Milan Cathedral or Duomo (Duomo di Milano) is located in the famous Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) and is an inimitable masterpiece of Italian architecture in the flaming Gothic style.
The facade of the Duomo is decorated with many amazing sculptures, delicate columns, towers and spires that give the main cathedral in Milan so much grace and subtle Gothic beauty.
Its imposing size makes it one of the largest Christian churches in the world, with a capacity of up to 4,000 people. Built of snow-white marble, it is delightful at any time of day. And its decoration is a treasure trove of priceless treasures.
History of the origin of the Cathedral of Milan
The very site on which the Cathedral of Milan was erected was built much earlier. During the Celtic culture there was a sanctuary, and during the Roman Empire there was a temple of Minerva.
It is known that the Roman temple was facing the forum and was located in the central part of the city. This is evidenced by layouts of the city of past centuries.
Baptistery (Battistero Paleocristiano), which is located under the modern cathedral, was built in 335. It had an octagonal shape at the base.
The church of Santa Tecla had been there since 355, but it was destroyed in the 6th century. Then, in the 7th century, the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore) was built, with a basilica next to it.
A fire in the 11th century greatly damaged the structures. During the creation of the new cathedral the former church and the basilica were merged.
Construction of the temple began in 1386 under Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan, who descended from the Visconti dynasty. Under him Milan made significant progress in development.
The work was carried out under the patronage of Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo. The original Gothic design for the building was by the Italian Simone da Orsenigo.
Photo: Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock.com
Then the architects changed frequently. Among them was Nicolas de Bonaventure of French descent, appointed chief engineer.
He added French Gothic elements to the plan of the building. It was at his suggestion that the structure, made of brick, was completely lined with marble.
Where did such a huge quantity of marble come from? This was taken care of by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who gave the masters the opportunity to use, without tax, material from the quarry of Candoglio.
Another architect from France involved in the cathedral was Jean Mignot. He was invited specifically to evaluate the construction. According to him the engineering methods used by the masters were outdated. The introduction of new technologies allowed to accelerate the work.
In 1402 Gian Galeazzo Visconti died. By this time the temple had already been half-built.
Work gradually continued: in 1424 created the tombs of Pope Martin V and Marco Carelli, in 1452 completed the aisles and the main aisle, and in 1470 there was a window apse.
In 1470 the architect Guiniforte Solari was invited. At the same time, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci and Donato Bramante were involved in creating the appearance of the cathedral.
Thanks to these craftsmen, early Renaissance decorative elements and an octagonal dome appeared on the facade.
The inauguration of the Milan Cathedral took place in 1572 with Cardinal Carlo Borromeo.
In 1769 the cathedral was completed with a spire of 106 meters high. On it is an important landmark – a statue of the Madonna made of gilded bronze. The total height of the cathedral is 158 meters.
Completion of construction at the beginning of the 19th century was already under the direction of architects Giuseppe Zanoia and Carlo Amati, commissioned by Napoleon. Although the basic works were finished at the beginning of 1813, the creation of some elements lasted till 1965.
The temple was erected in honor of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so it is also called the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Nascente). Currently open to all comers.
Architecture of the Duomo
The facade of the Milan Cathedral amazes everyone who sees it for the first time with its astonishing beauty. It is made in the style of Flamboyant Gothic – with ornate elements, numerous decorations, intricate ornaments and elongated pediments.
The cathedral is 158 meters long and 92 meters wide. Its imposing size places it in second place among all the Gothic cathedrals after the Catedral de Sevilla. When compared with the Italian ones, the only one bigger Duomo is St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican (Basilica di San Pietro).
It is possible to look at the facade endlessly: it amazes with the number of spires, towers, statues of saints, prophets, martyrs, various decorative elements. And at the very top is the main statue – the figure of the Madonna (La Madonnina).
By the way, after the completion of construction, even issued a decree that prohibited the erection of buildings higher than the statue of the Madonna.
A total of 3,400 statues on the exterior and interior of the cathedral.
Photo: Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock.com
Milan Cathedral is the only temple in Europe built entirely of white marble. This makes it look ravishing at any time of day – it reflects the sun’s rays by day and looks mystical by moonlit night.
The interior decoration is a masterpiece of art: monumental columns looking upwards, high vaults, fine moldings and amazing paintings. What one sees there takes one’s breath away!
