Florence Bell Tower - How to visit Giotto's Bell Tower

The Florence bell tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in Italy and part of the monumental complex of Florence's Duomo.

Giotto's bell tower undoubtedly rules the city skyline.

View of the bell tower from frontThe Campanile di Giotto stands proud next to the Duomo

Find out how you can visit this stunning part of the Duomo complex and why it's worth visiting!

Florence Bell Tower - Everything you need to know

Next to the cathedral of Florence in Piazza del Duomo, Giotto's Campanile is simply breathtaking.

Part of the central Duomo complex, the bell tower reaches up high into the sky, and if you are able to climb the 414 steps to the rooftop terrace, you'll be rewarded with incredible views of Florence.

View from the bell towerThe views from the bell tower are truly spectacular!

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about Giotto's bell tower, including:

Florence's Duomo complex

Like other cities in northern Italy and Rome at the end of the Middle Ages, their increased wealth inspired the Florentines to expand their religious centre.

In 1296, work started on the new cathedral on the site of the ancient church of Santa Reparata.

Bus in front of the bell towerNo matter where you are in the city, you can situate yourself with the Duomo

The idea was to create a grand complex worthy of Florence's status. Here, almost two centuries before the time we speak of, a Baptistery was built (now the oldest building in the city) but it would take over two hundred years to finish the majestic cathedral and elegant but sturdy bell tower.

These sacred buildings were at the heart of the medieval city and have remained so ever since.

If you're ever lost in Florence, simply look up and find the iconic red brick dome!

A brief history of the Florence bell tower

After the original architect of the cathedral Arnolfo di Cambio died, the project was given to the famous Florentine master Giotto di Bondone to complete.

As part of his updated plans for the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto designed an elegant bell tower to stand alongside it.

Who was Giotto?

Giotto was arguably one of the most important painters in Western art history, almost single-handedly changing its course.

His artistic creations marked the beginning of a new era in painting, blending religious antiquity with the emerging concept of Renaissance Humanism.

Giotto's notable achievements lie in his exploration of perspective and the depiction of pictorial space, which introduced a fresh sense of authenticity to his religious allegories.

Giotto as an architect

Giotto's architectural achievements were also praised widely.

It was the construction of the sky-scraping Gothic bell tower (a structure renowned for its ornamental and functional design) next to the cathedral, that did so.

Giotto's campanile is widely regarded as the most exquisite in all of Italy.

Roof†op view of the Duomo complexEven when seen from a distance, Giotto's Campanile stands out from everything around it

Building the Bell Tower

While the initial stages of construction began during Giotto's lifetime, he died in 1337 and his apprentice Andrea Pisano took over the work.

Andrea Pisano followed Giotto's plans for the bell tower construction and continued to build up the levels of the tower until the Black Plague interrupted work in 1348.

The last floors of the bell tower were completed by Francesco Talenti in the 1350's.

Francesco Talenti stuck to Giotto's designs except for the spire at the very top of the tower, omitting this final element in order to make sure the bell tower could be finished without further interruptions!

When the 280ft/85m tall bell tower officially opened in 1359, it was then Florence's tallest building.

Despite the fact he never saw the bell tower completed, the building has been associated with Giotto's name ever since.

The architecture of Giotto's bell tower

The Florence Cathedral bell tower is a key feature of the Duomo complex (made up of Giotto's Campanile, the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell Fiore with the ancient church of Santa Reparata underneath, and the Baptistery).

It matches the high level of intricacy of the other buildings.

Duomo and bell tower complexThe buildings of the Duomo complex are instantly recognizable thanks to their distinct design

The tower that came to transform the entire city’s decor is very much Giotto's vision, even though he died when only the lower floor was completed.

His ability to match colors and geometry within the architectural design was the key to the uniqueness of the project.

The bell tower architecture

The five storeys of the tower were built at different stages, the first level by Giotto himself and then the second by Andrea Pisano after Giotto's death.

Pisano also died before the final three levels were built, with Francesco Talenti completing these stories.

The only change from Giotto's original design was the very top, where he had envisioned a tall spire.

Francesco Talenti instead built a large projecting terrace, from which you have incredible views of Florence and out to the surrounding hills of Tuscany.

Florence's Duomo Complex

Want to know more about the fascinating history of Florence's cathedral, the iconic dome and more?

This book sets out the engaging story of how the architectural masterpiece came to be. 

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The exterior architecture

Giotto himself meticulously took care of the selection and purchase of precious marbles such as the white Carrara marble, the green colored marble of the Prato quarries and the rarest Maremma red marble stones.

He thought to give the Campanile a sturdy shape, a regular quadrilateral with sculptural charts inserted on the sides.

Duomo and bell towerThe marble pattern was designed to match the similar facade on the rest of the cathedral complex

The facade consists of perfectly aligned horizontal layers with green marble inlay.

Hexagonal panels, bas-reliefs and coloured stripes alternate all the way to the top.

White marble ridges frame the different stories and the tower and the corners of the tower are also accentuated, becoming an iconic representation of the Florentine Gothic architecture style.

