You can even go up onto the cathedral's roof for sensational views of the city, and some nice close up views of the impossible statues on the pinnacles. On rare days, when the sky is clear blue and the smog is not too thick, like the day I went up, you will be lucky enough to see all the way to the Alps (see my main Milan page for pictures of this). Unfortunately, and I don't know if this will change once the work on the front of the cathedral is completed, you can't look over the forward most wall of the cathedral into the Piazzo Duomo below. This is a shame due to the square below being so grand, but you can get a few views of the piazza from the sides of the cathedral.
There are two ways up the cathedral, one is by walking and the other is by lift. The walk is quite strenuous. I do a lot of walking, and my legs were wobbly by the time I got to the top. It costs €3.50 to walk up a seemingly endless spiral staircase, and you can access these stairs by the long queues on the left hand wall of the cathedral (as you face it). The lift costs €5.00 and can be accessed on the right hand wall of the cathedral (as you face it).
The construction of this vast Gothic cathedral was started in 1386, and built on a former medieval church of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is one huge mass of marble, containing about 3,500 statues, nearly 100 gargoyles, and far more buttresses, pinnacles, pillars and arches than necessary. The vastness, covering an area of nearly 12,000 square meters, has to be seen to be appreciated. It is third in size, after St. Peter's cathedral in Rome, and the Cathedral of Seville. Its highest pinnacle, at 109 meters, is topped by the golden statue of the Virgin Mary, covered in nearly 4,000 gold leaves. This towers over the cathedral's roof, which you can climb up and admire the views of Milan from, and also wonder at how they ever managed to put all those statues on all those pinnacles without either falling to their deaths, or getting a really bad bout of vertigo.
You can also go inside the cathedral. Entry is free, but you will have to go through fairly strict security.
Even with the cathedral covered up for restoration work, and the square filled with fences, signs and platforms for the New Year's Eve celebrations, like in the picture, the Piazzo Duomo (Cathedral Square) is still an grand and awe inspiring square, just like the designers would have intended. The effect that the enormous and extravagant cathedral would have upon this atmosphere in its fully restored state is a sight which I will have to behold by returning to the city one day. The Piazza itself contains some wonderful baroque and renaissance buildings, including two of the most stunning pieces of architecture in the world, the cathedral itself, and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, to the right and left of the picture respectively. There is also, out of picture to the right, the slightly shabby, but highly important, Palazzo Reale.
The Piazza Duomo is central to Milan's finest sights, and a good place to base yourself and orientate yourself from. It is also home to an phenomenal amount of pigeons, being foolishly fed by unthinking tourists adding to this plague of "rats with wings" (Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London). The tourists also attract another plague, of tat sellers and scam artists, and no doubt a number of pickpockets too. The tat sellers are harmless, and the scam artists are pretty easy to avoid. The common theme seemed to be to offer you a "gift" of some worthless item, such as a coloured piece of string or pigeon food. I don't know how the scam would proceed after that, but it was definitely a scam! The pick-pockets and snatch thieves are there, but they didn't seem to be a particular concern for my friend, a born and bred Milanese, and he walked around with his flash camera around his neck without much of a care.
This square is at the heart of Milan and is the location of the Duomo, a relatively rare and singularly lacy Italian Gothic cathedral. Its decoration is extremely rich and intricate, almost dripping. There is also a statue of King Vittorio Emanuele and the piazza is near the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele and La Scala.
Standing proudly on the piazza del Duomo, the third largest church in Christendom (outdone only by St Peter's in Rome and Seville's cathedral), the Duomo is truly a joy to behold. Although the key elements were in place by 1391, the Duomo took the best part of 500 years to complete - and indeed, building work continues today: a five-year project to clean the facade started in 2002, and the Duomo's full mind-blowing beauty is now there for all to behold.
