Florence’s Il Grande Museo del’Opera del Duomo has nothing at all to do with opera. Instead, it is all about the work, or opera, involved in building, preserving and maintaining one of the most recognizable Renaissance buildings in the world—Florence’s Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
If you’ve ever wanted to see how Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome was constructed, learn what the other options were for the Duomo’s facade, or see the remarkable art treasures once housed in the cathedral, this is the place to come.
Re-opened in October 2015 after years of restoration and reconstruction, the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo has an exquisite collection of sculpture, paintings and other masterworks displayed on three floors in 6,000 square meters of exhibit space, all designed to showcase the art to its best visual and historical advantage.
Most of the works were at one time in, or outside the Duomo.
Some of the treasures to be found include the original North Doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Baptistry of San Giovanni along with the Doors of Paradise by Lorenzo and Vittorio Ghiberti. Replicas now hang on the Baptistry.
In all, the museum boasts 750 works of art covering 720 years of history.
Michelangelo’s poignant pieta, sculpture by Donatello including his magnificent Mary Magdalene as Penitent, and works by Andrea Pisano, Antonio Pollaiolo, Arnolfo di Cambio and other highly regarded Medieval and Renaissance artists are on display.
In addition to the art treasures, the museum contains original building materials, equipment and tools, dating back to the Duomo’s 15th century construction.
Also featured are drawings and models of the dome and Giotto’s bell tower, which was begun in 1334, after Giotto’s death. An outdoor terrace offers splendid views of the dome.
Visitors to the museum will learn about the history of this spectacular cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and dedicated in 1412. The name Santa Maria del Fiore means St. Mary of the Flowers or Virgin of the Flowers. Once the largest church in all of Europe, today it is third in size, after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Combination tickets can be purchased for the Duomo Museum, the Baptistery, the bell tower and the Crypt of Santa Reparta, named for the 7th century church that once stood on the site of the Duomo. There is no charge to enter the Duomo, but paid tickets are required for visitors who wish to climb the more than 400 steps to the top of the bell tower.
Appropriate clothing is essential for entry. In other words, no shorts, short skirts or skimpy, shoulder baring tops on women or men. Bulky bags and backpacks must be checked. Visit www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it for information on ticket prices, hours and tours.
On our visit, we also had free access to a photographic exhibition called Opera di Viva by Michele Pecchioli, which paid tribute to the hundreds of men and women who have worked to preserve the artistic integrity and cultural heritage of the building and the art works within for more than 700 years.
The photos feature the restorers, artists, employees and security guards who play a role in safeguarding these treasurers and ensuring public access to the works for years to come. Note: This was a temporary exhibition and may now longer be available for viewing.
When the sun begins to set in Florence, head over to Piazzale Michelangelo for another perspective on the Duomo —and enjoy the gorgeous vista across the Arno over the city.
If you crave an aperitivo with your sunset and Duomo views, go to La Rinascente, the department store on Piazza Repubblica. Go directly up to La Terrazza on the top floor and you’ll find a little rooftop café/bar with great views of the city and the iconic dome. It gets crowded so get there early or be prepared to wait.