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Art & History

Duomo, a guide to Milan gothic cathedral

News > Art & History | Duomo, a guide to Milan gothic cathedral

Majestic and romantic, it is impossible not to glance at it, even if only briefly, especially when the sunset light reflects on its pink surface. It’s the Duomo we are talking about, the city’s iconic cathedral and the third largest Catholic church in the world.

From the foundation stone till today: over 600 years of history

Duomo Milan Gothich Cathedral

At the end of 1300, today’s Piazza Duomo used to house the cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore and the basilica of Santa Tecla. In the year 1386, following the collapse of the bell tower, Archbishop Antonio de ‘Salluzzi promised to the city the construction of a new building, that should have become the symbol of Milan.
Initially, the construction involved the use of brick, according to the Gothic tradition.
In 1387, Lord Gian Galeazzo Visconti took control of the work: instead of bricks, Visconti wanted to use the Candoglia marble to give it a much more grandiose look.
Visconti made sure that the marbles were exempt from taxation tax: each block heading to the Cathedral was marked AUF (Ad usum fabricae) and, therefore, exempt from all taxes.

In 1393 the first pillars were built.
In 1986 the restoration of the cathedral was completed.

Between these two dates, the events were many: different architects from Europe came to oversee the works; the appearance of the façade was discussed over and over again; in 1764 the Madonnina, the Virgin Mary statue, found its place on the highest spire; moreover, the bells were put inside the cathedral.
During World War II, the Madonnina was covered with rags to prevent enemy bombers to see it and attack it.
After the war, the cathedral was completely renovated and the wooden doors replaced with marble doors.
So impressive, yet so unstable, the Cathedral continued to see pieces of marble falling on the aisles. Therefore, in 1969, the area around Piazza Duomo was closed to traffic and the major ordered a slowdown of the Line 1 of the subway.
The renovation was completed in 1986, on the day of the centenary of the Duomo construction.
Today, it’s still the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo that takes care of the maintenance works, like at the times of Gian Galeazzo Visconti.
The centennial history of the construction of the cathedral led to the creation of a way of saying in Milan that goes like Longh cumè la fabbrica del Domm, meaning something that takes forever.

Some interesting facts on the Cathedral

What to know about the Duomo

Such a long history is obviously full of anecdotes and curiosities.
The first is that all the clocks in Milan, until the mid-nineteenth century, were regulated by the meridian of the Cathedral.
The most interesting anecdotes, however, concern the cathedral statues.
There are over 2500 statues that hide surprises to the most attentive eyes.
Indeed, it is possible to see a statue similar to the Statue of Liberty, which scholars say it was taken as an example for the construction of the one in New York; a statue-pigeon, to commemorate the true inhabitants of the cathedral; and even a dinosaur.
The terrace treasures also the statue of four boxers: one of them is Primo Carnera, the first Italian boxer to win the Heavyweight title.

Finally, between a spire and the other, you can see the heads of demonic monsters.
The legend says that Gian Galeazzo had a dream, where the devil told him to build him a temple. Whether it was true or not, the medieval tradition used to portray monsters on the buildings to scare the evil forces, so Visconti decided not to take any risks.

The Cathedral today


Fear not. To see the statue of the boxer or to be scared by the evil faces, you won’t need a powerful monocle!
The terraces of the Duomo, in fact, open daily to allow citizens and tourists to peer among the spires. Lazy readers, listen up: you’ll have to climb many stairs, so prepare your reserves of “are we there yet?”
If you suffer from vertigo, give the Cathedral Museum a go, to look at old photographs and at the evolution of the Cathedral symbol of Milan.

Official website of the Duomo:

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