Il Duomo: An Introduction
Arguably the most recognizable and popular Milan attraction is il Duomo and the surrounding area, Piazza del Duomo. Located in the heart of the city, it's easily accessible by metro or the tram - or if you don't mind a bit of walking, by foot. I chose the latter, fueled by a miniscule teacup of strong espresso and armed with a few Euros and my camera. I strolled down Via Magenta, window shopped my way down Via Dante, and little by little, the statues and spires of il Duomo di Milano came into view.
Construction for il Duomo began in the late 14th century under Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo. The original engineer, Simone da Orsenigo, had plans to build in the Lombard Gothic style, a cathedral trend popular in Northern Europe and characterized by the use of dark red brick. A portion of the Duomo is in fact built in this style with red brick. However, Archbishop Saluzzo's cousin, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, had other ideas for the look of the church. He appointed another architect, the French born Nicolas de Bonaventure. Bonaventure paneled the existing brick structure in the light marble that is seen today and carried out the rest of the design in Rayonnant Gothic, a style popular in France but unseen in Italy until il Duomo's construction.
Nearly half of the structure was completed by 1400, but by the late sixteenth century, French Gothic was considered out of date. New plans to design the facade in the Renaissance style to emphasize its Italian-ness, so to speak, were approved, but never carried out. The facade seen today does indeed follow the original French Gothic style and was completed in the late 17th century. Things like stained glass windows, chapel art, and statues were added intermittently over the next few hundred years, with the last piece of il Duomo added in 1965, marking its official completion.
Nothing can prepare you for seeing il Duomo up close. The facade is not only absurdly tall, but wider than most Gothic facades, as it extends out to the left and the right in front of the flying buttresses that line the body of the church. Visitors enter and exit through the left and right portals, but it's the main door that you don't want to miss.
Reaching nearly thirty feet in height, the center portal can only be described as a massive slab of delicately carved bronze. 28 rectangles and two quadrifoils depict the life and death of Christ - a bit difficult to follow if you're a human of average height, however. At 5'7", I found myself about even with the bit of gold on the left (one of a few areas tarnished by repetitive touching; perhaps where the doors were frequently grasped in order to open).
The best part of il Duomo's exterior cannot be seen from the ground. If you have ten Euros to spare, walk down to the left side of the church and buy a ticket. Climb 250 winding, stone steps and you will find yourself....
...on the roof.
You'll be face to face with gargoyles, lost in a maze of latticework and intricately carved flying buttresses. If you can make your way through, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Piazza and Milan's skyline.
|I wonder what those statues think about Milan's modern additions to the skyline?|
There's so much more to see at il Duomo; a fabulous interior, the baptistry, and the treasury, just to name a few - all of which will be addressed in future posts. Since il Duomo has been described by one critic as (to sum up), multiple pieces from multiple styles crammed into one, I think I'll steer clear of writing about it in the same fashion.