Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Milan: The Duomo

Things are heating up here in Italy all of a sudden. In the past week the temperature has changed from light jacket weather to t-shirt weather and everyone is planning various weekend excursions to nearby cities. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, Lodi is located just outside of Milan and with the cost of a train ticket being less than five Euros, it is the ideal destination for northern Italian day-trippers.

Amongst all of the highly entertaining things to do in Milan is one landmark that is on every tourist’s must-see list, I am talking about the Duomo di Milano. Completed in 1965, this gothic masterpiece took almost six centuries to build and is the fourth largest cathedral in the world.  Every year, thousands of people flock to its doors to see what all of the fuss is about for themselves. Last summer, I was one such person.

Even though I had heard about the duomo before visiting the iconic Italian building, I must admit that I made my way into Milan on that balmy June afternoon not knowing exactly what to expect. It was my very first time in the city and I had been avoiding it for several weeks because I usually despise tourist traps. Still, many people in Lodi had urged me to visit the duomo in particular and I decided that I had to go considering that I live less than half an hour away.

As I rode the Milan underground, pretending to be a local, all cool and aloof, I wondered what it was about the duomo that made it such a place of interest. I spent several years of my childhood in England, surrounded by the beauty of historical buildings and honestly I couldn’t see how this particular cathedral would be any more spectacular than places like King’s College in Cambridge and Ely Cathedral.

Feeling a little jaded as I exited the train at the appropriately named “Duomo” stop, I made my way through the maze of corridors leading to the exit and followed a sign that pointed up a steep flight of stairs. As I emerged into the daylight that shone on the Piazza di Duomo, I quickly discovered why the area is so popular.

Immediately in front of me, the duomo loomed large and hoards of people meandered around it snapping photographs and simply gawking in amazement. Before I could take the view in completely, I was pestered by a man selling birdfeed who promised that he could get several pigeons to perch on my arms should I so desire. I shook my head and scurried away quickly, obviously he was unaware that I have an irrational fear of being licked by a bird. Irrational because birds are certainly not known for their surprise licking attacks, but hey I am sure that there are a lot weirder phobias out there than mine!

After escaping my near brush with the banes of my existence, I decided to take a closer look at the fa├žade of the building. It is made almost entirely out of white stone and marble and is adorned with literally thousands of intricate carvings. There are statues of interest covering almost every inch of it and it would be impossible to visit the duomo and not spot something new regardless of how many times you visit.

Aside from the impressive exterior, one recommendation that Italian friends had given me was to pay the fee and see the roof of the cathedral. Located along the side of the building, the entrance to the staircase that takes you there is hidden away somewhat, but if you ask any of the police officers or duomo staff, they will happily point you to the right place. There are two options for visiting the roof; walking up a seemingly endless set of stairs or taking an elevator to the top. The elevator option costs almost twice as much as the stairs and so I decided not to be lazy and challenged myself to the climb.

After paying the fee and passing through a metal detector, I began the ascent up a spiral stone staircase that took me in an anti-clockwise direction. After passing around the corner for the fifth time, I began to feel somewhat dizzy and other tourists around me laughed with one another about the feeling. “Are we there yet?!” hollered one boisterous American woman as she weaved her way around a group of fashionable Japanese youths who had stopped for a breather and asked me to take their picture. Although we were all becoming increasingly exhausted, there was a positive atmosphere in the air and we chatted happily with one another throughout our climb.

When I finally reached the top, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. Never in my life have I see something quite like the duomo’s roof. Simply, it was magnificent. It looked like something out of a fantasy novel or one of the “Lord of The Rings” movies. The roof was a treasure trove of white marble statues, each one more stunning than the last. Amongst the statues were white marble staircases that led to various hidden gardens of even more sculptures. I imagined what it would have been like to walk upon the roof as a religious pilgrim several hundreds of years ago. The only word that I could think to describe it was heavenly. In fact, if there is such a thing as heaven, I could picture it looking very much like the roof of the Duomo di Milano.

The various passages and the roof’s twists and turns awakened my curiosity and I longed to explore some of the areas that had been sectioned off from the public because they were deemed too dangerous. Even though I wanted more, I must say that I was extremely impressed with the kind of access that tourists are given. Honestly, for the price of a ticket, you really do get your money’s worth and the views of the city are certainly the best in town.

Once I had spent over an hour on the roof, immersed in architecture and history, I decided to take a tour of the inside of the cathedral to complete my duomo experience. As I waited in the line to enter the building, I was thankful that I had worn a cardigan as visitors with bare shoulders, short shorts and mini skirts were being turned away by security personnel at the door. The signs posted inside the building stated “no photographs” but when I finally was allowed inside, I noticed that many people were simply ignoring that rule.

Compared to the roof, the inside was nothing spectacular and yet in terms of sheer enormity, the building’s interior was impressive. In particular I enjoyed the large stained glass windows that are located in the south of the cathedral and cover almost the entire wall in a kaleidoscope of rich colour. I also enjoyed peering into the crypts below through small windows on the main floor. These somewhat hidden rooms conjured images of secret meetings and intrigues and stirred the creative writer within me.

Overall I have to say that the Duomo di Milano is absolutely one of those places that cannot be missed. I started off the day being jaded and dubious and ended it as a wide-eyed tourist with a huge grin on my face. If you only have one hour, go and see the roof and if you have all day, spend it exploring the duomo and the nearby Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. You may think that you will be bored of the area after several hours, but trust me you need the whole afternoon to really appreciate this architectural gem.


  1. Absolutely breathtaking. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Spectacular photos, Danielle! I visited the Duomo di Milano several years ago but did not have time or the opportunity to explore the rooftop or even inside as you did. Now I want to go back! It reminds me of my climb up an internal spiral staircase to the top of Notre Dame in Paris which was more than worth the effort. Thanks for sharing your visit with us!

  3. Really beautiful. I'm stopping over from She Writes and I love your personal back-story about moving to Italy. I love a good risk-taker.