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
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
I nearly didn't...i was tired, and it was a long way up...
But I decided to treat myself to the lift access. Not cheap at 8 euro, but very whizzy. To find it you need to go to the back of the Duomo, on the south side. You'll need to buy your ticket from the information shop opposite the lift entrance (see photos).
I was so glad I went up...I actually spent longer on the roof than inside the Duomo itself (apart from the archaeological excavations). There are, of course, superb views across Milan but I had not realised the roof area was a wonderful forest of the most amazing Gothic stonework. So many carvings to notice and explore, so many superb gargoyles, so much 'twiddliness'. I was (almost literally) in historical heaven!
It's not somewhere to go if you have vertigo, nor if you have difficulty in walking (there are steps even if you use the lifts). But even with the ongoing restorations, which mean that parts of the roof have no public access, it is a marvellous experience.
Very highly recommended...only miss out the roof if the weather is truly foul, or you have difficulty in walking.
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).
There is a lift to the roof of the cathedral for 7 - 8 Euro, but I took the stairs, which is a cheaper option. For 5 Euro (February 2009) you can walk the stairs up to the roof of the cathedral. At the roof you will come closer to all the statues of people, animals and monsters standing on spires. On top of the tallest spire stands a golden statue of the Madonna, made by Giuseppe Bini in 1774. You will also have a great view over Milan, which is a very flat town. A clear day you can see the mountains in the north, but not when I visited.
"La Fabbrica del Duomo" is how the Italians are calling the Dome.
And this name is not exclusively given by the slow and complex building process that lasted for five centuries, but also to the cleaning process the Dome is currently going through.
I've had the chance to admire this magnificent building only once in 1996. I hoped for this visit to have this chance again but although the cleaning process was started many years ago, only a small portion of the upper part of the Dome was finished.
The Gothic style cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was begun in 1387 on the site of the 9th century basilica of St. Maria Maggiore as a wish of the Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo and with the support of Gian Galeazzo Visconti.
The great spire was erected between 1765 and 1769 and the facade was put up between 1815 and 1813.
In 19th century the spires and the towers with stairways inside were completed. The first campaign of restoration was undertaken in 1935 and another one after the bombardments of 1943.
The Dome has five wide naves, divided by 40 pillars. The roofline dissolves into openwork pinnacles that are punctuated by a grove of spires.
Inside the cathedral a huge quantity of monuments and artworks can be admired: the Archbishop Alberto da Intimiano's sarcophagus, the sarcophagi of the archbishops Ottone Visconti and Giovanni Visconti, the sarcophagus of Marco Carelli, who donated 35,000 ducati to accelerate the construction of the Cathedral, the three magnificent altars by Pellegrino Pellegrini, which include Federico Zuccari's "Visit of St. Peter to St. Agatha jailed", the St. Bartholomew statue by Marco D'Agrate.
A small red light bulb in the dome above the apse marks the spot where one of the nails from the Crucifixion of Christ has been placed.
The main altar of the Dome was consecrated by Pope Martin V in 1418.
The roof is open to tourists (for a fee), which allows many a close up view of some really spectacular sculpture that would otherwise be unappreciated by mortal man
The facade of the Dome openes through five gates bordered by solid columns placed on bases adorned by reliefs dating from ‘600 and ‘700.
The Main Gate was made by Castelli and Bono in 1635 and has above a huge marble relief presenting the Creation of Eve made by Gaspare Vismara. The sides of the gate are bordered by flowers, animals and fruits decoration, designed by Richini
Unfortunately due to the restoration works the only picture I could take of the Main gate was one from inside. But I was lucky enough because the door was opened.
"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
The Battistero Paleocristiano is a fascinating archaeological excavation under the existing building. It costs 4 euro for a ticket (which you buy from the little wooden booth inside the Duomo, near near the entrance) and is well worth the money if you have any interest in the past.
Milan was, of course, a Roman city. The remains of the 4th-century Battistero (baptistry) were first discovered in the 1940s (they were excavating a bomb shelter at the time) and further excavations in the 50s/60s (for the Metro) cleared more of the site. This is the actual spot where St Ambrose baptised St Augustine, in 387AD.
So as well as the 4th-century baptistry you can see the remains of the 4th-century Basilica of Santa Tecla, a little of the 1st-century Roman baths which existed before that and many graveslabs and tombs which lay around the two religious buildings.
A few small finds are displayed in showcases at the side of the building remains.
The excavations are very well presented, with a marked path and good signage. One section has been left as excavated, with its various layers marked and explained. This is really useful for non-archaeologists, to give an idea of both how deep the site it (it is truly amazing how cities gradually raise their street levels over the centuries) and how archaeologists work out dates and sequences.
Definitely something not to be missed, imo.