414 steps: that's how far it is from street level to the top of the Campanile di Giotto, Giotto's Belltower. Strictly speaking, of course, it's the Duomo's belltower - that is, the Cathedral's - but everyone knows it by the name of the man who designed it, the great Giotto di Bondone. Sure, you know him. He painted those remarkable frescoes illustrating the life of St Francis of Assisi. He's considered by many the first of the great Renaissance painters, the first to attempt to portray the people he depicted with a kind of psychological realism rather than in stylized postures dictated by the (um, Byzantine) tradition, the first to paint clothing as if there were a body underneath it. That's pretty much what I was told about him in Art History 101, anyway. I hadn't realized he was an architect as well. That's something I'm discovering pretty regularly about these great Renaissance artists: hardly any of them did just one thing. Giotto designed the tower for the (at the time unfinished) Duomo in 1334; it took 25 years to build it, by which time he'd been dead for 22 years. (The Wikipedia entry on him is good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giotto_di_Bondone.)
25 years isn't so long a time when you figure it's 276 ft tall (85 meters). That's just 20 feet (6 m) shorter than Brunellschi's famous dome, which began construction in 1420 and was completed in a mere 16 years! But more on that in another post. Today's is about the belltower. For 77 years, until the completion of the dome, it was the tallest building in Italy. Like the nowadays more famous (because leaning) campanile in nearby Pisa, Giotto's is not attached to the cathedral itself. It forms a visual unity with it, however, because both structures are decorated in white, pink and green marble.
414 steps: and speaking now from experience, I can say that the last 400 are definitely the hardest. It dawned on me pretty early on that I may have made a life-threatening mistake, when I noticed that everyone coming down was an average of half my age and weight. Thank God there were places to park it every 30 or 40 steps! (Every 10 would've been more to my liking.) In the end, it took me all of 30 minutes to get to the top, 10 to take in the magnificent view and 15 to come back down to earth. I don't know that I've ever done anything more physically strenuous than that ascent! But the view, the view... I've posted a couple of clips (see above): first, of the building itself, from street level, and then from the top. I've included commentary in both, so will spare you more text.
Yes, I climbed up and down 414 steps today, and lived to tell the tale. The question now is: do I dare attempt the Dome's 463?