Duomo of Milan ★★★

The facade, Duomo of Milan, Milan, Italy (Photo )
The facade

The Cathedral of Milan is one of the largest Gothic churches in the world, an intricate festival of soaring spires and statuary

When Milanesi want to describe something that seems to be taking forever they say "é come la fabbrica del Duomo" ("it's like the building of the cathedral").

The world's largest Gothic cathedral took almost 430 years to complete, from its 1386 inception under Gian Galeazzo Visconti to the facade's finishing touches in 1813 under Napoléon. 

The last of Italy's great Gothic structures is, at at 158 by 93 meters, the fourth largest church in the world (after St. Peter's in Rome, Seville's cathedral, and a new one in Ivory Coast), with 135 marble spires above a stunning triangular facade. It's an urban forest of stone pinnacles, flying buttresses, and more than 3,500 statues outside and in. 

The cavernous interior, lit by brilliant stained-glass windows, seats 40,000 but is unusually spartan and serene, divided into five aisles by a forest of 52 columns. Each column is topped, not by a capital, but by a committees of saints peering out from an octagon of stone-canopied niches.

The ceiling vaults in the aisles aren't as fancy as they appear--that intricatly carved Gothic tracery is actually merely painted on the flat surface.

The poet Shelley used to sit and read Dante amid monuments that include a gruesomely graphic statue of St. Bartholomew Flayed, by the right transept entrance. Marco d'Agrate carved this gruesome but fascinating tour de force of anatomy in 1562. The skinned saint, a mass of muscle tissue and exposed veins, has wrapped himself in his own flayed skin like a grisly stole.

One of the skin's arms is tossed across his shoulders jauntily, another epidermal arm reaches diagonally across his chest, one leg across his back, and the limp skin of fingers and toes are tied in a knot at the far hip. The other skin leg drags on the ground while the bearded face hangs sad, brow furrowed, at his back. The body itself, sans skin, is a grim strudy of human musculature, with the veins riding on top of the exposed muscles and the seams of the skull neatly stitched on.

The saint's expression looks intent, and ever so slightly pained. (D'Agrate thought pretty highly of himself: the Latin inscription at the base of the statue boats "No, Praxiteles didn't carve me, Marcus d'Agrate did."—Praxiteles was the greatest sculptor in ancient Greece.) 

There are also the tombs of Giacomo de Medici, two Visconti, and various and sundry cardinals and archbishops.  

In the treasury is a fine little collection of ornate siveork and other intricatcies holy vessels are prone to, including a 10C chalice of carved ivory.

Climbing the roof of Milan's Duomo

Best part: Visitors can wander about the forest of Gothic carving that decorates the rooftop of Milan's cathedral. Climb the narrow stairs, duck through the Gothic tracery of those buttresses, skirt along the eaves, and clamber up onto the peaked roof of the nave to drink in a panorama across the city that, on the rare clear morning, can stretch all the way to the Alps. 

You are joined high above Milan by the spire-top gold statue of Madonnina (the little Madonna), the city's beloved protectress. (Elevators on the church's exterior northeast corner €6 ($7); cheapskates can climb the stairs on the exterior north side for €4 ($5))   

The crypt

Back on terra firma, the cathedral's crypt turns out to be a somber, claustrophobic, yet elegant little room resembling a closet study of a few centuries ago. Surrounded by heavily embroidered brocades of orangey-red fabrlc walls and an abudance of tarnished silver scenery and gewgaws lies San Carlo Borromeo, beloved 16C archbishop of Milan from Spain and a member of the noble family that still owns much of the prime real estate around Lake Maggiore, sleeping under a sliver death mask.

The Battistero Paleocristiano S. Giovanni alle Fonti

A far more interesting descent is the one down the staircase to the right of the main entrance, to the Battistero Paleocristiano S. Giovanni alle Fonti, the ruins of a 4C baptistery with a shallow pool in which local bishop Saint Ambrose baptized Saint Agustine at Easter of 387.

Some Roman fresco and mosaic fragments (and little color-coded piles of disassociated tesserae) under glass give pause between the remenats of the black and white patterend paving of the former Baptistry's floor and the curve of brick fronted by a slab of detached fresco (the hem of some robes sandwiched by protective glass) that marks the Aspidal church (and former winter cathedral) of San Tecla.

Photo gallery
  • The facade, Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo )
  • The nave, Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo by Jean-Christophe BENOIST)
  • Stained glass window with the Story of San Giacomo Maggiore (1554-64) by Corrado de
  • St. Bartholomew Flayed (1562) by Marco d
  • St. Bartholomew Flayed (1562) by Marco d
  • The rooftop, Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo by Валерий Дед)
  • Statue-topped spires, Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo by giomodica)
  • The Madonnina atop the topmost spire of the cathedral, Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • The flying buttresses, Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo by Chris Hopkins Images)
  • The statues of Moses and of a saint Roman soldier on the external walls of the apse of the Cathedral in Milan, Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo by Giovanni Dall
  • The cathedral, Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo by Jiuguang Wang)
  • The massive columns of the nave, Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo by Luca Nebuloni)
  • Ruins of the Baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti in Milan (second half 4th century), Duomo of Milan, Italy (Photo by A ntv)
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Free or reduced admission with a sightseeing card

Get into Duomo of Milan for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with:

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How long does the Duomo take?

Give it about 20 minutes if just wanderng around inside, 90 minutes if you are doing everything, including the roof.

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.).