Facing a Fear of Heights

And don't ask me why.


During our two weeks in Italy we spent several days in Florence, a magnificent city full of incredible energy, history, architecture, food, wine, art and shopping. Located in the heart of Florence is the Cathedral of Santa Maria. This incredible cathedral was started in the 13th century. The dome was finished in the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi and was considered one of the most magnificent feats of its time. It took 200 years to finish this masterpiece.

Having read and researched everything there is to do, climbing the Duomo kept popping up over and over again. I decided I had to do it, and everyone in our group was willing to do it as well. The line to get into climb the Duomo wrapped around the massive cathedral, so we were not the only ones intrigued.

To be honest, I really don’t know what I was thinking. I am rather claustrophobic - not debilitating but close quarters are not my favorite places to be. But climbing anything is not my thing; I get shaky on a step ladder. And I have a genuine fear of heights. I can look at a picture or see a scene in a movie and my throat tightens, hands sweat and I get an immediate sense of dizziness.

So why would I think climbing to the top of a 15thcentury dome would be a good idea?

Off we went on a narrow, winding dark, ancient path to the top, climbing 463 steps. I kept myself calm, controlled my breathing, until the path led to the catwalk that was so incredibly narrow we had to walk with our backs against the wall. We were literally inside the dome, walking where the artists worked all those years ago. And straight down, with a small railing keeping us from falling, was the floor of the cathedral. I stepped out and froze, heart beating, hands sweating. I was paralyzed. The line of tourists was like a line of ants but there was no backing down. Holding both my oldest friend’s and my husband’s hands. I went where I never dreamed I would go. Knowing that the catwalk on the way down was even higher up.

At the top, everyone said the views of Florence were incredible. But once I got outside I could only look straight out to the horizon and BREATH. In front of me was a family with small children and they were literally holding their baby over the railing, like something way worse than Michael Jackson with Blanket - we all remember that photo. The rest of our group went off with their phones and selfie sticks and walked around the entire outside of the top of dome while I rested with my back against the wall, torn between wanting to get off the dome and dreading what it would take to get back down.

The memory of the trip back down is not nearly as bad. Maybe it was because I had already overcomethe worst, or that those with me were now aware of my phobia and did a great job of coaching me.

I must say, of all the things we did and saw that was indeed the most memorable, and the feeling of accomplishment was extremely rewarding, not that I would ever do it again!

Mike Pontius