Milan Cathedral. History and practical information

10 interesting facts about Duomo in Milan + construction history

Milan Duomo

Milan Cathedral, aka Duomo di Milano and Cattedrale di Santa Maria Nascente, you have probably already seen on all websites about Milan. This ancient building in the Gothic style is the main symbol of Milan and the first important landmark.

Even the photos of the cathedral are impressive and thought-provoking: how many years and laborers it took to finish the intricate finishing of its facade. And indeed, it took a very long time to build – an unprecedented 600 years.

It is necessary to visit it, even if you’re in Milan for only a couple of hours.

Milan Cathedral in numbers

Milan Cathedral

The Duomo di Milano is a supremely exceptional structure. To give you a sense of the grandeur of this architectural masterpiece, we will share the numbers:

  • The cathedral is the 5th largest in the world;
  • It has a capacity of 40,000 parishioners;
  • There are 135 spires on the roof;
  • 104 meters is the height of the main spire with the statue of the Madonna;
  • 2,300 sculptures adorn the facade and another 1,100 are inside;
  • Services are accompanied by the music of 1,500 organ pipes ranging in size from 9 meters to a few centimeters;
  • Light enters the Cathedral through 45 stained glass windows;
  • The building has 52 columns.

A bit of history

Lantern Duomo Milano

In the Middle Ages, Italy was a multitude of disparate possessions that fought among themselves without end. It is clear that this greatly weakened the state.

By the 14th century, there was a ruler who united the lands of northern Italy around Milan. His name was Gian Galeazzo Visconti, a resolute and wise man. The duke understood that a forcible seizure of power was an unreliable measure. It was necessary to draw attention to Milan, and he announced the construction of a cathedral unprecedented before.

The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary in Milan promised to be the largest on the Apennine peninsula. It was going to be built on the model of cathedrals in France and Germany, so the project was developed mainly by the French and Germans.

Milan Cathedral

Despite the grand plans, the Cathedral of Milan is remembered as a grandiose long construction project. It began during the reign of the flaming Gothic, continued, when Italy was in full reign of the Renaissance, and ended in the XIX century, at the dawn of romanticism in art.

It was then that people seemed to take a fresh look at the long forgotten Gothic architecture. They called the new style Neo-Gothic.

What is the difference between Gothic and Neo-Gothic

Gothic architecture emerged in the Middle Ages. One of the “first swallows” of this architectural style was Notre-Dame de Paris, built in XI I – XIV centuries. The Neo-Gothic style belongs to the 18th and 19th centuries and was characterized by a return to the forms of medieval architecture.

The appearance of neo-Gothic buildings is sometimes indistinguishable from the true Gothic. In order not to make a mistake, look at the year of the architectural construction.

To this time belongs the erection of numerous spires of the Duomo, the so-called “stone forest”. Anyone can examine them up close and admire Milan from a height of tens of meters – on the roof are equipped with 3 viewing platforms.

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Milan Cathedral always has a queue. To be sure to get inside, it is advisable to order a ticket online in advance. It is convenient to do it online here.

Want more of an experience? Buy a maxi-program that includes a visit to the cathedral with an audio guide in Russian, an elevator ride to the observation decks, as well as the Duomo Museum, San Gottardo Church, and the archaeological excavation area of the baptistery.

The final completion of the cathedral took place in the twentieth century, simultaneously with the extensive restoration of the facades, spires and statues.

Interesting facts about Milan Cathedral

Milan Duomo

Fact 1: Originally brick was chosen for the construction of the cathedral. Then it was decided to build the cathedral entirely of white marble. The unusual white stone with pink flecks was found in a quarry near the village of Candoglia.

Despite the fact that the marble vein was narrow and the waterway was difficult and winding, the deposit was used right up to the completion of construction. Even now it works for restoration needs.

Fact 2: The spire of Milan’s cathedral is topped by a four-meter gilded Madonna, the patroness of Milan. Nothing should obscure the Holy Virgin from the sun, and the Duomo was legislated to be the tallest building in the city.

The only exceptions were the Pirelli Tower and later the Palazzo Lombardia and the Tower of the Alliance. In order not to neglect tradition, a large-scale replica of the Madonna was placed on the roofs of all the skyscrapers.

Fact 3: The statue of the Apostle Bartholomew inside the cathedral illustrates one of the terrible biblical stories: the martyr was executed by skinning him alive. St. Bartholomew is depicted standing with his own skin draped over his shoulders like a drapery.

The author of the sculpture, Marco D’Agratemalo, however, had little interest in describing martyrdom in the name of faith. Rather, he sought to convey as accurately as possible the anatomical structure of the man.

Statue of Saint Bartholomew Milan

Fact 4: The holy relic of the Duomo is the nail used to crucify Jesus. There are relics of this kind in Christian churches around the world, but locals say that the Milanese nail is the most authentic, because it can not be forged.

It is kept under the dome of the cathedral and is shown to parishioners every year on September 14. The bishop of Milan, in front of thousands of people, sits in a basket called the Nivola, from the word “cloud”, and a hoisting mechanism is used to lift him into the air.

