dome, the greatest of Brunellesci's woks, is considered a feat of unrivaled engineering skill. Weighing 37,000 tons and containing over 4 million bricks, the dome was the largest and highest of its time. 463 steps lead to the top of the dome, which offers a spectacular view of Florence.
There are several great works of art contained in the interior of the cathedral but the interior is surprisingly spartan. Notable pieces include busts of Brunellesci, Giotto, and Michelin, Michelino's Dante, the Condottieri memorials, and a sculpture of the prophet Joshua.
Climbing The DuomoPerhaps the "must do" tourist activity when visiting Florence is to climb Brunelleschi's Dome. The climb (it is an interior stairwell) itself is not too strenuous, with the initial flights of stairs being the hardest. Once you reach the level where the dome actually starts, it is relatively easy going (but if you are at all claustrophobic it is not advised). The views of Florence are incredible from the top, and you are right next to large parts of Vasari's "Last Judgement" fresco on the inside of the dome as you make your way up. Mere words can't describe the experience.
Visiting The Duomo and the complexThe official site links and contact information is below. There are probably hundreds of third party sellers and tour guides and companies, but the whole "complex" is officially managed by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, which includes the Cathedral, Brunelleschi's Dome, the Baptistry, Giotto's Bell Tower, the Opera del Duomo Museum, and the archaeological site of the ancient basilica of Santa Reparata, which lies under the floor of the cathedral itself (a real testament to how small things were in the dark ages and how this city is built upon layers and layers of ancient ruins). If you are planning ahead it is highly advised to visit the sites below for up to the minute tourist information regarding tickets and opening times, etc.