It contains important religious relics, including the nail from the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
Every year, on September 14, when the faithful celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the archbishop lowers the nail in a special elevator in the cloud, and at the end of the feast lifts it back into place.
Also in the cathedral is the mausoleum of Gian Giacomo Medici. The mausoleum is decorated with three statues, marble slabs and elegant columns. Its author is Leone Leoni.
Other highlights are the statue of the martyr St. Bartholomew, an Egyptian bath from the 4th century, now used for baptisms, and a 5-meter-long bronze candlestick.
The elaborately carved wooden choir and the stunning 15th-century stained-glass windows, which give the cathedral both mystery and grandeur, are worth seeing.
During the daytime it is definitely worth climbing up to the roof of the Duomo, the terrace that offers the most stunning view of Milan. The ascent can be done either in an elevator or on foot using the stairs on the street side.
Photo: Beautiful landscape / Shutterstock.com
If you are in Milan in November or December, you are doubly lucky.
This is the time each year when the cathedral hosts an exhibition of the Quadroni di San Carlo (Quadroni of San Carlo), made by Italian artists in the 17th century. This is a series of 54 paintings depicting scenes from the life of Archbishop Carlo Borromeo.
How to get to the Cathedral of Milan
The cathedral is located on Piazza Duomo and can be seen from afar. The easiest way to get there is to take the first and third lines of the Metro – get off at the Duomo station.
The Cathedral is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (the last visit is at 6:10 p.m.).
Enter the Archaeological Area and the Baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The last visit is at 18.10. The entrance is inside the Cathedral.
Climb to the roof terrace from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a final visit at 6:10 p.m. The Church of San Gottardo is open on the same schedule.
The Duomo Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (the last visit is at 6:10 p.m.). On Mondays the museum is closed.
As of 2022, a ticket to the Cathedral of Milan costs 5 euros.
Climbing to the terrace on the roof of the Duomo costs:
- 14 Euro by elevator (access by elevator);
- 10 Euros by foot (access by stairs).
It is also possible to buy one of the combined tickets:
- Culture Pass: includes visits to the Cathedral, the Archaeological Zone, the Duomo Museum, the Church of San Gottardo and the exhibitions. It costs 10 euros.
- Duomo Pass Lift: includes a visit to the Cathedral, the Archaeological Area, the Duomo Museum, the Church of San Gottardo, the ascent to the roof in an elevator and exhibitions. Price 20€.
- Duomo Pass Stairs: the same as the previous ticket, but you have to go up to the terrace on foot. The price is 15 Euros.
The schedule and prices of tickets may vary: check the official website for details.
Where better to buy a ticket
You can buy tickets without long lines at the Info Point in the Cathedral or at the Museo Duomo, located in the Royal Palace on the right side of the Milan Cathedral.
It is also possible to buy tickets in advance through the official Milan Cathedral website www.duomomilano.it/en/. When buying, you must select the date of the visit: the ticket is valid for three days from the date selected for the visit.
The Cathedral Square is also home to other important landmarks. After admiring the interior and exterior of Milan’s Cathedral, it’s worth a visit to the sumptuous Palazzo Reale – Milano.
After relaxing over a cup of coffee, you can take a stroll through the Galleria Vittorio-Emmanuele II, with its many boutiques and stores.
Walk through the glass gallery and find yourself in front of the La Scala Opera House at Via Filodrammatici 2. Here you can spend an unforgettable evening enjoying a performance and learning about the history of the famous theater in its museum.
Undoubtedly, spending a day in Milan’s Cathedral Square is the dream of every art lover and admirer of Italian architecture.
If you want something more interesting than the traditional walk around the city on the map, try a new format of sightseeing. In modern times more and more popular are unusual excursions from the locals! After all, who better than a local knows the history and the most interesting places in Milan?
You can see all the tours and choose the most intriguing on the Tripster website.
Milan’s Duomo di Milano
Cathedral – seasonal: high from 09:00 to 19:00; low – weekdays from 9:30 to 16:30, Saturday-Sunday and holidays from 9:00 to 17:00.
Cathedral – 5€ (children – 2€). The rooftop terraces on foot are € 10 (children € 5), by elevator € 14 (children € 7). Pack ticket (Cathedral+museum+terraces (elevator)+archeological site) – € 20 (children € 9). Fast-Track from 26€ (children 14€).
