Monday, September 12, 2011


What to See
Milan’s Duomo is the second largest Catholic cathedral in the world: only Seville Cathedral is larger (and St. Peter’s Basilica doesn’t count because it’s not a cathedral). Milan Cathedral is 157 meters long and 40,000 people can fit comfortably within.
The Duomo of Milan blurs the distinction between Gothic and neo-Gothic, for the Gothic west front was begun in 1616 and completed 200 years later. Only in its details does it reveal its Baroque and Neo-Classical date. From 1900 some of the less Gothic details of the facade were replaced in a true Gothic style, to designs of Giuseppe Brentano.

The roofline dissolves into openwork pinnacles that are punctuated by a grove of spires, topped with statues that overlook the city. The main spire is 109 meters high. These can all be investigated up close on a breathtaking walk on the roof. The huge building is made of brick faced with marble from the quarries that Gian Galeazzo Visconti donated in perpetuity to the cathedral chapter.
The cathedral’s five wide naves are reflected in the hierarchic openings of the facade. Even the transepts have aisles. The great windows of the choir are reputed to be the largest in the world.
Mark Twain, a great fan of the Duomo, can take over the description from here (from Innocents Abroad): What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!…

The central one of its five great doors is bordered with a bas-relief of birds and fruits and beasts and insects, which have been so ingeniously carved out of the marble that they seem like living creatures– and the figures are so numerous and the design so complex, that one might study it a week without exhausting its interest…everywhere that a niche or a perch can be found about the enormous building, from summit to base, there is a marble statue, and every statue is a study in itself…

Away above, on the lofty roof, rank on rank of carved and fretted spires spring high in the air, and through their rich tracery one sees the sky beyond. …(Up on) the roof…springing from its broad marble flagstones, were the long files of spires, looking very tall close at hand, but diminishing in the distance…We could see, now, that the statue on the top of each was the size of a large man, though they all looked like dolls from the street…

They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.
 We don’t think the Duomo di Milano is quite as exciting as Mark Twain did. Although the facade is lovely and the cathedral is impressively large, it is quite dark and not terribly interesting inside.
However, all the extras of the Duomo are very interesting: the roof climb; the treasury; and the excavations of the Early Christian baptistery.
Roof Climb
The roof climb provides a unique and memorable opportunity to walk high on the roofs of the huge Gothic cathedral. The views are magnificent and the opportunity to see the pinnacles and sculptures close up along the way is worth the climb alone. Entrance is from the north side of the cathedral (walk around left from the front). You can choose to walk up the stairs – which are solid, square, and more roomy than many cathedral stairways – or take an elevator for a higher price.

Crypt and Treasury
The crypt is entered from inside the cathedral near the choir. Entrance to the crypt is free and many visitors descend the short stairway to visit the tomb of Cardinal Borromeo. Also in the crypt is the Tesoro del Duomo, or Cathedral Treasury. If you have any interest in medieval art, religious art, or “old stuff” in general, this is a must-see.

Baptistery Excavations
Archaeological excavations beneath the cathedral have revealed the foundations of a Paleochristian Baptistery dating from the 4th century. It is said to be the baptistery in which St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, baptized his student Augustine.

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