Detail of the facade, Duomo of Como, Lake Como, Italy (Photo by JoJan)
Detail of the facade

A statue-studded facade and tapestry-lined cathederal—plus a digression on ancient local hero Pliny the Elder

Part Gothic and part Renaissance, Cuomo's cathedral is festooned with exuberant masonry and sculpture.

Como's statue-clad cathedral was begun in 1396, but not capped with its baroque, Juvara-designed dome until 1740.

The façade (1455–86) is a wonderful panoply of Gothic carvings sort of stuck helter-skelter, running up the pilasters and ringing the doorways with no order whatsoever in a gleeful lack of theme, symmetry, or ecclesiastical theory. The pilasters are lined with saints, the base is ringed with carved panels, and the main door is flanked by seated likenesses of two local ancient scholars, Pliny the Younger and his more famous uncle, Pliny the Elder, the ancient Roman author of Naturalis Historia, a 37-volume treatise of natural philosophy that contained pretty much the sum of all knowledge at the time.

Inside, beneath an 18C dome by Juavara—the architect who designed much of Turin—is a lavish interior hung with mostly 16C paintings and tapestries, with lots of helpful leaflets in English to explain the major works of art.

There is an intricately carved and painted wooden altarpiece of 1492 on the fourth altar, and on the next one a Sacred Conversation by Bernardino Luini.

The giant gilt altarpiece of 1509-14 tells the life story of the local patron and protector Sant'Abbondio.

The nine 16C tapestries were designed by Alessandro Allori, Giuseppe Archimboldo, and Louis Karcher and produced in Flemish, Florentine, and Ferrarese workshops. 

The heroic death of Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder once said "True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read," and he died according to his own axiom. 

Summering on the Bay of Naples in AD 79, he was a witness to the eruption of Mt. Vesivius the obliterated Pompeii and Herculaneum—which is ho we know it created a mushroom cloud "like an umbrella pine." 

Though Pliny was ensconced in a relatively safe across the Bay of Naples, he decided he needed to get closer to the action to record the event—and evacuate some refugees who were trapped on the far shore—so he sailed right in the heart of the mayhem, dictating his impressions to a scribe as he went.

The scribe made it back.

Pliny the Elder did not, succumbing to the poisonous fumes as he attempted to rescue his friends.

We know much of that story thanks to his nephew, another Como native and prodigious Roman writer, Pliny the Younger, who also witnessed the cataclysm but stayed on the safer shore.

Near the Duomo

The 13C Broletto (Town Hall) abuts the Duomo's left flank in stripes of white, red, and dark gray marble; adjoining it is the Torre del Comune.

As a study in contrasts, rising just behind the Duomo is the aptly named Casa del Fascio, a starkly modernist example of Rationalism built by Giuseppe Terragni in 1932–36 as the seat of the region's fascist government (Piazza del Popolo 4). Since 1957, it has housed the provincial HQ for the Guardia di Finanza (Italy's Finance Police).

Photo gallery
  • Detail of the facade, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by JoJan)
  • The facade, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by Geobia)
  • Pliny the Elder on the facade, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by Wolfgang Sauber)
  • The nave, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by Ben Bender)
  • "The St Jerome Altarpiece", also called Pala Raimondi, (1521) painted by Bernardino Luini, depicting "a sacred conversation" : Madonna with Child, the client Canon Gerolamo Raimundi, St. Augustine and St Jerome, St. Antonio from Padua, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by Carlo Dell
  • "Dormition of the Virgin" (1558) tapestry by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The dome, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by Stefan Vladuck)
  • The facade, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by 66colpi)
  • "Presentation in the Temple" on the facade above the side portal, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by JoJan)
  • Pliny the Younger on the facade, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by Riccardo Ortelli)
  • The dome, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by Elvio Lodice)
  • "The St. Abbondio Altarpiece" (finished in 1514) possibly by Giovani Angelo del Maino (a sculptor from Pavia) with the life of bishop St. Abbondio told in the four side medallions next to his statue; in then niches above : St. Catherine, the Virgin with C, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by JoJan)
  • Next to the cathedral is the 13C Broletto (Town Hall) and medeival Torre del Comune, Duomo of Como, Italy (Photo by Christophe.Finot)
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Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).