The Imposing Duomo di Milano (Cathedral of Milan)

The dynamic city of Milan has been recognized as one of the world’s four fashion and design capitals. In character Milan is distance from rest of the cities in Italy with its immense historical importance. Milan is home to many museums, art galleries and cultural institutions. One of the city’s most beautiful attractions is the striking Duomo di Milano (Cathedral of Milan).

Visiting the most iconic site in the city is my first ever cultural site visit in Italy. The distinctive Duomo is located in the center of the Piazza del Duomo. Dedicated to the Santa Maria Nascente (Nativity of Mary) Duomo is the largest cathedral in Italy and one of the largest Catholic churches in the world. The Gothic styled cathedral is 515 feet (157 m) long and 302 feet (92 m) wide and can house up to 40000 people.

Little bit of History ….

The site where the Duomo is located was previously occupied by the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio and next to it was the Basilica di Santa Tecla. In 1075 a fire destroyed the both buildings. In 1386 the Archbishop, Antonio da Saluzzo first commissioned the construction of the new cathedral. This coincided with Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan, coming into power. The Visconti had grand vision for this construction and the purpose of renovation was to modernize the area and to celebrate the policy of the expansion of the Visconti territory.

The construction took over five centuries under different Italian, French & German architects, artists and sculptures with different visions for the construction which immensely delayed the completion of the cathedral. During this time various architects, artists and sculptures made their professional contribution to the famous construction program known as “Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo(Cathedral Factory), an institute established to supervise the construction of the cathedral. At the end of the 15th Century greatest and famous architects and artist like Leonardo Da Vinci contributed in constructing this extravagant cathedral. Even after its consecration in 1418, the cathedral remained unfinished for centuries and in the 19th Century mostly due to Napoleon Bonaparte’s orders cathedral reached it final stages of construction. The inspiring Gothic façade was finished during his reign and in 1805 he was crowned in the Duomo as the King of Italy.

The exterior of the entire cathedral is made up with pink hued white marble from the quarry of Candoglia in Val D’Ossola. To bring the marbles from the quarries canals were dug leading to the construction site. These canals are still visible in the famous Navigli area in Milan. This impressive construction resulted a unique architectural work in international Gothic style with the Lombard Romanesque Architecture. The Cathedral is divided in five subdivisions segregated by 52 colossal pillars and altogether around 3000 statues, 135 Gargoyles and 700 different sculptures are located inside and outside of the structure.   

How to visit Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano is located on the center of Piazza del Duomo and the most convenient way to reach Piazza is to take the Metro Line 1 (Red) or Line 3 (Yellow) from Milano Centrale Station. You can also take the Tram Lines 2,3 or take the 40 minutes’ walk from the Centrale to Piazza del Duomo.

The Sites in Milan Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

The Rooftop Terrace

The Crypt of Saint Charles & Cathedral Treasury

The Baptistery and the Archeological Area

Grande Museo del Duomo di Milano (Duomo Museum)

Church of San Gottardo in Corte

Visiting the Duomo ….

Those who want to pray or attend a Mass can enter the Duomo free of charge through a special entrance but if you need to visit the special sites then you will have to acquire an entrance ticket from the Duomo’s Official Ticket Office located on the right of the Cathedral façade. You can buy the tickets according to the sites which you wish to visit. (Culture Pass, Duomo Pass Lift, Duomo Pass Stairs, Fast Track Pass). The tickets costs 10€ per person onwards. For more information you can refer their website :

Since we want to visit the Rooftop Terrace by climbing more than 200 steps stone stairway we bought the Duomo Pass Stairs.

Note: When entering the Duomo you need to respect the dress code. (You need to cover the bare shoulders and no shorts and short skirts are allowed)

Before entering the Duomo we stopped outside and admired the pink and white marble façade. Even after becoming a resident in Milan for a short period of time, whenever I walk pass the Duomo, I never break off the habit of stopping by the Duomo for a few moments to admire its stunning façade.

Inside the Cathedral

After entering the Duomo you will feel the grandeur inside the cathedral. Once you enter, near the main entrance you will see a Sundial inserted on the black and white marbled floor parallel to the counterfaçade. This was built on 18th Century and the Italians used this as the prime reference for timing and astronomy until the Prime Meridian in Greenwich in England was installed.