Milan Cathedral (Duomo) is a functioning church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where services are held both for Catholics and for members of the Russian Orthodox Church. The grandiose structure, lined with white Kandolian marble, is striking in its architectural splendor. Construction began in the Middle Ages and lasted 600 years, officially ending only in 1965.
Milan Cathedral, panorama of the Cathedral Square in Milan on Google Maps
Under the arched vault above the altar, a Christian relic is kept – a nail from the crucifixion of Jesus. The relic is shown to the faithful once a year, on September 14. On that day, the Archbishop of Milan ascends to the cross on a platform in the form of a cloud with angels. According to legend, the lifting mechanism was invented and painted by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Tickets to the Duomo in Milan
Admission to the cathedral costs 5€. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free of charge. Tickets for children aged 6 to 18 cost €2. Tickets to the Duomo Museum and the San Gottardo in Corte Church are €5 and a concession of €2. The museum and church are closed on Wednesdays.
To visit the archaeological area and San Giovanni Baptistery you must have a combined Culture Pass or Duomo Pass Lift ticket.
The excavation area and the Baptistery di San Stefano are open to the public.
The entrance to the terraces is open from 9 to 19 only during the summer season (from May 16 to September 16). Elevators stop lifting passengers at 6.10 pm.
A ticket to the terraces with stairs on foot costs 10€ for adults and 5€ for children from 6 to 12 years old, while the elevator ticket costs 14€ and 7€ respectively. Keep your elevator ticket – you must also present it for the descent.
The Duomo P ass combination ticket includes a tour of the cathedral, the terrace, the Duomo Museum and the archaeological area. The cost varies according to the mode of access: the elevator (Duomo Ass A) is 20€ for adults and 9€ for children aged 6 to 12, while the walk (Duomo Ass B) is 15€ for adults and 7€ for children.
Where to buy tickets
Tickets can be purchased at the Info Point in the Cathedral and at the Museo Duomo ticket office, located by the Royal Palace to the right of the Milan Cathedral.
Comprehensive tickets are not tied to a specific date and can be used any day until the end of the year. Tickets are valid for 72 hours from the moment of activation (when the bar code is read at the entrance), the order in which the sites are visited is irrelevant.
Rental of an audio guide inside the cathedral is 9€.
From March 27, 2018, the new Fast-Track Ticket service is available, which reduces waiting time in line thanks to a privileged security screening lane every day from 10:00 to 17:00 (the last ticket is sold at 16:50).
The Fast-Track Ticket for 26€ includes a visit to the Cathedral, the Church of San Gottardo and the archaeological site of the Baptistery of San Giovanni el Fonti through the group entrance.
Benefits for tourists who have purchased a Fast-Track ticket:
- Audio guide rental at a discounted cost of 6€;
- A 10% discount in the official Duomo di Milano store.
Open hours in Milan Duomo Cathedral depend on the season:
- November – April : weekdays from 9:30 to 16:30; Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from 9:00 to 17:00;
- May – October : daily, from 9:00 to 19:00.
On church holidays there is a special opening hours.
Access to the terrace: from June 1 to September 15 – until 19:00 (the last entrance is at 18:10); at other times – according to the cathedral’s opening hours, check on the official website.
Ticket sales stop an hour before closing time, the admission of visitors – 50 minutes. The temple is closed to tourists at Christmas and New Year and on May 1.
Online camera of the Cathedral of Milan
If for any reason it is not possible to see the cathedral in the near future, or just want to see the famous landmark in real time, you can always watch the online broadcast.
Webcam in high quality shows the Cathedral itself and the square in front of it, the Gallery and the statue of Victor Emmanuel II.
History and architecture
At the site where the Milan Cathedral now stands, religious rites have been performed for centuries. Before Christ, it was the site of a Celtic temple which was torn down by the Romans in order to build a temple of Minerva. After the fall of the Roman Empire on the ruins of the ancient sanctuary stood the church of Santa Tecla (Saint Thecla), destroyed by the ancient Germanic tribe of the Lombards and rebuilt a couple of centuries later, but now as the basilica of Our Lady of Santa Maria Maggiore.
The foundations of the Cathedral of Milan were laid in 1386 by order of Duke Giangaleazzo Visconti. The change of eras added Renaissance elements to the original design of the Gothic temple. White marble with a pinkish hue from the quarry of Candoglia was used for decoration.
