The majestic bell tower of the Cathedral – also known as “Giotto’s Bell Tower” - is a masterpiece of the Italian Gothic. It has a square base of about 15 meters (49.2 feet) on each side, with corner reinforcing continuing all the way to the cantilevered horizontal crown, at 84.7 meters (277.9 feet) above ground. The summit balconies can be reached by climbing a stairway of 414 steps, which passes through three superimposed loggias, opening through elegant pairs of mullioned windows and at the last level, large three-mullioned windows, all offering splendid panoramic views.
The construction of the bell tower was entrusted in 1334 to Giotto, the most important artist then living, whose name is forever linked with the structure. As master builder of the Opera, Giotto provided the plan for the bell tower and began the construction. Upon his death, which occurred three years later with only the first levels started, the task passed to his pupil Andrea Pisano and then to Francesco Talenti, who completed the building in 1359, varying the initial project with the invention of the crowning terrace (probably instead of a spire).
The exterior is entirely clad in white, red and green marble, worked in geometric motifs and stylised flowers, and the first two levels are enriched with precious sculptures carved in the 14th and 15th centuries. From bottom to top are: the portal, crowned by a tympanum decorated with sculptures, and a series of 26 hexagonal marble panels in bas-relief by Andrea Pisano and his workshop (but completed by Luca della Robbia), depicting the Creation of the Progenitors and the Human activities. Above this is a second cycle of 28 marble panels, diamond-shaped with bas-reliefs on blue majolica, depicting the Celestial powers governing human life: the Seven planets, the Seven Christian virtues, the Seven Liberal arts and the Seven Sacraments. At this level, on the northern side, there is a door leading to an overhead passage that once linked with the Cathedral. This passage has a tympanum decorated with a splendid Madonna del solletico or Virgin Mary tickling the Baby Jesus, by Andrea Pisano.
In the upper level, 16 niches house the same number of white marble statues depicting Sibyls, Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament. Half of this group of statues were sculpted by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano in the 14th century. The remaining eight, absolute masterpieces of the Renaissance, were created in the first decades of the 15th century by Donatello and Nanni di Bartolo: the most famous of these are the unnamed prophet known as Zuccone (Pumpkin Head), and Abraham and Isaac.
For conservation reasons, the originals of these three sculptural cycles were transferred to the Museum in the 20th century and replaced by copies.
The tower has 12 bells: the five oldest are now in disuse; the largest, called The Apostolic, cast in 1401 by Niccolò and Luca Bondigi of Cortona, can be admired along the visit path.
The bell tower can only be accessed on a contingent basis with one of our companions or guides, following the restricted rhythms of the slot and not independently. No lift is available and there are many steps. The climb is not recommended for people with a heart condition or suffering from dizziness and claustrophobia. Bulky backpacks and bags are not allowed. No cloakroom available. It is possible to reserve free admission for the person with difficulties, by writing to the email email@example.com or by contacting the cash desk in Piazza Duomo 14, subject to availability, against a certification document. Any gratuity for the companion is subject to further considerations. For privacy reasons, the email conversation will be deleted. For any paying people to match, we kindly ask you to make the purchase online.