Inside the cathedral is full of impressive works of art. The vast structure inside is made out of dark marble and sculptured columns reaching to the ceiling. On each side of the aisle stands large stained glass windows which depicts the scenes from the stories of the Old and New Testament. Inside of the cathedral is lighted by the sunlight which flows through the glass windows. While walking around you can also see large paintings decorating the walls with scenes of the Bible. Towards the back of the church stands the notable Statue of Bartholomew the Apostle, the Patron Saint of the Tanners. When you look above the apse (the upper arched part of the alter) you can see one of the most precious holy relic housed in the Duomo – Santo Chiodo, one of the Nails used in Jesus’s crucifixion is presumably placed there. The spot on the apse is marked with a red light bulb.

The Rooftop Terrace

The absolute highlight of the Duomo is the Rooftop Terrace. The Entrance is located on the north side of the cathedral. The rooftop can be reached either with the elevator (with Duomo Pass Lift) or climbing the stone stairway (250 steps and a fairly comfortable climb). We chose to take the stairway passing between the towers enjoying the view along the way up to the terrace. Once you reach the top you can walk around the terrazza appreciating the architecture and the breathtaking beautiful panoramic view of Milan and its surroundings. On a clear day one can see the snowcapped peaks of Alps ! The rooftop terrace is like a forest of pinnacles each topped with spires and statues. The spires are located around the edges of the cathedral and they are positioned around the main spire on a crown like formation. On the highest spire stands the famous La Madonnina (the little Madonna), a 14 meter tall the gold colored statue of the Virgin Mary. La Madonnina is the symbol and the protector of Milan.

While walking around we were quite excited to closely appreciate the ornately carved flying buttresses, stone statues and gargoyles. 

My personal tip is to invest more time to explore the architectural wonder on the rooftop !

NOTE: The rooftop terrace can get very hot during the summer months so it is better to visit the rooftop top early in the morning or late afternoon.

The Crypt of Saint Charles & Cathedral Treasury

The entrance to the Crypt is free and you can enter it by descending the short stairway near the choir. The Crypt is located in the Chapel of Saint Charles Borromeo where his sarcophagus is placed.

Here you can also find the Tesoro del Duomo (Cathedral Treasury) which is not accessible to the public.

The Baptistery and the Archeological Area

We also climbed down to the archeological area which is underneath the Cathedral itself. While visiting the excavation area we could get a great insight about the pre – construction era of the Duomo. On the archeological area you can see the remains of the Basilica di Santa Tecla and the ruins of a Paleochristian Baptistery from 4th Century which is believed to be the baptistery of Saint. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan.

Grande Museo del Duomo di Milano

Grande Museo del Duomo di Milano (Great Museum of Cathedral of Milan) is located on the ground floor of the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace of Milan) located on the Piazza del Duomo. At the entrance we purchased a Multilingual Audio Guide for an additional fee so we could take an informative tour through the Museum.

The museum houses a collection of unique works of art – Statues, paintings, tapestries, stained glasses, terracotta, plaster casts and architectural models. All these are original elements taken from the Duomo and the deposits of Veneranda Fabbrica. The Museum tour starts from the Treasury and unfolds the history of the Duomo for over five centuries. The works of art are organized chronologically to describe the phases of the construction of Duomo over the centuries.   

Church of San Gottardo in Corte

The tour through the Museum includes a visit to the Church of San Gottardo in Corte (in Court) which is connected to the Palazzo Reale as a Ducal Chapel. The Church was initially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Azzone Visconti, the Lord of Milan, who commissioned the Church had gout and the Chapel was dedicated to the Saint Gotthard of Hildersheim, the patron Saint who was invoked by those who suffered from the disease of gout.

The most striking feature of the Church is the Bell Tower. Built in the 14th Century the octagonal Tower is the first public clock tower in Milan.

The interior of the Chapel is simple with the ceiling decorated in Neoclassical decorations. The highlight of the inside is the 14th Century Fresco of the Crucifixion which is currently under restoration.

Tips for visiting Duomo di Milano

Buy tickets online to skip the line.

Visit early to avoid the long waiting times and queues.

Dress appropriately.

Wear comfortable footwear if you are visiting the Rooftop Terrace.

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