In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte, a descendant of the Italian-Corsican family, was crowned king of Italy in the temple. He had already approved the final design of the facade facing the Cathedral Square. As a result, the idea of the first architect who worked on the temple was realized, and Milano Duomo received 135 marble “needles”, pointing to the sky and creating the appearance of an example of Gothic architecture. The Milan Cathedral was completed in 1813 by the architects Carlo Amati and Giuseppe Zanoia.
Bombing during World War II destroyed more than half of the city’s buildings, but the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente miraculously survived.
The majestic complex of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Nascente is second in size only to three Christian churches in Europe: St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, Seville Cathedral in Spanish Andalusia and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The architectural style of the Duomo, which combined the artistic traditions of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, is called the “Flaming Gothic”.
Panorama – Duomo facade close up
Milan Cathedral facade
The white marble facade of the Duomo is eclectic with a dominant Gothic style, created over half a millennium.
The cathedral was originally built in the local tradition – in the Lombard Gothic style, which required strict adherence to proportions, which is why the cross section of the western façade is precisely inscribed in a triangle.
Throughout the centuries of construction, architects from Central Europe were involved in the work and as a result, the church managed to acquire some features of Rhenish (remember Cologne Cathedral) and Bohemian Gothic (Bohemian churches), and first of all, in terms of sculptural design.
During the Counter-Reformation, the Cathedral of Milan received elements of Roman ecclesiastical architecture and later, in the first half of the 17th century, was supplemented by the Baroque style, which was coming into fashion.
As in all other Gothic cathedrals, the sculptures of the Milano Duomo are dedicated to the idea of Christian salvation. There are 3,400 statues on the facade, spires and inside the building and more than 700 figures embedded in marble high reliefs. They depict historical and biblical characters – patriarchs and prophets, martyrs and saints, as well as cherubs, gargoyles and chimeras.
The sculptures of the Cathedral of Milan are not just decoration but an integral part of the symbolism of the temple; their composition and appearance have been shaped continuously for six centuries: this is the only permanent evidence of sculptural work on the cathedral site, which year after year continuously produced statues in accordance with the cultural climate of each individual historical moment. And an important point was always the view of the cathedral from below: from this the craftsmen worked on the shapes, proportions and poses of the statues.
Many of the sculptures, especially the most significant ones, were transferred after the war to the Duomo Museum, where they are preserved to this day as examples of artistic heritage.
The Madonna topped the central spire in 1769, the same year a law was issued prohibiting buildings taller than the Holy Virgin from being erected in the city. However, the exception to the rule did not last long, and the Pirelli skyscraper circumvented this restriction by installing an exact replica of the statue of Our Lady on top.
The image of Milan’s cathedral, including the new statues, continues to be shaped in modern times. In March 2006, for example, statues of Blessed Carda Ferrari and Father Monti were installed between the saints and the spires of the cathedral, and in October 2013 statues of Blessed Don Carlo Nocchi were added.
Milan Cathedral inside
Among the attractions of the temple, the astronomical clock on the floor, the carved wooden choir, the 5-meter candelabrum of the XII century and the Egyptian bath of the IV century, which became a baptismal font, deserve attention.
The richness of the interior decoration is concentrated in the very high and original capitals, which complete the large beamed columns, in the huge 16th century altars and in the complex of the monumental presbytery, where the sculpture is expressed in a variety of ways, materials and techniques.
Sacred Nail (bridle)
The main shrine of the Duomo of Milan is one of the nails brought from the Holy Land by Equal-to-the-Apostles Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. The nail, from which the bridle of the imperial horse was made, is 42 meters high in a crystal reliquary with silver facets. A red lamp light indicates its location.
On the eve of the ecclesiastical feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Nivola ritual is performed. On this day, the bishop of Milan ascends to the reliquary, then the relic is displayed for viewing to chants and prayers. The ceremony, accompanied by the sounds of the organ, is broadcast on monitors installed in the temple.
Stained glass windows
Milan Cathedral is decorated with 45 stained glass panels, the oldest of which is more than 500 years old. The mosaic paintings depict scenes from the Old and New Testament, the Apocalypse and the life of Christ. The stained-glass window above the small chapel of the cross is dedicated to the deeds of St. Helen.
