I‘ve never really thought of Milan as a “touristy” city; there’s just not a lot that stands out to me to do as a tourist. Sure, there’s high-end shopping and great restaurants, a lively nightlife and some lovely parks, but none of that would make me want to spend my valuable vacation time coming here when I could alternatively be in a Venetian gondola, walking in the footsteps of gladiators, calling out from Juliet’s balcony or praying my bus doesn’t fall off the narrow roads of the Amalfi Coast. The one thing that is really a draw here is, without a doubt, Milan’s incredible Duomo.
Construction began on the cathedral in 1386… and it still isn’t done!! It was consecrated in 1418, when only the nave was really complete, and it wasn’t until Napoleon invaded Milan in the early 19th century that the facade was completed and the final stages of construction were begun (and continue). At this point, there are restoration efforts going on at the same time as “final construction”.
Originally, the Duomo was to have a terracotta exterior, but after some deliberation the pinkish-white Condoglian marble from Lake Maggiore was chosen – and thank goodness! Can you imagine Milan without its gleaming white duomo?
In order to get the marble to the Duomo site, the Milanesi built canals – the same ones that run through Navigli today (though many were destroyed by bombing during WWII).
On my first full day in Milan I headed to Piazza del Duomo intending to be the quintessential tourist but, as I turned around to take a selfie, the Duomo at my back, about fifteen guys came up to me trying to sell me selfie-sticks and give me “gifts” of friendship bracelets (I’d seen that trick before, though… Read here). One wouldn’t've even taken two steps away before another one came up to me, and very close, so that I felt like I had to hold my purse closed. After a few minutes, I gave up in frustration and headed to the ticket office on the eastern side of the church.
I bought a cumulative ticket for the rooftops, the baptistry / archeological area and the Duomo Museum (the church itself is free), though the only part I really cared that much about was the roof!
Being me, I ignored the elevator and climbed the 200 and some steps to the first rooftop level. There’s something about the journey of climbing that makes the experience seem so much more… authentic? Significant? Tiring…
And it was, in one word, incredible. The amount of detail in each spire and arch, each statue and gargoyle is just mind-blowing. There are even areas and statues that are blocked from view from the ground (which might give us a hint why they’re not finished yet… priorities, people). I walked around the first level carefully for a while, the large, tilted marble roof tiles not providing the most sure footing. I took way too many pictures… I hope you enjoy them
There are a few more stairs that lead up to the very top of Milan’s Duomo, where the “Madonnina”, a giant bronze statue of the Virgin Mary, can be seen on top of the highest spire. The day was crystal clear and I could see snow-capped mountains in the distance, past the skyscrapers and office buildings of modern Milan.
The Official Site of Milan Cathedral, with opening times and current ticket prices, can be found HERE.