Special things to see on the bell tower

With the construction of the tower lasting longer than the lives of two out of three of the architects working on it, we can see time passing by in the several layers.

The tower is adorned with sculpted decorations by different artists, all depicting various subjects.

Stylized geometric patterns in red and green marble work their way up the tower along with relief carvings and various sculptures.

Giotto bell tower viewThe tower is stunning from top to bottom!

Starting from the bottom and moving upwards, here are the different layers and their corresponding artists and subjects.

The themes on display were thought to describe the progress of mankind, with a daring narrative, valuing his work, the arts and sciences.

The reliefs and statues on the bell tower

The lower level of the bell tower on its square base features hexagonal marble panels with reliefs.

These relief carvings narrate scenes from the book of Genesis.

The original hexagonal panels by Andrea Pisano were removed in the 1960's to preserve them, and are now on display in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.

The next layer has diamond shape tiles with white marble figures against a blue majolica background.

The figures come with certainty from Pisano's workshop and show the Planetes, the Virtues, the Arts and the seven Holy Sacraments.

As for all these sculptures on the facade today, they are also very carefully made copies.

Panels of the bell towerAbove the seven hexagonal panels are the diamond high reliefs

On the third row, looking out over the square from their various niches, you might spot Sybills, Prophets, and Patriarchs.

In total, there are 16 life-size statues, all works of several artists including Andrea Pisano, Donatello, and Luca Della Robbia.

Gothic decorations

The decorations of Giotto's bell tower are elaborate, and accentuate the architecture of the tower.

Built in the 13th century, the Campanile is a prime example of late-medieval Tuscan architecture.

Looking up, you'll notice pointed arches, but the Gothic elements are tempered by local traditions.

View of the bell tower close upEach layer of the decorations is slightly different but all work harmoniously together

It is interesting to keep in mind that the sculptures on the bell tower were made within decades of each other, during a time when art was evolving rapidly, so all these sculptures are slightly different styles.

Towards the top of the tower

The top three levels were designed by Francesco Talenti.

Each of the top three storeys is larger than the one below, but in such a way that the different sizes perfectly counters the effect of perspective.

When looking at the bell tower from the street, each level looks exactly the same size because of this clever architecture!

Top viewpoint of the bell towerThe very top of the tower is different to Giotto's original design but makes for an ideal viewing platform

Talenti used vertical windows with gothic pointed arches to open up the facade.

Where Giotto had envisioned an elegant spire, he crowned the tower with a projecting terrace instead to get it finished.

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The seven bells

Giotto's Campanile has seven active bells.

View of Duomo from the bell towerYou can see the bells up close if you climb the bell tower

The largest bell is called Santa Reparata, a reminder of the saint whose church originally stood where Duomo does now.

Because of its extraordinary size, this bell is also often referred to as the Campanone (big bell).

Campanone's companions and musical partners all have names related to the Virgin Mary and are called Misericordia, Assunta, Apostolica, Mater Dei, Annunziata and Immacolata.

Bell of the Giotto bell towerI loved seeing the details on these bells, even though they were not designed to be seen, only heard!

Climbing Giotto's bell tower

Why climbing Giotto's bell tower should be on your list

Brunelleschi's impressive dome might be the more obvious choice to climb, but did you consider the fact that climbing Giotto's bell tower gives you the best view of that dome?

View of the Duomo dome from the bell towerSeeing the Duomo up close like this is absolutely incredible

Plus, you'll be rewarded with an equally spectacular view over the city of Florence.

Want to know more about climbing the bell tower, as well as the other towers in Florence?

Check out our video for all the details you need:

Staircases and levels

It is not the most comfortable climb, as the stairs are quite steep and narrow.

There are several points where you can catch your breath, take a break, and admire the surroundings.

Steps inside the bell towerThe steps are narrow and can be tough if you suffer from claustrophobia

But despite the challenge, climbing to the top of Giotto's tower, taking on all the uncomfortable steps (414 to be precise and there is no elevator) is an amazing experience.

Once at the highest point, your efforts will be rewarded with an amazing view of the glorious city center as well as unique glimpses of the suburban area and the hills beyond.

Sunset view from the bell towerClimbing the bell tower in winter will reward you with these stunning sunset views!

Take a look at these pages to find out how to make the most of your time in Florence:

Florence Bell Tower opening hours and ticket information

As with most major sites, it is always best to order your tickets in advance, online.

To climb the tower you'll either need a Brunelleschi Pass or a Giotto Pass that you can purchase on the website of the Opera dell'Duomo.

Here you can (and must) also book your time slot.

Queue to climb bell towerEven when you book there will likely be a queue as they regulate the number of people inside the staircases for safety

Giotto's Campanile is located on Piazza del Duomo.

Opening hours of the tower are 08:15 AM - 18:45 PM and the entrance is at the back of the tower.

Large bags, bulky backpacks and other luggage must be stored in the cloakroom next to the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (behind the Cathedral).

If you’ve been wondering whether the Campanile di Giotto deserves your attention, don’t think it over.

Climb up and you’ll see!

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