Milan’s solemn, elegant, and grandiose Cathedral, “Duomo” in Italian, is the city’s everlasting icon. It’s an astounding example of Italian history and architecture.
Decorated in the gothic style, rich with intricate patterns and elaborate carvings, this landmark is a must-see place in Milan: stunning to look at whether you’re an art enthusiast or not.
Here is a brief guide to some of the most interesting highlights of Milan’s Duomo, and all the useful information on how to buy tickets for the Duomo and/or the magnificent rooftop terrace.
The outside of Milan’s Duomo
The Duomo di Milano is Italy’s largest cathedral and the world’s fifth largest. Its stunning Gothic architecture houses 3400 sculptures, 135 spires, and picturesque gargoyles.
Like sentinels around the Cathedral’s perimeter, these 96 unsettling presences serve the purpose of draining rainwater. But they have always had a symbolic function; they represent and symbolize the world’s nightmares, keeping evil at bay.
According to the legend, when Gian Galeazzo Visconti – the Duke of Milan – woke up one night with his nose filled with the smell of sulfur. The devil appeared before him and threatened to send demons after his soul if he did not pay homage immediately by constructing a church that was filled with representations of Satan.
Thus, the terrified Gian Galeazzo directed architects and engineers to start building the Duomo and adorn it with gargoyles.
The Golden Virgin Mary Statue
Of the thousands of statues in the Milan Cathedral, the Madonnina is the most famous. Guardian of the Milanese and a city symbol, not only it protects the city from harm but also lightning, and the halberd she wields in her hand is a real lightning rod.
The monument is made of gold and copper plates, standing at an overall height of 108.5 meters, making it visible from almost every corner of the city (on top floors!). Traditionally, this statue must be placed at the highest point!
In 1960, the city passed a law limiting new buildings to heights no greater than that of the cathedral and statue atop it. But, as skyscrapers inevitably increased in number, this restriction was bypassed by placing a copy of the monument on top of each new tallest building—today’s example is Palazzo Lombardia (Regional Council).
The inside of Milan’s Duomo
The carved doors
After enjoying the beauty of the Cathedral’s façade, the high-relief decorations on the three entryways will capture you as you get closer. They tell stories about the Virgin Mary, Saint Ambrose, the Edict of Constantine, and Milan’s history.
The zodiac signs
Once you’re in, you’ll immediately notice one of the unique features of the building: a bronze line stretching from the main entrance. Following that line, you’ll come across several tiles portraying the zodiac signs. Their combination is far from casual. There is a calendar on the left wall and an opening on the right one. The opening was created to let sunlight pass through, each day illuminating the month’s corresponding zodiac sign at noon.
The Grim Statue of Saint Bartholomew flayed
One piece in particular attracts a lot of attention and curiosity from the millions of people who come to the Milan Cathedral every year. The statue, “Saint Bartholomew flayed”, tells a very grim story.
Saint Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. He is known as the apostle who was “flayed alive,” which means that his skin was taken off while he was still alive.
This brutal method of execution was often used as a punishment for crimes such as heresy or blasphemy. It is not clear exactly why Saint Bartholomew was flayed, but it is likely that it was because of his steadfast faith in Jesus and his refusal to renounce his beliefs.
This sculpture depicts him after the torture.
The Underground: The Archaeological Site
The city’s earliest archaeological monuments, the core of early Milanese Christianity, are located only 4 meters below Piazza Duomo.
The Baptisteries of San Giovanni and Santo Stefano alle Fonti, Milan’s oldest religious structures, still survive right underneath the Cathedral. Located beneath the Cathedral’s northern sacristy, Santo Stefano alle Fonti is where Sant’Ambrogio was baptized.
Milan Duomo Terrace
The Duomo di Milano is a must-see for anyone who loves history or architecture. But it’s also the perfect lookout point if you want to get a 360° view of the city from above.
The Duomo terraces, the spectacular 8000 square meter Cathedral roof, are accessible after climbing roughly 250 steps (or easily taking an elevator). From here, you can see the 135 spires, pinnacles, flying buttresses, and many intricate decorations up close.
Saints, portraits, wildlife, symbolism, demons, gargoyles, and other peculiarities are everywhere on the 70-meter-high terraces. These artworks span from late Gothic to Renaissance, from the sixteenth century to the baroque, and from neoclassical to strange works illustrating sports from the Thirties.
Visiting the Milan Duomo, tickets prices
You can choose from several types of tickets to visit Milan’s Duomo on your schedule.
Below are the most popular ticket options that you can buy online which will allow you to avoid waiting in line at the ticket office.
- Full ticket by stairs (€ 15, reduced € 7)
This ticket will allow you to visit the cathedral, museum, archaeological site, and church of san Gottardo; it also includes access to the terraces by stairs. However, please note that there are 251 steps to climb up into the rooftop area. This ticket, valid for three days after validation, entitles you to one entry into each of the attractions.
- Full ticket by lift (€ 20, reduced € 9)
Grants access to all the attractions described above, but you will also have access to the lift to get to the terraces.
- Full ticket without terraces (€ 10, reduced € 4)
Includes the cathedral, museum, archaeological site, and church of san Gottardo.
- Only terraces by stairs (€ 10, reduced € 5)
- Only terraces by lift (€ 15, reduced € 7)
Visiting the Milan Duomo, important tips
- It is mandatory to cover your shoulders and legs if you plan on entering the Cathedral. If you are wearing clothing that does not meet these requirements, entry will be denied.
- You have to pass through a scanner, and even if it does not detect any metal on your person, you may still need to show the attendant what is inside your bag or backpack
- Always, always buy your tickets in advance online! Weekends and peak season queues could be quite long and exhausting. It’s so simple, and making an early purchase online allows you to spend more time browsing the sites instead of waiting in line.