When I arrived at the Duomo in Milan with my camera, it was about six am. I hadn’t been able to sleep because I was so anxious about my exciting itinerary for my first full day in the city. The large square was almost empty, though an occasional jogger passed through. I spent at least an hour walking around the cathedral, gazing at the exterior decoration – the spires, the large windows, the flying buttresses, the rich sculptural adornment, the gargoyles and more.
The Duomo is an architectural gem with a dominating Gothic exterior. It is the symbol of the city I would grow quickly to love. The Milan Cathedral ranks as the largest church in the country, though St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is bigger. The cathedral is one of the largest in the world. Construction started in 1386 and didn’t end until 1965, spanning six centuries. It has 135 spires, the first finished in 1404. Some of its150 gargoyles harken back to the 14th century.
While the style of the cathedral does not correspond to only one type, many features are in French Gothic style, such as the flying buttresses and rib vault. The statuary on the exterior stems from various eras. Some statues were created from 1418 to the middle of the 16th century, placed in niches of capitals of pillars. Many more were created in the 18th century in Late Baroque style. External statuary of the prophets and apostles are in Neo-Classical style. New stained-glass windows were installed in 1470. The construction of the façade started in 1590 in late Mannerist style and was finished in Neo-Gothic style under the guidance of Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign in the 1800s. Using the art of painting on glass, new stained-glass windows were made from 1829 to 1858. During the 19th century more spires were constructed, and the roof terraces were finished. Flying buttresses also appeared as did more statues.
Bombing during August of 1943 damaged the structure, but it was reconstructed. The wooden doors were replaced with bronze ones. The main façade was renovated from 2003 to 2009 in Candoglia marble.
Because the cathedral was not yet open, I was able to study its closed bronze doors. One showed the history of life of Mary with floral reliefs. Another depicted the history of Milan and yet another the history of the cathedral itself. The reliefs on the doors were incredible. I saw the Assumption, the Sacrifice of Cain, David with the Head of Goliath, the Tower of Babel and other biblical pictorial renditions. The floral and animal decoration on the central door was outstanding, too. The tympanium was worth noting, too. The one in the central portal showed off the Creation of Eve.
Later that morning, I walked on the sloping terraces of the roof with its pinnacles and spires on flying buttresses. Gazing at the sheer beauty of the cathedral’s exterior from high up was astounding. I spotted the octagonal lantern from the 15th century with its Madonnina statue from 1769. The Madonnina reaches more than four meters high. The total height of the cathedral is 108.5 meters. The view of the city and spires was phenomenal. It was calming and soothing seeing all the people so far below. Up there I didn’t have a reason to rush or worry. It made me think of how we have to open ourselves to new perspectives when traveling. This applies in daily life as well. Whenever I had a pessimistic attitude, I had to try to see the problem from a fresh perspective that would give me a more positive outlook.
After my visit to the roof terraces, it was time to take a look inside the cathedral. I had expected the cathedral to impress me, even to overwhelm me with its beauty, and it had done just that. I made my way down the narrow spiral staircase to the ground floor, certain I would continue to be amazed at the beauty of such an architectural gem.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.