The Duomo of Milano, a masterpiece of architecture, has a rich history dating back to its establishment in 1386 under the patronage of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. This magnificent cathedral, dedicated to the Nativity of Saint Mary, ranks among the most impressive churches globally and stands as the sixth largest Christian Church. It is a testament to the remarkable craftsmanship of Italian, French, and German architects.
This cross-shaped cathedral boasts five naves, soaring vaulted ceilings, and imposing pillars adorned with exquisite details. Its exterior is adorned with 135 spires and pinnacles, adorned with thousands of statues. At the intersection of the cruciform layout rises a slender tower crowned by the gilded statue of the “Madonnina.” The facade, entirely clad in marble from the Candoglia quarry, is further embellished by colossal stained glass windows that still feature original elements from the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Duomo of Milano stands apart from the cityscape, thanks to its exclusive use of precious grey-pink marble from Lake Maggiore, transported to Milan via a network of rivers and canals. The cathedral’s construction began with the apse and gradually absorbed pre-existing churches.
During the ducal era, significant portions, including the choir, ambulatory, towering octagonal tiburium, sacristies, and transepts, were completed. Over the ensuing centuries, the naves took shape, along with the iconic forest of spires that defines the cathedral today. Remarkably, this immense endeavor was only fully completed in the 19th century, maintaining the Gothic aesthetic.
The Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano has played a pivotal role in designing, preserving, and enhancing the cathedral since 1387. Generous donors, including ordinary citizens, have supported this monumental project over the centuries. Today, you can contribute to the restoration and maintenance of fragile architectural elements, such as spires and statues, through initiatives like “Get Your Spire” and “Adopt a Statue.”
To witness the Duomo‘s grandeur, ascend to the Rooftop Terraces, accessible via an elevator or a climb of 251 steps on the cathedral’s left side. Here, you’ll be surrounded by a breathtaking array of pinnacles, turrets, and marble sculptures. The Duomo of Milano houses over 3,400 statues representing religious figures, historical personalities, mythical creatures, and fantastic animals, alongside delicate spires and pinnacles. The iconic golden “Madonnina” stands as a symbol of protection for both the church and the people of Milan.
Among the multitude of statues and 135 spires, one can discern a blend of sacred and secular references, reflecting the contributions of craftsmen from Lombardy, Germany, Bohemia, France, Tuscany, Venice, and Campione. These diverse influences span historical periods, from the 14th century to neoclassicism and art deco.
Look closely, and you’ll find intriguing details like a tennis racket, an ice axe with a mountain boot, a rugby ball, or even two boxing gloves. It’s not widely known that a statue on the Duomo’s facade inspired the Statue of Liberty in New York, designed by Auguste Bartholdi and inaugurated in 1886. The 19th-century statue of the “Legge Nuova” (the New Law), complete with torch and spiked crown, can be found above the main door, on the left side of the balcony.
Lastly, the Terraces offer an exceptional experience for photography enthusiasts, providing a breathtaking view of the Milanese skyline from a height of 70 meters. This is unquestionably one of the city’s most captivating attractions and a must-see in a lifetime.