There Are Cathedrals Then There’s Il Duomo

Inside the Duomo, the cool air sweeps in and sinks deep into the skin. A shiver runs in the veins, but not from the breeze.

Il Duomo di Milano

Inside the Duomo, the cool air sweeps in and sinks deep into the skin. A shiver runs in the veins, but not from the breeze

There is a whimsical aura that masks over Piazza del Duomo. It is not the flight of pigeons that crowd the place, pecking bread crumbs on the floor. It shrugs off the oblivious tourists flocking in the main square, arms stretched and posing for an Instagram-worthy picture. The owner of such aura reverberates from the stalwart architecture that stands tall in the center of the busy square. Il Duomo di Milano braces a church-style look at a first glance, but it is more than a cathedral.

Il Duomo’s punch-packed history pivots back to when Bishop Antonio da Saluzzo launched its construction in 1386. Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Milan’s then ruler, expressed his support to the bishop. His significant contribution points at his fulfilled desire to replace the planned terracotta stones with pink-hued white Candoglian marble, the reason for the church’s glossy, elegant look today.

Shipping the blocks of marble from the Candoglia quarry to the construction site introduced Milan to a new passage. The waterways started from the River Toce to Lake Maggiore, passing through Ticino river and Naviglio Grande canal. Of all the passages used to bring the marble over, Navigli canals have kept their spirit with long lines of bars, pubs, artisan shops, and local sceneries that buzz around the still water.

Il Duomo tapped over 78 architects across Europe during its period of construction. Its consecration in 1418 signaled hundreds of years to come before it could display its grandeur beauty. It is in the early 19th century when the cathedral finished its creation with Napoleon kicking off the finishing touches. After six centuries in the making, Il Duomo glows in its sheer grace, painting a stellar image of a history-infused cathedral.

Il Duomo is one of the largest churches in the world with its size of 109, 641 square feet and 45 meters in height, dominating a vast chunk of the city block. It maintains its Gothic look and feel, thanks to the five-year cleaning and restoration project that jump started in 2002.

Wandering around Il Duomo, picturesque designs drape its walls. It houses 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles, and 700 marble figures under its belt. As a Christian church, a cluster of biblical figures parades along the bulwarks, but peculiar sculptures chiseled their way too like sirens with fish tails or a hunched dinosaur with a gaping mouth.

From afar, pirouettes of spires roll over to the skyline, but a gleaming statue of St. Mary soars on top of all. Doused in gold color, the Madonnina (Little Madonna) shares the limelight of Il Duomo’s wonders, but not as an accessory that dapples the church. It stands at the peak of the cathedral’s roof, upholding its role as the guardian of Milanese people.

When the Pirelli skyscraper unveiled its 127-meter height, surpassing Il Duomo by 20 meters, it did not sit well with the tradition that the highest building in the city should be the cathedral. To make up for the blow it caused, the Pirelli tower propped a copy of the Madonnina figure on its rooftop to voice that the reign of the highest point in the city remains in the hands of St. Mary.

Inside the Gothic-style cathedral, the cool air sweeps in and sinks deep into the skin. A shiver runs in the veins, but not from the breeze. The vast space of Il Duomo’s interior greets the guests, enveloping their senses with the roots of its architecture. Color-stained glasses clamber on the walls, letting the light from the outside spill inside. The embellished pillars and ceilings summon a brash glimpse to its history centuries ago. The altar tumbles upon columns, balustrades, and saint figures, bundling up the space marble-by-marble.

On top of the cathedral, guests are welcome to enjoy the city skyline. It is an immersive experience that leaves each visitor clamoring for more. On the roof, basked under the warmth of the sun or the fleet of the cold wind, the overlooking landscape of Milan’s horizon unravels its splendor. The people, restaurants, ice cream parlors, shops, and museums below look miniature. It is almost romantic, a zen found in the bustling city of Milan.

It takes time to appreciate the awe-striking glory of Il Duomo when the reason to visit Milan lies on tourism. A few hours might not be enough to gaze at the sculptures it is known for. It satiates thirst for culture, art, and local lifestyle, and delivers a winsome experience.

When the night falls, the cathedral glowers in light. In the piazza, multitudes of people hustle in: those who walk by, take pictures, sell roses, smoke cigarettes, feed the pigeons, and share stories. Yet each of them fades from the view, becoming a backdrop to the worshipped church. Between the voices of chatter and flashes of camera, Il Duomo guarantees marvel nestled in beauty and history.

Support our independent project!

Italics Magazine was born less than two years ago in Rome, from the idea of two friends who believed that Italy was lacking a complete, in-depth, across-the-board source of information in English. While some publications do a great job, writing about the latest news or focusing on specific areas of interest, we do believe that other kinds of quality insights are just as needed to better understand the complexity of a country that, very often, is only known abroad for the headlines that our politicians make, or for the classic touristic cliches. This is why Italics Magazine is quickly becoming a reference for foreign readers, professionals, expats and press interested in covering Italian issues thoroughly, appealing to diverse schools of thought. However, we started from scratch, and we are self-financing the project through (not too intrusive) ads, promotions, and donations, as we have decided not to opt for any paywall. This means that, while the effort is bigger, we can surely boast our independent and free editorial line. This is especially possible thanks to our readers, who we hope to keep inspiring with our articles. That’s why we kindly ask you to consider giving us your important contribution, which will help us make this project grow — and in the right direction. Thank you.