Majordomo Makes a Major Duomo No-No

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Had the good fortune to be able to travel to Italy last October and one of the most memorable moments was our visit to the Duomo in Florence. Like most buildings in Italy, it is quite the architectural masterpiece inside and out.

As we were planning the trip months before, my son wisely suggested we purchase tickets to various attractions in advance of the trip so there would be no need to wait in line. That was a great idea, and my wife and I said let’s do it.

Knowing my very deep acrophobia (deathly fear of heights) – my son did reach out to ask “Dad, are you sure you want to do this Duomo visit? Its up very high.” Not even thinking, I, of course after hearing the stairs we needed to climb were internal, said “sure, that works for me, buy me a ticket – I just won’t go to the edge when we get up top of the building.”

Yes, somehow in my twisted mind, I was foolishly picturing a large landing area on the top for people to view the city of Florence, and figured I could just stay in the middle of that area.

Well, spoiler alert – I never made it to the top and here’s the story…

As the site says – “The only way to see the inside of the dome up close and enjoy the extraordinary view of Florence it offers is to climb its 463 steps (there is no elevator): the route takes you by the interior of the dome where you can admire Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9) up close.”

Apparently, near that paragraph there was a disclaimer on the site For Those with a Fear of Heights… that I really should have read. I hadn’t looked at the site, wanting to be “surprised” when I got there.

This was MY own “Last Judgment”, and it was a bad one…

That day in Florence, the four of us (wife, son and daughter-in-law) arrive at the Duomo and avoid long lines with our pre-ordered tickets going right in as planned.

The way up (and down) in this building is basically via tight corridors used by the original workmen who built the cathedral for maintenance, and they were never thought of as being open to the public. In we go,and the stairs are as described; dark, tight, single file…but manageable, as one can’t see outside except through small windows. Acrophobia nicely in check…

However, we finally get to a level where you reach the base of the drum right below the cupola’s frescoes, you actually come out onto a narrow walkway which encircles the cupola on the inside. Now its enclosed in Plexiglas, so no danger of falling, but it’s about 40 meters downward, and really unavoidable to see the height.

By the way, we are nowhere near the top either!

So, my spider-sense tells me that I’ve made a serious mistake and can’t possibly go all the way up as I’m already freaking out. Classically freaking out!

I tell my gang, “hey…I’m not doing this, I’m going back down.” and they just laugh and keep walking around the rotunda. I’m frozen in place, and don’t even want to walk there. People are moving past me onto the walkway and my legs are wobbly. Luckily, I see a security person over to the side…and in my best Italian, which was English – point to my chest and say “very scared of heights.” The guard looks up from his cellphone, gives me the once over with a smile and indicates that I need to go to the other side of the cupola – 180 degrees to be able to get down.


Family has deserted me at this point and so ahead of me are several tourists. I walk with my hand on the wall, trying not to look down and to keep going. Of course, the tourists are taking endless cell phone pictures and holding my movement up!

Double GULP. Sweating now.

Moving at a snail’s pace, with my arms touching the wall and the Plexiglas, its shuffle-city for me for what seemed like an eternity. Did I look at the frescoes, no…did I look anywhere but the wall next to me, no. Thankfully, I finally get to the other side and discover that I have to climb more stairs UP to get to the stairs that go DOWN…ugh!!!

Managing to go up several more steps and then find I’m back on the walkway again for the remaining 180 degrees. Moving a bit faster this time, and still not looking down, I finally get to the DOWN staircase and make my way down and out into the courtyard – wondering if it would look silly if I kiss the ground when I get there!

With a sigh of relief, I hung by the exit door outside for quite a bit seeing happy people leaving, oddly, nobody quite perspiring as I was through my shirt. Now understand why the Pope kisses the ground all the time!

The aforementioned tourists came out and it was all I could do to not to break their phones! The rest of my “loyal” family returned to the bottom about 30 minutes later saying it was a tremendous view and chuckling at my pale complexion.

I said “Let’s get outta here, and drinks are on me!” We sat in a café across the courtyard with some wine and Negroni’s, marveling at the Duomo and my phobia.

Wholeheartedly recommend a visit to the Duomo when you are in Florence; I hear the view of the city up there is terrific….

About Wally

Wally Greene is both an eternal optimist and cynic, a waffling right-winger, a somewhat decent husband and father of three, budding masters swimmer, delusional comedy writer, chocolate lab lover, martini drinker and executive recruiter...not necessarily in that order.

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