Hidden spaces, unseen places

A special tour of the Duomo

David Battistella
February 2, 2012

Filmmaker David Battistella moved to Florence from Canada in 2011 to pursue his dream: writing and producing a feature film based on Ross King's 2000 book Brunelleschi's Dome, about the life of Filippo Brunelleschi and the building of Florence's Cupola. This column, which began with TF 149, chronicles Battistella's pursuit of his dream, including anecdotes of his new life in Florence and his efforts to finance and launch his ambitious project.



There is a world between walls. That is what I discovered on a secret tour in a Florence's famous Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral one day. I met with a trusted friend and private tour guide, and with special permission of the Opera del Duomo, under the Paolo Uccello clock inside the cathedra's cavernous nave. 


Looking straight up from the pavement he pointed out a small round hole in the apex of the ceiling vault.


'We're going up there?,' he said.


Wordless I followed as he led me to a small door leading to a staircase which runs between the interior wall and the church facade. I knew that we were heading into a place inside the Cathedral where only few have been. I also knew that there would be stunning views of the pavement some sixty meters below when we got up there. 


Winding upward, peering through small windows from behind the Saintly statues, I was able to catch a rare glimpse of the detail in the sculptures placed high above the piazza with the Baptistry as the backdrop.


Our destination, the cavernous space which rests between the nave ceiling and the roof of the church. 'Il Tetto,' or 'church attic' is a dark, dusty, yet mystical place lit by streaming rays of sunlight. As my eyes adjusted and my fingers opened the camera aperture for long eight seconds exposures, I marveled at the craftsmanship inside a part of the church never meant for public view. Even here, in the attic, a place no one would ever see, one can appreciate the pride that workers took in creating this building.


I could see why, by the time they were building the Cupola, years after this part had been completed, Filippo Brunelleschi was born into a tradition of excellence. That is a Florentine tradition. The true craftsmen here, even now, work and rework.  Florentines have a form of auto-correction and auto-critique that I have rarely experienced anywhere. It helps one understand the depth to which this Florentine creative river runs.


Walking the nave feels like being on the shoulders of the Cathedral. Staring down through the watermelon sized holes to the intricate pavement inlay sixty meters below is more than a small thrill. I was nothing short of mesmerized. The space is vast.   


Walking the one hundred and thirty meters over the four naves toward the Cupola led to another door, the open air and a sidewalk wide ledge.  Here, an up close view of the large oculus which lay in the Cupola's base and the rush of being in the small space between the Church and the Cupola structure.


I share these rare images and experience. A glimpse inside a Cathedral which still houses many mysteries. This really is hard to write because the visuals are so breathtaking. Check out the photos below.

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