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Fact 5: When the sun goes down over the horizon, the stained-glass windows… begin to glow with all the colors of the rainbow! The fact is that since 2013, the stained glass windows are internally illuminated with 68 fixtures. This technology of illumination was first used in Milan Duomo, and now it lights up every holiday and weekend.

Fact 6: The Milan Cathedral has a sundial, which can be used to unmistakably determine the arrival of noon. On the floor along the west wall there is a brass strip, the so-called midday line, or meridian. And on the south side a round hole, the oculus, was made. The ray of the sun, passing through it, falls on the meridian exactly at noon.

Fact 7: In 1805, Napoleon was crowned Italian monarch in the Cathedral of Milan, and it was to him that the Duomo owes its rapid construction. Incidentally, “Monsieur N” was involved in another story. During the Napoleonic era, a statue appeared on one of the spires of the cathedral, facial features of which were surprisingly reminiscent of young Napoleon.

Thanks to the Cardinal’s “research,” a little-known Saint Neopolis of Alexandria was discovered in the Roman church calendar. Well, where there is Neopolis, there is not far from St. Napoleon! The day of worship for the “new martyr” was August 15, Bonaparte’s birthday.

“Read the article – Napoleon’s 10 Places in Paris

Fact 8. In the archives there are documents of the beginning of the last century, defining the rules of visiting the cathedral. They were especially strict for female parishioners. Women were instructed to completely cover their hands, feet, and head from view, and no makeup! Now the rules are more lenient for visitors. If you are not properly dressed, you must wear a cloak at the entrance.

Roof of Milan Duomo

Fact 9. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had to suffer from the Milan Cathedral in 2009. Of course, it happened indirectly: a heavy statuette of the Duomo was thrown into the crowd by an unhinged Italian. The prime minister, one might say, was lucky. He got off with a broken nose and knocked out teeth.

Fact 10. And a little more about the layout. In the cathedral museum you can see a 20 times smaller wooden copy of the cathedral. It has its own name, Modellone, and is almost 500 years old. Creating such models was common in the design of architectural structures.

In the case of the Milan Duomo, even when scaled, the size of the model remained impressive – about 5 meters in height. Now, regular restoration is required to keep the Modellone intact.

Milan Cathedral

To thoroughly tour the Duomo di Milano, you need at least 5 hours. How can you manage if you are in Milan for only 1-2 days?

We advise you to buy the Milan City Pass beforehand. In addition to tickets for the roof of the Cathedral of Milan, it gives the right to free visits to museums, use the sightseeing bus and public transport, as well as discounts on interesting offers from partners. The card is valid for 48 hours.

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Milan Cathedral – the magnificent result of centuries of construction

Milan's largest cathedral in Gothic style

Milan Cathedral is an outstanding example of Gothic architecture and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. With its monumental and solemn form it is as if in praise of divine majesty. It is one of the most recognizable churches in the world.

The cathedral is located in the heart of historic Milan. As conceived by urban planners in the city’s radial-ring structure, Milan’s cathedral, or Duomo, as it is called here, is the intersection of all the city’s roads.

History

Milan's most famous cathedral, built over the centuries

Gothic, an architectural style so characteristic of medieval Europe, did not come to Italy immediately. The Cathedral of Milan, whose construction began in the 14th century, was the first building in the Gothic style to be built on this side of the Alps.

Architects from France and Germany were specially invited to Lombardy to erect the temple. However, the original design of the cathedral belonged to the Italian architect Orsenigo. The joint work of two different building schools created the unique and memorable form of Milan’s cathedral.

The site of Milan’s cathedral in pre-Christian times was first a Celtic sanctuary and then a temple dedicated to Minerva, goddess of wisdom and useful discoveries.

The construction of the temple lasted for about four centuries. It was interrupted now and then by a lack of funds, then by disputes over the appearance of the cathedral. The construction was completed only in 1813, and the work on the decoration of the temple continued until the 60s of the XX century, when the new doors were installed.

Bronze statue on top of a spire overlooking the city

The most important milestone in the history of the Milan Cathedral was the year 1769. Then the cathedral was crowned with a spire of 106 meters high with a 4-meter bronze statue of the Madonna. In the same year, the government issued a decree that no building in Milan should rise above the statue of the Holy Virgin. This rule is still in force in the city today.

In Milan there is an exception to this rule, the Pirelli skyscraper. However, at the top of the high-rise is an exact replica of the statue of the Madonna.

The neo-Gothic “stone forest” of the cathedral, consisting of 135 spires and giving a unique appearance to the cathedral, was built by order of Napoleon. The emperor, of Italian descent, chose the Duomo as the place for his coronation.

More than a hundred spires adorn the building, decorated with different sculptures

Architectural features

During the Flamboyant Gothic era, every element in construction was filled with a special religious meaning. For example, when viewed from above, the cathedral is shaped like a Catholic cross.