The Duomo was begun in brick, but upgraded to marble as its architects understood the grandeur of the project. Over time, it was adorned with Gothic spires and an astonishing wealth of statues, and has been adored by a huge number of art and architecture aficionados. As generations of Lombard builders and architects argued with French and German master stone-cutters about the best way to tackle their mammoth task, an enormous array of styles was employed.
Construction began in 1386 by order of Bishop Antonio da Saluzzo, on a site that had been associated with places of worship since the third century: a Roman temple to the goddess Minerva once stood here. On the orders of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, then ruler of Milan, Lombardian terracotta stone was eschewed in favour of Condoglian marble shipped from Lake Maggiore on the Ticino river, and then along the Navigli, a network of canals in southern Milan built specially for the purpose.
Although consecrated in 1418, the cathedral remained incomplete for centuries. Politics, physical setbacks (a pink granite column sank, in transit, in Lake Maggiore), a lack of money and downright indifference kept the project on permanent standby. Finally, early in the 19th century, the façade was put on the church by order of none other than Napoleon; he kick-started the final stages of construction before crowning himself king of Italy here in 1805.
Milan's main city square came about as an urban renewal project in the early 1300s when Lord Azzone Visconti ordered the destruction of numerous taverns surround the city's two main churches. The resulting space became a market square, later enlarged to become the center of life in Milano that it now is.
I've read that the piazza is Milan's most visited landmark, and do not doubt that at all. In addition to being in the center of the city and close to many of its main attractions, it is a popular place for folks, especially the young, to just hang out.
It is possible to go to the roof of the Milan Cathedral, for a fee. A lift/elevator carries you up several levels, where you begin your foot trek through pinnacles, spires, gargoyles and saints to the rooftop.
The upper levels of stairways plus the rooftop itself afford nice views of the city. Better yet are the close-up views of the upper spires and many of the building's sculptures which could not be appreciated as well from a distance. Atop the main spire is a gold gilded bronze statue known as the "Madonnina."
I'll not soon forget my wife's reaction to her first view of Milan's cathedral as we emerged from the metro station. She was awed. Awed by it size. Awed by its Italian Gothic splendor.
Groundbreaking on the Milan Cathedral began in 1386, but not completed for almost six centuries. It serves as the cathedral church for Milan, and is the fifth largest cathedral in the world.
"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!" Mark Twain
Milan’s celebrated cathedral stands in what’s been the heart of the city since it was a Roman settlement once called Mediolanum. Her first stone was placed over 600 years ago - on the foundations of an earlier basilica and baptistry - and she took nearly that long to build. She is one of the largest churches in the world: a Gothic miracle of 135 spires, 52 supporting pillars, 39 stained-glass windows, over three thousand pieces of statuary, and more intricate embellishments than your mind can absorb.
As you stand in the massive piazza that fronts the cathedral, the sun gleaming off her (recently cleaned) white marble facade, she does indeed appear to be the nearly weightless confection that Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) described after his visit in 1867. But step inside the doors and you’re abruptly transported from ethereal fairyland into cavernous, Medieval gloom. The vault of the narrow central naves rises 146 feet above, supported by massive pillars marching grimly towards the distant glimmer of the apse. Heavy shadows make it a frustrating place for the lens but as you wander off the into the side aisles, dismay turns to amazement at walls of enormous, jeweled-toned windows shining brilliantly against the dim.
The Duomo's website does a far better job covering the history, architectural specs and collections of relics, art and treasures that I can in a paragraph or two so by all means do some reading before you go. I’ll also include one of Milan’s tourism websites which offers both printed and MP3 audio of self-guided tours for both the interior and exterior of the church.
Good things to know:
• The church is open every day, and entrance to all but the roof, scavi (ruins under the church) and a specific collection of treasures is free. See this page for hours and ticket prices:
• As is customary in all Italian churches proper dress is required: no bare knees, shoulders, midriffs or immodest necklines. This applies to both males and females and yes, they absolutely will deny you entrance if not appropriately covered.
