Giotto’s Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto in Italian) is the striking tower located next to Florence Cathedral. It is considered one of the most beautiful spires in Italy, thanks to its slender structure adorned by marvelous motifs at every level.
The homogenous coloring of Giotto’s Bell Tower and Cathedral are harmonious, the white, green and red marble an unmistakable symbol of Florence.
Giotto’s Bell Tower is an example of great balance and gothic taste for slim and elegant figures. You can get a perfect view of Florence if you climb to its highest point. To spot the particularities of this structure and learn about its interesting history, read on for an extensive guide. At the end of this post, you will also find a practical guide that will help you plan your visit to Giotto’s Campanile.
Don’t forget to read my posts Where To Get The Best Views In Florence. and The Best Things To Do In Florence.
The History Of Giotto’s Bell Tower
Construction of Giotto’s Campanile commenced in 1296. After the first Master of the Works of the Cathedral Arnolfo Di Cambio died in 1302, Giotto was appointed the new building master of the Duomo. In 1334, he was 67-years-of-age and was keen to focus solely on Florence Bell Tower, as he perhaps knew his time was quickly running out.
The building work lasted 25 years, and Giotto di Bondone was involved in only three of them. A sculptor, architect and pioneering engineer of his time, he utilized perspective to design his free-standing campanile. Giotto envisioned a focal point to the skyline of early 14th-century Florence with the majestic Bell Tower, before Brunelleschi’s Cupola would steal the show.
Also a personal friend of Dante, Leonardo da Vinci claimed he was the first artist to ‘paint what he saw from nature’.
Foundations for the campanile were laid by Arnolfo, so Giotto was restricted by the established dimension and location, which was directly in line with the western façade of the cathedral. Thus, the slender sandstone tall tower, inspired by the Campanile di Siena, was put in place.
It was structurally easy to build, yet Giotto carefully crafted the art on the façade, which slowed down the project. In 1337, the year of Giotto’s death, only the first level was completed. An iconic architect of the early Renaissance and confidant of Giotto, Andrea Pisano took over the project. As Giotto was more of a painter than an architect, he was saved by his successor Pisano who doubled the thickness of the walls. He followed the original design and completed the second level of the spire.
The Black Plague interrupted the work done by Pisano, as the terrible pandemic struck the whole of Europe for seven years. A fourth and final architect was appointed to finish the monumental Duomo project. Francesco Talenti led the Campanile work to completion from 1350 to 1359. It can be literally said that you can reach the rooftop terrace thanks to Talenti.
What To See When Visiting Giotto’s Bell Tower
To be honest, the main thing about walking up Giotto’s Bell Tower in Florence is actually catching the incredible 360° views of the city – it’s particularly beautiful at sunset. Otherwise, the exterior is beautiful to admire too. Here’s what you can spot.
It is important to note that the original artworks you see embellishing the structure’s exterior are copies of the original works. These were removed between 1965 and 1967 and are now on display in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The sculptural cycle that enriches the Bell Tower depicts an extensive insight into the founding principles of the Medieval period.
The Exterior Façade
The Campanile di Giotto’s square base is approximately 15 meters (little over 49 feet) in breadth and it reaches 84,70 meters (almost 278 feet) in height. The marble that decorates the entire façade is made up of a white type from Carrara, green from Monteferrato and pinkish-red marble from Maremma.
Looking up at the tower, you can see that while the lower floors are solid and devoid of windows, as your gaze continues upwards the windows become larger, making the structure lighter as it grows in height. The sturdy and slender square tower is reinforced at its corners by octagonal supports.
The 30-meter (98.4 feet) high spire that Giotto planned was never built. Talenti instead built a large projecting terrace adding gabled windows with beautifully crafted twisted columns.
Level 1: Hexagonal Panels
The sculpted decorations are extremely rich in detail, in the form of a hexagon or a rhombus or a diamond with bas-relief carvings and life-size statues. They symbolize the life of man from Creation onward, the planets, the virtues, the arts and the sacraments.
On the first level, the hexagonal panels illustrate the history of mankind, inspired by genesis, starting on the west side. Seven panels on the south side show us Gionitus (astronomy), the art of building and medicine – all professions and skills attributed to the Enlightenment.
There are only five panels on the east side because of the entrance door that leads inside. They depict the ‘liberal arts’. Most are attributed to Andrea Pisano and his close assistants.
The north side panels represent sculpture, painting, harmony, grammar, logic and dialectic (represented by Plato and Aristotle) – you can see that art, philosophy and reason conjoin together here.
The hexagonal relievos of the first register depict man’s creation and the discovery of technologies: the ‘mechanical arts’ enabling him to dominate nature, and the arts inherent to the functioning of an organized society.
Level 2: The Lozenges
As you gaze upon the second story, the bas-reliefs are larger on elongated diamond-shaped tiles, with a blue Majolica background. The images of men and women represent traits and beliefs of the Medieval period. The lozenges are almost all attributed to Andrea Pisano or his school.
For example, see if you can spot Venus, a pair of lovers, and Hope depicted as an angel with wings praying.
Level 3: Life-Size Statues
The statues are different from the Lozenges on the level below. They both show different styles. The statues all have been sculpted in different periods, with four niches on each side of the compass to create harmony.
Life-sized and grand in decoration, they represent prophets, Sybils and biblical figures. On the south side, there is a statue of Moses. The famous Donatello sculpted several of them.
The Bell Tower was built to house the ringing bells, which were historically (and sometimes still) Christianity’s call to prayer: it was time for church service.