Every part of the building is richly decorated with different details of ornamentation and bas-reliefs

The splendor of the construction is due to its purpose – to represent a symbol of the divine world order.

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The facade of the building is decorated with a huge number of sculptures. The total number of statues on the Duomo is 3,400. It depicts martyrs and saints, mythical creatures and famous historical figures. Among the figures adorning the cathedral is Napoleon Bonaparte, he is placed on top of one of the neo-Gothic spires built by his decree. There is also a statue of the Russian prince Vladimir Monomakh, who brought Christianity to Russia.

A sculptural composition on the facade of the building

The cathedral’s airy and ethereal appearance is due to the choice of facing material. For decoration was taken a white and pink marble from Candolya. The material looks different depending on the time of day. Some are more impressed by it at dawn, while others prefer its appearance in the setting sun. Heine, the famous poet, thought it was impossible to imagine anything more mystical and enchanting than Milan’s cathedral in the moonlight.

In the city there is a common turn of phrase “a ufo”, which means “for free” or “free of charge”. The expression dates back to the erection of the Duomo. The fact is that the marble for decorating the temple was given to the church entirely free of charge by the Duke of Visconti. Carts of marble were signed by the letters A.U.F, which are an abbreviation, meaning “for the construction”. Thanks to this inscription the imported cargo was not taxed.

Troughs through which water flows when it rains are made in the form of sculptures

The earliest of the rain showers are from the very beginning of the cathedral’s construction and deserve special attention. Rain gutters are traditional Gothic elements of cathedral architecture; they depict a variety of monsters with mouths where water flows when it rains.

Interior decoration

The interior decoration of the cathedral located in the historic center of the city

The interior of the cathedral combines the tendencies of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The vast space of the temple, the lancet arches and the high vaults create a Gothic Medieval atmosphere, while the decoration of the temple is done in the tradition of the Renaissance.

The windows of the cathedral are richly decorated with stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the Holy Scriptures. These stained-glass windows were created and added to throughout the long period of the cathedral’s construction. The oldest of them date back to the 15th century. The cathedral has the largest temple stained glass window, it is located in the apse and was built by the Bertini brothers in the XIX century.

The marble floor of the cathedral, covered with three kinds of marble, is decorated with an exquisite pattern. Black, red and white stone was specially brought for the construction from three different parts of Italy.

Attractions

The interior of the cathedral is decorated with various frescoes, stained-glass windows and sculptures

The cathedral holds a large number of works of art of world significance, as well as important Christian relics. Let us list some of them to which special attention should be paid:

  • A large sacred relic, the nail with which, according to legend, Christ was crucified, is kept high, just beneath the dome. Once a year, the senior bishop of Milan goes up for the sacred object and shows it to visitors to the temple.
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There is a legend that the elevator that lifts the priest to the relic was designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

The main hall of the cathedral, which often hosts exhibitions of paintings

  • Every year in November and December, the temple hosts an extensive exhibition of paintings dedicated to the life of St. Carlo Barromeo, the revered archbishop of Milan. The 54 paintings, created especially for the Duomo, describe the life and deeds of the saint.
  • Among the statues, the sculpture of St. Bartholomew, erected in 1562, stands out for its attention to detail. The body of the saint, who took a martyr’s death, is depicted without a skin, he holds it on his shoulders.
  • On the southern side of the temple is a peculiar sundial, created in 1786. There is a hole in the vault, and the light passing through it is reflected on a brass strip with images of the signs of the zodiac. Thus it is possible to fix the moment of noon and the current month.

As it turned out, the device showed not only the time of noon. Because the clock was regularly wrong, it was possible to detect foundation subsidence, which threatened the integrity of the structure.

Mausoleum inside the building with a collection of statues

  • The splendor of Renaissance sculpture is embodied in the mausoleum of Gian Giacomo de’ Medici, created in 1563. The mausoleum is decorated with exquisite sculptures. For a long time it was thought that the author of the masterpiece was Michelangelo Buonarroti himself. However, studies carried out in the XX century did not confirm it. The mausoleum was the last grave left inside the temple. After its erection it was forbidden to bury the dead in the cathedral to avoid possible epidemics.

From the cathedral’s observation deck on the roof you have a beautiful view of the city. At the top of the Duomo you can take beautiful pictures, admire the lace spires and the statues at the top.

Location on map, opening hours and prices

Address: Piazza del Duomo. Milano, Italy. Official website: www.duomomilano.it

Opening hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., admission until 6:45. Saturday and Sunday, from 8:30 to 18:00.

The entrance is free of charge. It is a prerequisite for visiting is the observance of proper behavior in church and a normal style of dress.

The schedule of access to the terraces:

  • Monday – Wednesday: 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • Thursday – Sunday: from 9:00 to 21:00.

Visiting the terraces is for a fee, the price is 12 euros. Climbing up the stairs – 7 euros.

On the website of the Cathedral you can find the current price of tickets and possible changes in schedule .

How to get there?

The easiest way to get to the cathedral is by metro . To the station Duomo go lines 1 and 3.

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