What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!…

Construction of Milan’s fabulously Gothic cathedral – Duomo di Milano – began in 1386 and it has awed visitors ever since, including Mark Twain, author of the eloquent words above.

Oscar Wilde was less enthusiastic:

The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The over-elaborated details stuck high up where no one can see them; everything is vile in it…

Yes well, sorry Oscar, but I’m with Mark on this one.

Just like Cologne’s Kölnerdom, it took years to finish this cathedral: 636, to be precise. The list of architects and engineers that has worked on it through the centuries is as long as your arm.

The Duomo is enormous – and pleasingly simple. Here are a few stats, cause numbers, like words, are kinda sexy:

  • Fifth largest Christian church in the world, and third largest Catholic church
  • There are 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures in – and on – the Duomo
  • There’s room for 40,000 people
  • The organ is one of the largest in the world, with 15,800 pipes and 12 keyboards

Ok, enough stats.

Let’s begin with a stroll… on the roof!


Walk around to the side of the Duomo here…

– and take the stairs or lift up to the top where you’re met with a veritable forest of carved spires.

Spires and pinnacles as far as the eye can see

– then walk through rooftop passages…

Nonchalantly hanging about

Wander about for a bit, or sit down …

While you’re up here, don’t forget to look up! Spot the shiny Madonna way up on the spire there? I’d be very dizzy, but 108 metres up is nothing for la Madonnina, as she is called. Milan is frequently foggy, so when you can spot her from a distance, the weather is considered good.

 Mother Mary in gold

Look down – and admire the views in every direction. They are rather stunning.

View of Milan’s Royal Palace, housing the Duomo Museum, from the rooftop of the Duomo

Now, let’s go down –

– and inside the Duomo


Just one of the 55 massive – and massively gorgeous – windows, some as old as the Duomo itself.

And just a few of the 40 monumental columns.

This sculpture, created by Marco d’ Agrate in 1562, depicts Bartholomew, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus. Poor old Bart was flayed alive. Here he is, with his skin worn casually like a mantle, muscles all exposed.

 Cat had a more scientific approach to this statue, and fired off the names of all of Bart’s muscles. 💪 She had an anatomy exam just before we left, and must surely have aced it. (Update: she did!!) 

Ego Sum Pastor Bonus: I am the good shepherd – said St John the Good.

Here’s Johnny – smashing the devil under his foot, surrounded by angels and demons. Way to show who’s da boss.

The first stone from 1386

Look up, down, and up again

Look up: Red marks the… Holy Nail. Notice the tiny red light way up there above the arch above the altar? It marks the spot where one of the nails allegedly used to crucify Jesus is kept. It is taken out and shown to the public for a 2-week-period every year – from mid- to late September.

Look down: By the main entrance to the Duomo, you can see twelve signs of the Zodiac in the floor. Here’s Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces – all the water signs. Just because, you know, I’m a water sign.

See the gilded brass stripe? That is a meridian and a sundial, laid down in 1786 by astronomers from the Astronomical Observatory of Brera.

Now, look up once more, and you’ll notice a little hole.

At noon, the sun shines through, hitting the current sign. This works as a calendar as well as a watch, and the clocks of Milan was set by this. To make sure it works perfectly, it has been checked and reset a few times over the years, the last time in 1976.

There’s much to see inside the Duomo, so take your time. We spent a good hour here. And we lit a few candles. As always.

Is this the delusion of frost work that might vanish with a breath, that Mark T. was waxing lyrical about? I think so.

Duomo practicals

  • The rooftop is accessed either via a lift or stairs from the side of the Duomo.
  • You can enter the Duomo from the stairs coming down from the roof – or through the main entrance from the square.
  • Either way, you’ll need a ticket, which you can buy online, or via a handy QR-code machine outside, or from an actual human. Up-to-date info on opening hours, guided tours (including one of the rooftop), and prices (and tickets) available here.
  • The Duomo Museum is a worthwhile stop if you want to know more about the cathedral’s history and works of art. It is located in the Royal Palace, just across the square. Address: Piazza Del Duomo no. 12
  • Wear shoes with proper soles on the roof top, especially if it has been raining. The floor, like everything else, is marble; it is well-worn from thousands of shoes through the years, and it gets a bit slippery.

Me, myself and the Duomo