Mausoleum of Gian Giacomo Medici
On the tombstone between the two figures representing Peace and War is a sculpture of Giacomo de Medici (1495-1555), nicknamed Medigino. Two angels hold a shield with the coat of arms of the Medici family of Florence. The tomb monument of the Italian general and uncle of St. Carlo Borromeo was created by sculptor Leone Leoni (earlier the authorship was attributed to Michelangelo). The tomb was commissioned by Pope Pius IY, brother of Giacomo. The mausoleum was one of the last burials inside the temple. Since the end of the 16th century it has been forbidden to bury the dead within the walls of the church to avoid epidemics.
Statue of St. Bartholomew (Bartolomeo)
One of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ and the patron saint of fishermen died a martyr’s death; his skin was removed during torture at the instigation of pagan priests. The sculptor achieved a frightening naturalism: the martyr is covered by his own skin like a cloak, reminiscent of an anatomical museum exhibit. Proud of his creation, the sculptor carved the inscription on the pedestal, “It was not Praxiteles who created me, but Marco d’Agrate”.
In the temple rest the remains of Archbishop Carlo Borromeo of Milan, a saint. His name is connected with saving the city from a plague epidemic that raged in Italy in 1575-1578. The Archbishop of Milan, risking contagion, nursed the sick, performed funeral rites for the dead and went into debt to feed the city’s distressed citizens. Carlo Borromeo ordered the sacred relic to be taken out of the temple for the first time and personally led a penitential procession with the Holy Nail so that the terrible disease would recede. Access to the crypt is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.Every year in November and December there is an exhibition of the quadrone of St. Carlo Borromeo. Italian painters have depicted scenes from the life of the archbishop in a series of 54 paintings.
Terrace of Duomo – observation deck
The peculiarity of the cathedral is a terrace with a viewing platform, which can be climbed by elevator or stairs. Once on the roof, among 135 towering spires, you can not only enjoy a breathtaking view of the city, but also see sculptures of angels, men and monsters close up.
Personal belongings are scanned and inspected at the entrance. It is forbidden to bring sharp and glass objects, motorcycle helmets, and large bags. To visit the temple, choose clothing that covers your shoulders and knees.
Plan of the Milan Cathedral
The central nave of the Duomo has five main aisles, the outermost of which, intersecting with the transept, further form the deambulatory.
At the intersection of the nave and transept is the domed tower, whose tall spire is adorned with the figure of the Virgin Mary, the highest part of the cathedral.
Museum of the Duomo of Milan
The Cathedral Museum is located in the Palazzo Reale di Milano, to the right of the facade of Milan Cathedral, the former residence of the city’s rulers, which now houses the Duomo Museum and the Chiesa di San Gottardo in Corte.
The museum’s exhibition tells about the history of the Duomo Cathedral over the centuries, from its foundation in 1386 to the XX century. In the exhibition halls (there are 26 of them) there are icons, fragments of stained-glass windows, paintings, tapestries and copies of statues that adorn the Cathedral. In addition to works of art, the museum collection includes drawings, sketches, documents and artifacts related to historical dates.
The Royal Palace in Milan and the Duomo Museum on Google Maps panoramas
How to get to the Cathedral of Milan
The cathedral stands in Piazza del Duomo, in the heart of the city. This architectural landmark is hard to miss, and the main tourist routes lead to the cathedral.
From Milano Centrale railway station, take the red M1 or the yellow M3 line to get there in a few minutes. The station is called Duomo and exit from the metro station is directly to Piazza del Duomo, so the subway remains the most convenient way to get to the Cathedral for most tourists, especially for those who are new to Milan. Subway in Milan works from 6:30 to 0:30.
Streetcars: 24, 27 (stop Piazza Fontana), Nos. 2, 3, 14 (Via Torino), 12, 16, 19 (Via Mazzini). Travel around Milan by streetcar is also comfortable, although the stops are farther from the Cathedral than the exit of the subway station, but it has an advantage – you can see other attractions of the city center on the way.
Private or rented car is not a good way to get to the cathedral. As in other European cities, parking in downtown Milan will be a problem. To travel around the city is better to use mobile applications Uber, AppTaxi, MyTaxi, TaxiSelect.
You can visit the Cathedral in Milan on your own or buy individual sightseeing tours.