The Duomo & The Baptistery
Scrambling up between the layers of the cathedral’s noble, white-ribbed orange dome for the requisite city panorama, you get to glimpse up close some of the innovative engineering techniques that genius architect Brunelleschi used to create what was, in 1436, the largest dome in history: 300 feet high and 150 feet wide. That experience is far more interesting than the smattering of early Renaissance frescoes decorating the Duomo’s interior. The cathedral’s best aspects are its satellite sights, including the campanile (bell tower), partly designed by Giotto (more endless stairs up to a view), and the Museo dell’Opera, housing time-ravaged sculptures by Donatello and Michelangelo—plus Ghiberti’s gilded bronze panels from the Gates of Paradise, given their nickname by Michelangelo himself for their breathtaking command of storytelling and perspective. These originally decorated the east doors (now replaced by copies) on the magnificent Baptistery, the interior of which is swathed in Byzantine mosaics.