• No eating, drinking or use of mobile phones
• Non-professional photography and filming is only allowed with the purchase of a €2 wristband, and hours for these activities are restricted to 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays and from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays and holidays: no exceptions. Every visitor intending to use a photographic device (including phones) must purchase and wear a wristband. See the website for more on this and regulations regarding shooting/reproduction for professional purposes.
• Audio guides and tours are available: see the website
• Large bags or luggage are not allowed and there isn’t a checkroom for these items
Duomo website: http://www.duomomilano.it/?lang=en
Be warned it's 250 steps and 7Euros (2012) or 12Euros if you take the lift but I'm really glad I made the effort. You can get up close to all of the stone masonry and marvel at the craftmanship that has gone into creating such an intricate and impressive structure. The views from up there are also great - if the smog isn't too awful. I was lucky it was relatively sunny when I went up.
It was interesting to watch the workmen in their hydraulic lift and how they were checking whether the stone masonry was safe. It seemed to me that the process wasn't very hi-tech. They tapped each statue all over with a screwdriver and if a piece of the stone came away in their hand they popped it into a bag. Whether they were going to find a way of gluing it back into place I didn't establish but it was reassuring to know that the stones were being checked out. I'm sure no one would want a statue's arm, nose or hand falling off and hitting them on the head.
I climbed the terraces first thing in the morning before I went inside the Duomo. I think that was a smart move because later in the day there seemed to be more visitors up there. The steps are quite narrow and manouvering around people going in the opposite direction could be quite tricky in that steep stair well. Take care.
In the Duomo, close to the entrance area, there is a small, inconspicuous door that most people don't even seem to notice. However, this is the entrance to the area below the Duomo, and if you have any interest in Roman history or archaeology at all, you should not miss it!
The entrance to this area is 4€, and you put your money into a little machine which gives you a paper ticket. The paper ticket allows you to go through the barrier (similar to the usual barriers in undergrounds and metros around the worlds). You are then free to walk around the area below the Duomo, quite a big room where you can see the ruins of what was once here... Similar to the Roman ruins in Via Brisa, these ruins were discovered during World War Two when a bomb shelter was made.
This was once a big basilica which was built by the Romans in the 4th century. Before this, there had been a pre-christian sanctuary here, and then a small basilica, before the bigger one was built. This was the most central place in Mediolanum. Today, you can see the big baptistry, which is very impressive. There are also many sarcophagi, as well as the remains of a bath as well as walls and other remains from the basilica. A small exhibition shows Roman things found here: Jewelry, tiles and pieces of mosaics that I liked very much.
While the Duomo itself was very crowded, only a handful of people wandered around the ruins while I visited - but I think that this is a treasure not to be missed!
Il Duomo - the cathedral - it is the icon of Milan, the most spectacular building, the must see... I must admit that I expected so much of it, that when I saw it first, I was a little disappointed. Somehow I had imagined it to be much bigger, and we came here in the morning when it looked a little grey because the sun was right behind it, so it was not even that beautiful. However, all this changed when we came back shortly after noon - now the sun was shining on the façade, and it looked like a totally different building. The marble had a white, strong colour illuminated by the sun, and now it really looked breathtaking - I could not stop taking pictures, and both my mom and I were speechless because of the beauty... I think it is so interesting that the light can have such an effect!
Like many cathedrals in Europe, the construction of the Duomo started in the Middle Ages, but was not completed for many centuries. Construction began in 1386 and the building was consecrated in 1418, but was only finished in the 19th century, when the façade was completed for the coronation of Napoleon.
In the beginning I wrote that I had imagined this cathedral to be bigger - well, that only goes for the front. Judged by expanse, the Duomo is the third-biggest cathedral in the world! It is mostly built of marble which was brought to Milan on the Navigli, the canals. Construction started from the back, so the apsis was done first - this explains why the façade was the last part that was finished. Over the centuries, there were many different designs proposed for it, but in the end a Baroque and Gothic façade was created, which was finished in 1813.
