Milan Cathedral, the Duomo di Milano, is the third biggest church in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida in Brazil. It took nearly 600 years to build beginning in 1386, only reaching completion in 1965.
Over that time, the construction has gone through several different styles under different architects. Originally it was planned to build the cathedral from brick in Lombard Gothic style but a later architect changed this to a “Roman” style, with columns, obelisks and a large tympanum. In 1590, the appearance of the façade was changed to a late Mannerist style but this changed again in 1649 when the new chief architect decided to revert to the original Gothic style. John Ruskin commented that the cathedral steals “from every style in the world: and every style spoiled. The cathedral is a mixture of Perpendicular with Flamboyant, the latter being peculiarly barbarous and angular, owing to its being engrafted, not on a pure, but a very early penetrative Gothic”. Today most of the visible structures date back to 1805 when Napoleon ordered the building to be completed in neo-Gothic style in preparation for his coronation as King of Italy.
My eye is not as exacting as Ruskin’s so it remains one of the most beautiful cathedral’s I’ve ever seen. The quality of the carving is quite stunning. Of the five great doors on the façade, the central one has the most intricate decorative border showing birds, fruits, animals and insects in bas-relief.
Walking around the building it seems as if every possible niche from the ground to the roof has been filled with lifelike statues. The bases of the buttresses are decorated with reliefs and telamons (male figures used as columns).
The building is so huge that it’s quite difficult to admire the statuary on the upper levels. However a great tip is that the cafe on the top floor of the neighbouring Rinascente department store (itself a heavenly paradise, albeit for shopping) has fantastic views of the gargoyles on the roof, which look you right in the eye as you drink your coffee.
The tracery on the windows is also quite lovely.
It was my intention to visit the interior and the roof but the ticket vendor was so rude when I politely asked him about what I could see with the different kinds of tickets avaialable that I told him to stick his cathedral where the sun don’t shine! Quite an unbelievable attitude given it was during the pandemic and I was the only visitor in a ticket office built to take hundreds. Ah well, at least it leaves me something to do on my next visit, so this post is ongoing!
A walk around the Centro Storico next…