Milan Cathedral

A 357-foot tall spire designed by Francesco Croce tops the glorious Duomo di Milano and atop that is a beautiful golden statue called Madonnina that was carved by Guisepppe Perego. The city anthem is a song called “O mia bela Madonnina,” and the Derby della Madonnina is a Milan football (soccer) tournament played to see which team moves on to the northern Italy regional matches. By law, no building in the city can be higher than this beloved statue. This gives you an idea of how important the exceptional Cathedral of Milan is to the local people.

The extraordinary Gothic Milan Cathedral took more than five centuries to complete. It is one of the largest churches in the world, in a class of both size and beauty with the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the Cathedral of Seville in Spain. Many say it is the most beautiful in the world.

The Cathedral of Milan is set in the center of the city, which also was the center of the Roman settlement that was here, another sign of its importance. A Christian basilica was built here by St. Ambrose as early as the fifth century, and a cathedral (or duomo) was erected in the eleventh century. The late Gothic rayonnant (as opposed to neo Gothic) style is found more often in France than in Italy.

The city’s main boulevards circle around the Milan Cathedral and the streets radiate out from it, yet another sign of its importance. The history of the present Duomo di Milano structure began in 1386. It wasn’t until 1762 that it was completed and the Madonnina statue was placed atop to the spire.

The exterior of the Cathedral of Milan is made of brick faced with marble from quarries that were donated in perpetuity to the city for use on the cathedral. If you’re used to a campanile (bell tower) like the ones on St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice and most Italian churches, you won’t find one here. Inside, the huge Duomo di Milano boasts five broad naves, and massive choir windows. It has five great doors, one carved with realistic plants, birds, animals, and insects. Marble statues are placed in every conceivable spot.

From the outside, the Milan Cathedral appears something like a fairy tale wedding cake, with an entire forest of spires that look like spun sugar frosting from the distance. It is possible to see these remarkable constructions up close on roof walk tours. This is one of the most exciting things to do in Milan. While safe, you need a head for heights. There is a fee to gain access for the roof, with the elevator a bit more expensive than the stairs. Remember, you are hoofing it up about 300 feet, so you need to be in good shape and sure footed. This is also safe, but the stairs are hundreds of years old and not always completely level. The view from the roof is breathtaking and one of the attractions of setting off for the roof. While entry into the main church is free there is also a fee to enter the treasury and the ongoing archeological excavations of the early Christian baptistery.

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