While Milan may not be the first city you think of when planning a trip to Italy, it has more than its share of attractions – both cultural and cosmopolitan. Mussolini founded the Fascist party here, and the entire fashion world looks to Milan’s catwalks twice a year for the season’s fashions. Artists Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the composer Verdi, the great tenor Enrico Caruso, and designer Giorgio Armani all lived and worked here. All this, not to mention the considerable wealth generated by its favored commercial position, has left Milan with an abundance of art, cultural, and architectural treasures for you to enjoy. We found ourselves here on our recent trip to Italy and had us wondering why we had visited sooner. We were there in November and enjoyed fall colors, lesser crowds and the occasional rain. Visiting the Duomo, Milan where Napoleon was crowned –actually, he crowned himself and seeing the city from the rooftop was one of our highlights from this trip.
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The Duomo, Milan
The Duomo, or cathedral, is one of Milan’s most iconic monuments. A feat of Gothic architecture, its Italian marble facade, intricately carved windows, and lacelike ornamentation took five centuries to complete. It is one of the largest churches in modern Europe and accommodates more than 20,000 people. The Piazza del Duomo or Cathedral Square, marks the center of Milan, both in a geographic sense and because of its importance from an artistic, cultural, and social point of view.
The massive Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, which the Milanese call just “Il Duomo” is among the world’s largest and most magnificent churches, the ultimate example of the Flamboyant Gothic style. It was begun in the 14th century, but its façade was not completed until the early 1800s, under Napoleon. The roof is topped by 135 delicately carved stone pinnacles and the exterior is decorated with 2,245 marble statues.
The dim interior, in striking contrast to the brilliant and richly patterned exterior, makes a powerful impression with its 52 gigantic pillars. The stained-glass windows in the nave (mostly from the 15th-16th centuries) are the largest in the world; the earliest of them are in the south aisle. Highlights include the seven-branched bronze candelabrum by Nicholas of Verdun (c. 1200) in the north transept, the 16th-century tomb of Gian Giacomo Medici, and the jeweled gold reliquary of San Carlo Borromeo in the octagonal Borromeo Chapel leading off the crypt. Behind the high altar, the choir has deeply carved panels.
In the south sacristy is the treasury with gold and silver work dating from the fourth to the 17th century. A walk on the roof of the cathedral is an impressive experience, offering views across the city and extending on clear days to the snow-covered Alps. You can take the elevator that goes up but you still have to climb the last 73 steps to the platform of the dome. At the front of the Duomo, near the central doorway, you can descend under Piazza del Duomo into the foundations of the Basilica di Santa Tecla and the fourth-century baptistery, Battistero di San Giovanni alle Fonti, which were discovered during the construction of the Milan Metro system. St. Augustine was baptized in a basilica that stood at what is now Piazza del Duomo.
Photos from the Duomo Milan Rooftop & Cathedral
See also: Where to Stay in Milan
After a visit to the Duomo, don’t miss shopping at near by Galleria Vittorio Emanuele for some luxe goods and coffee at Pasticceria Marchesi. Milan is a perfect gateway city for your Italian adventures, the international airport and rail network are well connected. Visit my travel resources page if you need some tools and tips to book a trip to Milan.
You might like – Why Northern Italy in November is a great idea, A photo diary of Beautiful Bergamo, Getting lost in Venice and other posts from Italy
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