The fact which made it look small to me was that there are no towers - and yes, there once was a belfry which was torn down in 1858. There were several plans for one or two new belfries, but none of them were realized. I wonder what it might have looked it if one of the plans had been chosen?
You can see more pictures of the Duomo in this travelogue
While the exterior of the Duomo is so light and bright in the sunshine, the interior is very dark. It was a big contrast when we entered, and we had not expected this - somehow I had thought that the interior would be airy and light like most English cathedrals, but it was more like the one in Cologne, very dark and mysterious, and a bit oppressive.
There are many interesting things to see, and we spent more than an hour inside, exploring the many parts of the building.
There are five naves which are separated by fifty-two pillars, one per week in the course of a year. In the entrance area, look out for the golden line on the floor: This marks the meridian which runs through Milan! Another thing to note is the relic displayed above the altar, reported to be a nail of the cross. Of course there are numerous of paintings, statues and other artworks, and many fantastic stained-glass windows. Wandering around, you see new and interesting things all the time.
You can also visit the crypt and the treasury which costs 2€. I had read that the treasury was fantastic and therefore decided to go, but I must admit that I did not find it that interesting - some of the displays were even empty, so maybe the most interesting pieces were taken out for maintenance?
Something not to miss (if you like archaeology) are the Roman ruins beneath the cathedral, which I have described in a separate tip.
Admission to the Duomo is free, there is just the small entrance fee to the treasure. Please remember that you need to cover your knees and shoulders when visiting.
One of the best things we did in Milan was to walk upon the roof of the Duomo - you really should not miss this!
You can either take the steps or the elevator up, the steps are of course cheaper, so that was what we chose. The climb up was ok and not too strenuous, so it was the right choice for us.
To be up there was just amazing! There are several terraces that you can walk along, until you then arrive on the roof proper... And all the time you can see the beautiful pinnacles, gargoyles and other decorations up close. I never saw anything like it, it is so unusual. You can see that every bit of the Duomo is decorated in a unique manner, every small spire, statue, gargoyle or other piece is done in a different way... It left me speechless! In addition to this, you also have great views on the city centre of Milan, but to be honest, this was almost not interesting compared to the things that can be seen on the roof itself.
Only a few warnings: We went here in the afternoon when it was very hot, and that was not a good choice - the white marble reflects the sun even stronger, and we felt like being on a barbecue... If you visit here in summer, it is better to go there earlier before the sun becomes too strong.
It is also not a good place for people with walking difficulties - even if you take the lift, there are steps to be taken, and many paths and steps are uneven and slanted.
Admission fee: Steps - 7€ adults, 3,50€ reduced ~ elevator: 12€ adults, 6€ reduced
Piazza del Duomo is the centre of Milan - the place where every tourist will go, no matter if they only spend an hour in the city. The view of the Duomo's façade seen from the piazza is the picture seen on any guidebook and postcard (yes, and on my VT page, too!)
And this piazza certainly is a great sight: The imposing and beautiful Duomo to the east, luxurious Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to the north, some more grand buildings and elegant streets to the west, historical palazzos to the south, and in the middle of it a huge equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II himself.
When we came here for the first time, it was about 9.30 in the morning and there were not that many people, but from 11.00am or so it became very crowded. From noon during the whole afternoon, the place was so crowded with tourists that we hardly went there. It was too hot anyway, and we did not feel very comfortable here. On the other hand, the light is much better later in the day. In the morning, the Duomo did not look that impressive because the sun was behind it and the colours of the building looked rather grey and dull, but when the sun is on the other side in the afternoon, the white colour of the Duomo becomes spectacular and so beautiful.
Thus, my advice is to come here in the morning to enjoy the piazza, and then come back in the afternoon just to take a few pictures of the Duomo in the sunshine, and then leave again quickly.