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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 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!…

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The Duomo in Milan

The crown of spires

The Duomo is arguably Milan’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.

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The elaborate spires and arches of the Duomo’s façade

The best way to admire the Duomo’s impressive exterior is to do the roof-climb – or you could simply take the elevator! The path winds its way around the upper levels, 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.

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Statues atop the spires
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The sun peeks through the spires
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The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II seen through the spires

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.

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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. – 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.

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