Milan is famous as one of the world’s most dynamic fashion and design capitals but there’s one monument whose design will never run out of fashion: the Duomo. The Duomo Milan is the largest cathedral in Italy and one of the largest in the world. It’s also one of the top tourist attractions in Milan, and rightfully so. Work on the current structure began in the 14th century and continued for hundreds of years. Today, the cathedral is a striking blend of Gothic and neo-Gothic styles, with a façade that’s second to none. Mark Twain visited Milan in 1867 and remarked:

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!… (quote from Mark Twain)

The Duomo in Milan.

The crown of spires

The Duomo or Cathedral of Milan is arguably the city’s most famous attraction and attracts millions of visitors every year. The ornate interior is nothing short of breathtaking but before you step inside, explore the elaborate exterior, with its sculptures, columns and a roof that bursts into a crown of spires, each topped by a unique statue. I recommend joining a tour of the Duomo and the rooftop terraces. Alternatively, you can simply purchase a ticket that provides access to both areas.

The elaborate spires and arches of the Duomo’s façade.


The rooftop

The best way to admire the Duomo’s impressive exterior is to climb to the rooftop terraces – or you could simply take the elevator! The path winds its way around the upper terraces, offering visitors magnificent close-ups of the intricate stone sculptures, spires, gargoyles and statues. The close-ups and the views across Milan and of the nearby Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II are absolutely stunning.

Statues atop the spires of the Duomo.
The sun peeks through the spires.
Climbing to the roof allows visitors to truly appreciate the architecture.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II seen through the spires.

Pinnacles and statues

A stairway takes visitors to the rooftop where they can sit and enjoy the views of the spires – look for the polychrome Madonna statue atop the highest spire (at a dizzying height of 109 meters or roughly 360 feet). If it’s a clear day, I recommend doing the roof-climb just before sunset. It’s a magical experience to see the pinnacles and statues bathed in the orangy-pink glow from the sun.

The roof of the Duomo.

Away above, on the lofty roof, rank on rank of carved and fretted spires spring high in the air, and through their rich tracery one sees the sky beyond. … (Up on) the roof…springing from its broad marble flagstones, were the long files of spires, looking very tall close at hand, but diminishing in the distance…We could see, now, that the statue on the top of each was the size of a large man, though they all looked like dolls from the street… They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands. – Quote from Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s spirited description of the Duomo’s exterior inspired me to spend more time to explore this architectural wonder. The crown of spires certainly took my breath away.


Inside the Duomo

You should also spend some time strolling inside the Milan Duomo to see its impressive nave and stained glass windows.

Inside the Milan Duomo.
The impressive columns.
One of the stunning stained glass windows.

If you’re travelling to Milan, plan sufficient time to visit the Duomo and venture up to the roof to admire the beautiful spires!

Read other Velvet Escape posts on Lombardy

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