Saturday, May 28, 2011
The towers of Florence reach upwards, as if trying to climb out of the Arno river valley. The highest point in town is the Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore; its sun-like color still marks it as a triumph of human design, and one of the primary emblems of the Renaissance. Hearing it was not an experienced to be missed, we decided to climb to the top.
In North America, you pay ten dollars for entertainment and take your seats in the movie theater. In Europe, you pay the same amount and are then expected to climb five hundred steps so you can get a good view. As we ascended, I thought how clearly the changes of altitude in this landscape must have influenced Dante's journey through heaven and hell:
…“This mountain’s of such sort
that climbing it is hardest at the start;
but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.
Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle
that climbing farther up will be as restful
as traveling downstream by boat, you will
be where this pathway ends, and there you can
expect to put your weariness to rest.” (Purg. IV, 88-95)
And it is true: as we came to the top of the winding staircase in the Duomo, we were greeted with the most remarkable sights. First, the inside of the dome itself, seen from a balcony that ran along the circumference. Painted on it was a vivid scene, seemingly straight out of the Divine Comedy. People walking on the church floor below were scarcely bigger than whispers.
But we left them, too, behind when the balcony turned to the outside. Having to climb another hundred steps, we finally arrived at the summit. Florence was all around us. The old spires, sandstone houses, olive-covered hills.