Here, in order, are my favourite five cathedrals in Italy.
- Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence – Every time I step out of the shadows of the Florence’s buildings and onto the Piazza del Duomo my jaw drops at the sight of the jewel in the Florentine crown. The stunning cathedral group consists of three main attractions: Brunelleschi’s miracle dome constructed without scaffolding, the beautiful Campanile designed by Giotto and Andrea Pisano and the Baptistry with its gilded bronze Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti (the ones on site are copies but no less impressive). Oddly enough the interior of the cathedral is very plain, practically barren in comparison to the amazing neo-gothic marble exterior. You can climb up the dome but I would opt for the Campanile climb so you can have a magnificent view of the Dome and the Florence skyline. It’s also one of the easier belltower climbs as you have the opportunity to rest at each level. This is my favourite Italian cathedral.
- Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco, Venice – Truman Capote once said that “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” The same could be said about Venice’s famed cathedral. Standing watch over Piazza San Marco, this Italo-Byzantine cathedral is the very essence of opulence. The outer facade is very regal, whilst the Greek cross interior, covered with the most amazing Byzantine gold glass mosaics will make you gasp. The very definition of sumptuous.
- Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily – One of the finest examples of Norman architecture anywhere in the world, I was blown away by this church when I visited it. Due in part because I hadn’t even heard of it, my astonishment was no less appropriate. Not an enormous church, its plain exterior belies a wonderful interior. The abbey cloister is absolutely fantastic and the richly decorated, glass mosaic covered interior is positively breathtaking.
- Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta, Siena – Constructed in the form of a Latin cross, this medieval cathedral is one of, if not the grandest structures in the Sienese skyline. Its exterior features stripes of white and greenish-black marble as well as pink marble on its facade. But it is its interior that truly makes this cathedral special. The pillars inside carry on the striped theme, this time in black and white, Siena’s official colours. The ceiling is painted blue with stars and the entire floor is covered with inlaid marble mosaics.
- Duomo di Orvieto, Orvieto – Orvieto’s cathedral is a 14th century Roman Catholic structure and is a true classic. Alternation layers of alabaster and travertine adorn both the interior and exterior. The Chapel of the Corporal as well as the Chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio contain some very impressive frescoes. For me though, what makes this cathedral unique is its facade, which is decorated by large bas-reliefs and statues with the symbols (Angel, Ox, Lion, Eagle) of the Evangilists. The superb and often gory bas-reliefs on the piers depict biblical stories from the Old and New Testament and are protected behind plexiglass. It is a cathedral well worth a detour to Orvieto, which sits atop a rock with almost-vertical faces of tuff cliffs.