Milan Cathedral, along with Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” is the city’s biggest tourist attraction. The roof of this cathedral is stacked with hundreds of sculptures and also offers a beautiful view of the Piazza del Duomo and the rest of the city. It is the second largest basilica in the world after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Cathedral of Seville.
Address, Opening Hours and Ticket Price
The address of the cathedral is Piazza del Duomo. The church is open every day from 07:00 to 19:00. Entrance fee: 5 Euro (discount children between 6 and 18: 2 Euro). Combi-ticket Cathedral, Archaeological Zone, Museo del Duomo, San Gottardo Church, Exhibitions: 10 Euro (discount: 4 Euro); combi-ticket plus stairs to the roof of the Cathedral: 15 Euro (discount: 7 Euro); combi-ticket + elevator to the roof: 20 Euro (discount: 9 Euro).
A brief history of Milan Cathedral
The cathedral has traditionally always been the central building of Milan. From the moment of its construction, the main streets led to the Piazza del Duomo.
Count Gian Galeazzo Visconti, along with Bishop Antonio da Saluzzo, initiated its construction in 1386. Visconti wanted to make the largest church in the world and, in addition to access to his own marble mines, gave tax rebates. In order to construct the cathedral, he had founded the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo.
It was built on the same spot where the basilicas of Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Tecla used to be located. The remains of these basilicas, and of the Baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti, can still be viewed inside the archaeological area.
The work progressed very slowly, as its execution was always in different hands and there were many disagreements. When the High Altar was consecrated in 1418, work on the nave had only just begun. This consecration was performed by Pope Martin V, on his return from the Council of Constance.
Many people working on the Cathedral were from abroad, since the locals had little or no experience with Gothic churches.
Till the end of the 15th century the architects Filippino degli Organi, Solari and Amadeo successively worked on the Duomo.
From 1499 (the fall of Ludovico il Moro) work was at a standstill for many years. It was not until 1567 that Cardinal Carlo Borromeo (who is buried in the basilica) allowed construction, although in a different style, more similar to that of Roman churches, to resume.
The facade, too, was constantly changed. The Baroque version by Pellegrino Tibaldi was changed by Buzzi to a Gothic one that would later be modified and completed again (under Napoleon I) by Carlo Amati. This work started on the eve of the emperor’s coronation in 1807 and finished in 1813.
Even in 1950, elements were still being changed and adapted, while other sections were already so polluted or dilapidated that they needed restoration.
What to see on top of the Duomo of Milan
The gilded statue of the “Madonnina” was made in 1774 by Giuseppe Bini and Giuseppe Perego. The statue stand 4m16 tall and tops the highest spire of the church. It was therefore the highest point in Milan (108.5m) until 1959.
The statue is seen as the symbol of the city and football matches between the local power houses Milan and Inter are therefore called the “derby della Madonnina”.
The roof terrace can be visited through a separate entrance. Standing among the sculptures you can see the Alps in the distance. You have to take an elevator to get there. Or climb 500 steps.
The façade is graced with some 2245 statues, including apostles and prophets. The total number of statues on the building is 3159.
There are also some 135 pinnacles on the façade. These are especially typical of Gothic architecture.
The gargoyles (there are 96 of them) also contribute to the Gothic character of the Duomo.
There are six huge buttresses with reliefs depicting events from the Bible.
The use of marble from Candoglia instead of Lombard brick was revolutionary at the time.
The five bronze doors, with the expection of one of them, date back to the 20th century, although they look a lot older. The middle one was made in the 19th century by Ludovico Pogliaghi. The decorations on this door depict events from the history of Milan itself, plus scenes from the lives of the Virgin Mary, San Carlo Borromeo and Sant’Ambrosio. The latter is the patron saint of Milan.
The three pointed arch windows of the apse are the largest in the world. They were made in 1390 by De Bonaventura, with help from Degli Organi for the meshwork.
The cathedral has 5 naves, is 148 meters long and 61.5 meters wide. The naves are separated by 52 columns, which support the vault of the cross.
The high altar is by Tibaldi and dates back to the 16th century. It houses a gilded ciborium. The reliefs depict events in the life of Jesus.
Leone Leoni was responsible for the funerary monument of Gian Giacomo Medici.
The portals of the sacristy are decorated with statues from 1393.
The Trivulzio candelabra is named after the clergyman who donated this 12th century 5-meter-high bronze chandelier to the Cathedral. Its base is decorated with statues of fantastic animals.
The statue of Saint Bartholomew, known as “San Bartolomeo Scorticato”, is by Marco d’Agrate.
There are three altars created by Pellegrino Pellegrini.
“The Visit of Saint Peter to Saint Agatha” adorns one of these altars and is by Federico Zuccari.
Above the apse there is a spot marked with a red bulb. Here one of the nails used in the crucifixion of Jesus is supposed to have been placed.