There are twelve bells in total: five are not in use, but seven are still active. The bell tower is divided into stories where each of the seven bells (one bell for each musical note) lives.
It is fascinating as all active bells have different names: Annunziata, Immacolata, Assunta, Mater Dei, Misericordia, Santa Reparata (the biggest and heaviest) and Apostolica – all at different weights and sizes.
The Rooftop Terrace
Brace yourself for some breathtaking views. Be prepared to sweat as there are 414 steps to reach the top. The climb is not for those who suffer from heart problems, vertigo and claustrophobia.
With narrow stairs to the top, every 100 steps you have the chance to rest and admire the views. Make use of the various terraces where you can stop, rest your legs, catch your breath and take photographs.
On the way up you’ll find three viewing platforms – but beware there are no handrails. All viewing platforms (including the top) are fenced in.
At the top of the tower, a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding hills awaits you, a unique perspective from which you can admire the Cathedral and the Cupola of Brunelleschi. You can see the Dome from a birds-eye view!
Practical Information For Visiting
Giotto’s Campanile opening hours
At present, Giotto’s Tower is open from 8:15 am to 7:45 pm, seven days a week. Always check the website’s updated opening hours.
Best time to visit Florence Bell Tower
This really depends: if you visit in the summer, you are probably better off visiting early in the morning or in the late afternoon right before sunset to beat the heat – the narrow stairways can get hot and stuffy. Needless to say, the sunset views from Giotto’s Campanile are stunning.
The bells ring at 7:00 am and 12:00 pm, but keep in mind the time can actually vary to follow the cycle of the sun and thus that of prayers.
Florence Bell Tower tickets
Florence Bell Tower works on a time slot system, so it is important that you book your visit in advance or you may not find a slot for your chosen day. You can get Florence Bell Tower tickets from the Duomo di Firenze website. The official website lays out the three passes you can choose from to visit the monuments of the Duomo Complex.
The Brunelleschi Pass, costs €30 and and €12 for children between 7 and 14 years old (children up to 6 years of age can get in for free). This is the most expensive as includes visits to all the monuments, with a single valid ticket for three calendar days.
The Giotto Pass costs €20 for adults and €7 for children between 7 and 14 years old (again, children up to 6 years of age can get in for free). This pass gives you access to Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery, the Opera del Duomo Museum and Santa Reparata.
Free admission for all monuments of the Duomo Complex is also available for people with disabilities and their companion. For that, you will have to email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the ticket desk in Piazza Duomo 14, providing a certification document.
In order to buy your tickets online, you must register with a valid email, select the kind of pass you want, the time slots of your visit, and then make the payment. Once you pay, you’ll get an email with your ticket, which you’ll need to bring – either printed or the mobile voucher – to access the sites. Once you buy the tickets, you can’t modify or cancel the reservations or ask for a refund.
You can also buy your tickets in person at the ticket office in the Piazza del Duomo, but keep in mind these are subject to availability.
Should you get a guided tour?
The official website provides tours for all other monuments in the Duomo Complex (the Baptistery, the museum Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Cathedral), but not for Giotto’s Campanile.
Even on Get Your Guide, there aren’t any tours specifically for the tower – most tours include visits to other attractions too.
VIP Private Tour Florence Cathedral Dome & Monuments – a great tour that goes to almost all the monuments of the Duomo Complex (you’ll have to pick between the Dome and Giotto’s Bell Tower).
Florence: Cathedral Guided Tour & Tickets to 4 Attractions – a great budget friendly tour if you consider you get a guided tour of the Cathedral and tickets to all attractions in the Duomo Complex.
Before you begin the climb, you must walk through a metal detector.
Is photography allowed?
Of course! You can take wonderful, spectacular photos of Florence and its adjacent cathedral from the rooftop of Giotto’s Campanile. And of course, viewing and taking high-quality photographs of Brunelleschi’s awe-inspiring Dome.
There are a few public restrooms dotted around the Duomo complex. You can find one at the Baptistery ticket office which is a two-minute walk from Giotto’s Bell Tower – it costs €1. In the museum, there are free toilets to use – you can use them as long as you have your ticket to the museum (which you will if you are climbing Giotto’s Bell Tower).
Unfortunately, and due to the time when it was built and how narrow it actually is inside, the Campanile di Giotto can’t be accessible to disabled visitors. There is no elevator access to Giotto’s Bell Tower. For the Cathedral and Museum, there is wheelchair access, with ramps and elevators installed where possible.
How to get there
Once you are in the city center, you can easily reach Giotto’s Bell Tower on foot. To get to the historic center of Florence, take any bus and get off at stops: Santa Maria Nuova, Vecchietti, Picci Duomo, and Santa Maria Maggiore. From there, you’ll be within walking distance of the Cathedral and Piazza del Duomo.
If you are traveling to Florence, these other posts will be useful:
- How To Get From Rome To Florence
- The Perfect 3 Days In Florence Itinerary
- How To Get Boboli Gardens Tickets
- How To Get Tickets To Pitti Palace
- How To Get Tickets To The Uffizi Gallery
- How To Get Galleria Dell’Accademia Tickets
- How To Get Florence Duomo Tickets
- How To Get Palazzo Vecchio Tickets
- How To Make The Most Of One Day In Florence
- How To Make The Most Of Florence At Night
- 13 Best Day Trips From Florence
- A Wonderful Florence To Pisa Day Trip
- A Perfect Day Trip From Rome To Florence
- The Perfect Day Trip From Florence To Cinque Terre