The beautiful facade of the cathedral reveals itself in grand spectacle as you ascend the stairs of the exit of the metropolitana (subway). From its 108 metre post, the gilded statue of the Madonnina stands out, along with the pinnacles, the stained glass, the windows and finally the grand doors. The final stair as you exit brings into view the piazza and will leave you breathless. You stop to admire, but not for too long because the real surprise is the decorations along the sides of the cathedral and the coloured stained-glass windows of the apse. Be sure to take a stroll around.
The cathedral of Milan holds over six centuries of history and the entire building is made of pink-hued, white marble that comes from the quarries of Candoglia. Its construction began in 1386 on the area where the basilicas Santa Tecla and Santa Maria Maggiore stood and later became “encompassed” in the new cathedral. Architects, sculptors, artists and thousands of specialized workers became involved in the Fabbrica del Duomo (the construction of the cathedral) which, it can easily be said, has never stopped operating. Even today, in fact, work still continues on this extraordinary piece that is the symbol and heart of the city.
The immense heritage generated by this work includes hundreds of statues, a myriad of half-bust sculptures and spectacular stained-glass and ornate decorations in its frames and windows. A gigantic work in late Gothic style, it spreads out over a surface of 11,700 square metres and preserves the memories of the city. It is impossible to list exactly all that there is inside, but as you enter, you can’t help but notice an intimate atmosphere despite the enormous spaces that are all waiting to be discovered. It is the same for the crypt, which is accessed by a marble staircase. Here you will find the Tesoro del Duomo (Treasure of the Cathedral) in its retro-choir and the Scurolo, a small temple that preserves the remains of Saint Carlo.
Last but not least, allow for a separate visit to the rooftop where the scenery is altogether different, but at the same time, breathtaking. The entrance to the lift, or to the stairs for the sporty types, is located on the side closest to the department store La Rinascente. Once at the top, silence dominates, almost obliged by the spectacle that presents itself. All around you is the view of the whole of Milan and the magnificent pavement of Piazza del Duomo below assumes a whole different appearance. Then there is the Galleria, Via Mercanti and the arcade (Loggia) and on the other side, the buildings of the Arengario and Palazzo Reale; all of this while you stroll amongst the decorated spires and statues, just a few metres from the Madonnina.
The Duomo of Milan is also the first cathedral in the world to have its windows lit from within. The illumination system, with 68 low environmental impact lamps, allows the sacred images of the Duomo to be admired at night from outside and has been donated by the Municipal Electric Company, in occasion of its centenary (December 8th, 1910 - December 8th, 2010), to the Venerable Fabbrica del Duomo and to the city of Milan. The illuminated windows are visible on weekends and on religious holidays.