Italy: Milan Duomo (including walking tour)

Duomo di Milano - Milan Cathedral

I have a great interest in the architecture of churches and cathedrals. I love them. I always like to visit as many as I can when exploring both in England and other countries around the world. When it was decided that Mr ESLT and I were to  visit Milan I couldn’t be happier because as a large city in one of the countries with the most churches in the world I knew I would have a number to choose from. Apart from Santa Maria Delle Grazie to see Da Vinci’s The Last Supper the Cathedral (Milano Duomo) was next on my list. After visiting the Duomo in Florence I was excited to see if or how this one differed.

Duomo di Milano - Milan Cathedral
Duomo di Milano – Milan Cathedral

It took six centuries to complete the Duomo and is built in a Gothic style. This to many may look quite imposing (and ugly?) including Oscar Wilde Oscar who visited Milan in the summer of 1875. He wrote the following in a letter to his mother: ‘The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The overelaborated details stuck high up where no one can see them; everything is vile in it; it is, however, imposing and gigantic as a failure, through its great size and elaborate execution’. It is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity (Santa Maria Nascente) and it is the seat of Cardinal Angelo Scola the current Archbishop of Milan.

One of the 5 doors along the front of Milano Duomo, Italy
One of the 5 doors along the front of Milano Duomo, Italy


It is also the largest church in Italy and the fifth largest in the world:-

  1. St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  2. Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil
  3. Seville Cathedral, Spain
  4. Cathedral of Saint John the Devine, New York, USA
  5. Milan Cathedral Italy

I however disagree strongly with Mr Wilde. Yes the Duomo is huge and dominates Piazza del Duomo however in my opinion it is beautiful. When Mr ESLT and I were organising our recent trip to Milan it was something I was very excited about seeing. Our hotel was a literal hop, skip and a jump away from the Duomo therefore it was in fact the first major attraction in Milan I actually saw. As we walked round the corner from our hotel it was impossible to miss it. That afternoon we sat outside a cafe and ate lunch in the shadow of the Duomo. What a great view! The next day we grabbed a gelato from a local vendor and sat on the Duomo’s steps watching the word go by. By the 3rd day I could not contain my excitement any longer and that was the day our walking tour of the Duomo was booked for.

Inside the Milano Duomo, Italy
Inside the Milano Duomo, Italy

I booked the tour via Viator for £21 each which may sound quite steep as general admission is only actually €2 (free if you can prove you are a Christian visiting to pray). However, included in that price was a guided tour from the very informative guide Franco who Mr ESLT and I had instructions to meet out the front of the Duomo which in reality could be like finding a needle in a haystack on a busy day. We however had no problem finding him on the day we visited, neither did the rest of our group of 7. Once introductions were out of the way and audio guides had been given out (which didn’t work properly but in reality weren’t needed) we were ready to start our tour.

Beautiful side alter in Milano Duomo, Italy
Beautiful side alter in Milano Duomo, Italy

Franco started our tour by asking us to look at the five large doors across the front of the Duomo. He also asked up to look up and look specifically at two of the what must be hundreds, if not thousands of sculptures which adorn the Duomo when put together they look very much like world famous statue that can be found in New York City….yes the Statue of Liberty…..Can you see the similarities?

'Statue of Liberty' at Milano Duomo, Italy
‘Statue of Liberty’ at Milano Duomo, Italy

Upon entering the Duomo my breath was taken away at the sheer size of it. It is massive and very, very beautiful. With so much to look at and see my eyes didn’t know where to dart to first. Because of this I simply cannot list all the wonderful things the Duomo has to offer you as a guest. So I have listed my five ‘not to be missed’ things.

1. The most famous and possibly graphic statue in the Duomo is that of Saint Bartholomew Flayed which was sculptured by Marco d’Agrate in 1562. This shows Saint Bartholomew with his flayed skin placed over his shoulder. Even though it is only a statue it is very detailed and may be a bit too much for small children to handle.

Saint Bartholomew Flayed, Milano Duomo, Italy
Saint Bartholomew Flayed, Milano Duomo, Italy

2.  One of the main feature of the Duomo is Giuseppe Pozzobonelli’s Madonnina statue which is in fact a statue of the Virgin Mary. It was erected on the top of the Duomo in 1972 and stands at 108.5m. She is also the subject of ‘O mia bela Madunina’ – one of Milan’s traditional songs.

3. If you look closely into the dome above the apse you will see a small red light which shows the place in which one of the nails from the Crucifixion of Christ is located. During the Rite of the Nivola celebration which is held annually the Holy Nail is show to the public.

4. The (Candoglia, Varenna and Arzo)  marble floor in the Duomo is amazing. It is beautifully intricate and bright. It was designed between 1584 and 1940 but was originally designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi. The marble appears to be that well looked after it looks like the floor was laid yesterday.

The beautiful marble floor in Milano Duomo
The beautiful marble floor in Milano Duomo

5. The Duomo’s crypt has been open to the public since September 2005 which in fact is my favourite part of the Duomo. It is very dark and could be considered, especially by small children, quite creepy. Down the narrow flight of stairs you should also find a room showing a short film showing the Passion from Jesus of Nazareth by Franco Zeffirelli (unfortunately, there was a technology breakdown on the day we visited).

An extension of the walking tour we did was to do an evening rooftop tour which would have allowed us to see the statues that adorn the spires up close. apparently from up there, on a bright clear evening you can see all the way to the Alps. Unfortunately we simply did not have time to do this. This Cathedral is high on the list of most beautiful for me and if in Milan why not pay the €2 to see for yourself and let me know what you think? Maybe you have visited before?

Rooftops of the Milano Duomo, Italy
Rooftops of the Milano Duomo, Italy

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