While building of Florence’s cathedral the construction of it’s very famous bell tower designed by the painter Giotto was well under way. Like the first architects of the Catherdral, Arnolfo Di Cambio, and Francesco Talenti, Giotto did not live to see his tower design finished. The Giotto Bell tower stands along side the church, hovers over the Battistero and provides a spectacular view to Brunelleschi’s Cupola.
Towers presented less of a construction challenge as building straight up, as opposed the curved shapes of the Cupola, were a simpler engineering task. The tower, like the church is adorned in white Carrara marble and green marble from mines in nearby Prato. Climbing the tower is a pleasant, open air, experience.
The smooth stone steps of the long, steep staircases are dotted with small windows providing light and peeks at interesting views of the city. It’s 414 steps to the top of the tower and like the Cupola there is no elevator. If you want to see the view, you have to make your way up, one step at a time.
On this day, my secret Cupola guide, gave me access to some old storage rooms in the tower. The rooms were used over centuries to store marble statues that were not in use or could have also at some point been used as secret meeting places away from the Piazza below and ears that might steal secrets.
About halfway up the tower, you find large open spaces where you can rest a moment, take in some views or view the original bell. From here the view of Pippo’s Cupola is stunning. You get a sense of how immense it is, as for the first time I could really stand eye to eye with the masters work to admire its beauty. I get emotional looking at the building. It happens to me often. Every view, every change of light, seemingly changes it’s character, it’s nature, and allows me to see it has it’s own living force.
At times it appears short and stout, at other times tall and proud. On this blue sky day it is the latter and after a short pause I make my way up the next flight of stairs toward the view from the top.
About halfway there, my guide informs me of a detour. He pulls out a key to a half-height doorway that opens to a short dark hallway. Where the heck was he taking me?
After crawling through the crowded space, I find myself directly under the bells of the Giotto tower. WOW! The diameter across the main bell easily was almost twice my height. The bell’s hammer looks like a giant bronze tonsil shaped beast, ready to strike and ring out for kilometers around.
The thought of the bells going of frightened me but I was assured there was no chance that would happen. Instead, I found myself on my back, with the widest lens I could find, trying to fit the bell into my lens’ field of view. As the wind blew through and I stood on those old wooden boards I looked at the structure that has to carry that weight. I looked to the Cupola and thought how “Pippo” (Filippo’s nickname) might have used this exact view to imagine how his Cupola would turn out. While the wind howled through the building, I could just hear the click, click of the camera shutter and my heart racing as I lay under the cavernous bell. What a thrill!