- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
- Italian Phrases
This intricate Gothic structure has been fascinating and exasperating visitors and conquerors alike since it was begun by Galeazzo Visconti III (1351-1402), first duke of Milan, in 1386. Consecrated in the 15th or 16th century, it was not completed until just before the coronation of Napoleon as king of Italy in 1809. Whether you concur with travel writer H.V. Morton's 1964 assessment that the cathedral is "one of the mightiest Gothic buildings ever created," there is no denying that for sheer size and complexity it is unrivaled. It is the second-largest church in the world—the largest being St. Peter's in Rome. The capacity is estimated to be 40,000. Usually it is empty, a sanctuary from the frenetic pace of life outside and the perfect place for solitary contemplation.
The building is adorned with 135 marble spires and 2,245 marble statues. The oldest part is the apse. Its three colossal bays of curving and counter-curved tracery, especially the bay adorning the exterior of the stained-glass windows, should not be missed. At the end of the southern transept down the right aisle lies the tomb of Gian Giacomo Medici. The tomb owes some of its design to Michelangelo but was executed by Leone Leoni (1509-90) and is generally considered to be his masterpiece; it dates from the 1560s. Directly ahead is the Duomo's most famous sculpture, the gruesome but anatomically instructive figure of San Bartolomeo (St. Bartholomew), whose glorious martyrdom consisted of being flayed alive. It is usually said the saint stands "holding" his skin, but this is not quite accurate. It would appear more that he is luxuriating in it, much as a 1950s matron might have shown off a new fur stole.
As you enter the apse to admire those splendid windows, glance at the sacristy doors to the right and left of the altar. The lunette on the right dates from 1393 and was decorated by Hans von Fernach. The one on the left also dates from the 14th century and is ascribed jointly to Giacomo da Campione and Giovanni dei Grassi.
Don't miss the view from the Duomo's roof; walk out the left (north) transept to the stairs and elevator. Sadly, air pollution drastically reduces the view on all but the rarest days. As you stand among the forest of marble pinnacles, remember that virtually every inch of this gargantuan edifice, including the roof itself, is decorated with precious white marble dragged from quarries near Lake Maggiore by Duke Visconti's team along road laid fresh for the purpose and through the newly dredged canals. Audio guides can be rented inside the Duomo from March to December and at Duomo Point in Piazza Duomo (just behind the cathedral) all year long. Exhibits at the Museo del Duomo shed light on the cathedral's history and include some of the treasures removed from the exterior for preservation purposes. At this writing, the museum is closed for restoration with no estimated date for completion.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- Super Sale! Flights to Milan From 515 R/T ASAPTickets.com
- Milan Savings! Book at Manzoni Fr $395+/Nt Expedia
- Save in Milan: Book 3 Nts in May Fr $106+/Nt Expedia
- 4-Star Milan Sale! 4 Nts + Air Fr $1445 Expedia
- Book 3 Nts in Milan this May Fr $139+/Nt — $139 Save with Expedia, $15/night less
Above is a blog that I hope will be entertaining and helpful to anyone who might be interested in backpacking across the continent. This is specifically for anyone who's Read more
Hi Fodorites! Read more
We are headed to Rapallo for several days in October and it has a been 9 years since I have been to Liguria. Read more
· News & Features
Milan is a fierce and unique alternative to Italy's well-worn destinations. ... Read more
Feeling a little down on your luck?... Read more
Few countries can offer what Italy can in the way of local culinary specialties, art, and architecture,... Read more