I’ve visited a lot of cathedrals over the years, but Milan’s Duomo is one of the most impressive cathedrals I’ve ever seen. Commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Visconti in 1386, the 157m-long Gothic cathedral took an astonishing five centuries to complete.
This fact is less surprising when you see how detailed and elaborate the building is. Its façade features some 2,300(!) statues and there are a further 1,100 statues inside. While its highest spire stands at 108m tall and is topped by a 4m-high gold leaf statue of the Madonna. Having briefly laid eyes on the Duomo the previous evening, I was keen to have a proper look around, so it was my first port of call on my second day in Milan.
Inside, I was struck by how big the Duomo is. It’s the third largest cathedral in the world (after Seville Cathedral and St Peter’s in Rome) but I hadn’t appreciated just how enormous or how wide it was from the outside.
In contrast to the ornate façade, the inside of the cathedral felt quite plain. I was expecting the cathedral’s walls and ceiling to be adorned with colourful frescoes and elaborate gilded decorations like you see in a lot of Italian churches. But the grey stone walls and high-vaulted ceilings were left largely untouched, aside from the obligatory statues, and the cathedral’s paintings hung from the ceiling instead (above).
I made my way down the right side of the cathedral, stopping as I went to look at the many altars off to the side and the impressive artworks within. One of the altars featured the remains of Pope Paul VI, who was Archbishop of Milan until he became pope in 1963.
I carried on going as far as the crypt, where I stopped to have a look inside. At either end of the crypt, behind locked gates, were opulent alcoves housing the cathedral’s treasury and the rock crystal tomb of Saint Charles Borromeo, a 16th-century Archbishop of Milan (above). The alcoves were amazing and I was taken aback by the riches and splendour within. It was by far and away the most lavish crypt I’ve ever seen.
From the crypt, I walked back to the main body of the cathedral, where I continued walking until I reached the replica of the Madonnina of the Duomo di Milano (above), the statue that sits atop the cathedral’s main spire. The glamorous Madonnina was covered in gold leaf and it was good to see a close-up replica of the statue, as the original sits so high above the cathedral it’s almost impossible to make out.
I then turned around and walked back towards the main entrance, where I followed a narrow staircase down into the archaeological area beneath the Duomo (above).
The archaeological area showcases the remains of the ancient buildings that once occupied the site, among them the baptistery of Ambroses and the old Santa Tecla Cathedral, along with display cases featuring artefacts unearthed at the site. The archaeological area is quite small and doesn’t take long to look around, but it was interesting and I enjoyed learning about the site’s history.
Having seen all there was to see inside the cathedral, I walked outside and turned down the left side of the Duomo towards the entrance to the roof terraces. You can either walk the 250 steps to the Duomo’s roof or pay an extra €4 to take the lift – I chose to give my legs a good work out and walked. Luckily, the climb didn’t take as long as I was expecting, and before I knew it, I was on the roof.
The Duomo’s roof terraces are incredible. The architecture is superb – even better than the façade – with elaborate spires, intriguing shapes and intricate carvings everywhere you look. The views across Milan are fantastic, too – and it was a clear enough day that I could make out the Alps in the distance, their pale blue snow-capped peaks contrasting beautifully with the cathedral’s creamy, pale pink marble.
I made my way along the outer edge of the terrace, stopping every so often to admire the architecture and the views, and dodging the many people who were blocking the path to take selfies.
From the outer terrace, I climbed a very narrow staircase (there wasn’t room for two, above left) to the roof. I spent quite a bit of time clambering over the enormous sloping roof, making sure I stopped to take in the wonderful views over Milan from as many angles as possible.
The roof terraces were fantastic and I was glad I made the effort to go up there. I had great fun exploring all there was to see, and the views and the architecture, as I’ve already mentioned, were breathtaking. Milan’s Duomo is an exceptional world-class building, but clambering over the roof and seeing its architecture up close was a fantastic experience. It’s easily one of the best and most interesting cathedrals I’ve visited.
The Duomo’s ticket office is situated across the street from the cathedral and there are a number of ticket types on offer, depending on what you want to see. You can pay to go inside, visit the roof terraces (above) or buy a combined ticket that provides access to the cathedral, the roof terraces, the archaeological site and the Duomo museum. Wanting to see all this impressive building had to offer, I chose the latter.