Another of Milan’s treasures which we will be visiting on our upcoming Italy…Wine, Dine & Unwind Tour will be it’s most massive Gothic cathedral, Il Duomo. I have visited this stunning architectural wonder several times, and once in the winter when it’s spires were covered in snow making it look like a decorated cake!
The Duomo is the center of Milan, with the streets radiating out from it’s piazza. Begun in 1386, it took over 6 centuries to complete! Most of it was completed during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte when he crowned himself King of Italy. It’s official finish date, though, wasn’t until 1965 when its last gate was inaugurated! Throughout all of it’s construction phases and many architects, it took on various architectural styles. Some Gothic purists complain that it “steals from every style in the world; and every style spoiled.” This may be true from an architectural standpoint, but to the lay person’s eye, it is magnificent. It’s many spires and statues are awe-inspiring and create a façade of intricacy that looks like lace. Henry James described it as “a structure not supremely interesting, not logical not…commandingly beautiful, but grandly curious and superbly rich…”
The Duomo is constructed of marble quarried from the shores of Lago Maggiore and brought to Milan via canals that were built especially for the purpose of covering the Duomo’s façade. Leonardo Da Vinci engineered these canals under the direction of Ludovico Sforza. They were called the Navigli, and most of them have been boarded over except for the Naviglio Grande which today houses restaurants and art galleries.
The inside of the Duomo has some very interesting elements, one of which is an astrological map. The zodiac signs are arranged in a long line on the floor of the Cathedral and span its width. There is a tiny hole on the ceiling which is open to the sky. When the sun is exactly overhead at noon, the shadow cast from the sun’s ray will fall on the current astrological sign. I was fascinated by its precision! It is like an ancient calendar!
Sitting on top of the Duomo, is a beautifully golden statue of “La Madonnina”.
She has become the symbol of Milan. During WWII, she was taken off the church and put into storage to keep her safe. To this day, no building can be higher than “La Madonnina”. Here is a very famous song which has become a sort of anthem for Milan.
Italy, and a lot of Europe, has been covered in record snowfall this year. Pictures and pictures of famous sites covered in snow have been appearing all over the media. Rome received a record amount of snow – the most they’ve gotten in over 26 years! The Cinque Terre has been a winter wonderland – the beauty of the white snow surrounded by the warm sepia toned houses perched on the hills has been better than a postcard! But, as I recall, the January I spent in Italy in 2009 brought with it more snow than they had had in over 20 years. I think that was the beginning of the new winter trend – snow, snow…and more snow.
Scenes along the Shores of Lago Maggiore
The Duomo with its “Snow” Frosting
….and the Castello Sforzesco
Snow covered Santa Maria delle Grazie
If you are stopping in Milan for a few days (or even one day), here is a quickie tour of some of the highlights. I was only there for about 1 1/2 days but I think I saw the highlights. Of course, I didn’t delve very deeply into anything, but it whetted my appetite for more when I have the time. On my own time and not with a tour, I saw the Pinicoteca Brera, Castello Sforzesco, and San Ambrogio. The Pinicoteca is a great museum – small but full of famous art work. I got an audio guide and roamed around looking at the art. They have some Rafael’s and other famous European artists. The museum is part of an art school so there were lots of students walking around. But it was uncrowded and I was able to take my time looking around.
The Castello Sforzesco is an old fortress which has been a home to many nobles from the Renaissance. It is now a museum (several, in fact). The interesting things here include a ceiling frescoed by Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo’s last sculpture – an unfinished Pieta. There are many other things housed here so look at books, etc to see if it’s something that you might want to see.
San Ambrogio is a church constructed in about 300 AD – there are parts of original frescoes on the wall. San Ambrogio was the patron saint of Milan so this is a special site for the people of Milan. St. Ambrogio himself is entombed in the crypt underneath the church and many people stop by to pay him homage.
While I was there, I also took a half day organized tour. This was necessary in order to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper. It is almost impossible to get in to see it if you are not on a tour. They only allow about 15 people in to see it at a time and thus not many visitors can see it in one day. The tour also took me to the Duomo (or cathedral). You can visit this on your own, but the tour gives you a lot of interesting information about the Duomo. It is a beautiful Gothic cathedral well worth a visit. Near the Duomo is the Galleria Vittorio Emmanule (another tour stop). And finally the tour went to the Teatro La Scala. This is a very famous opera house where all the great operas have taken place for the last few hundred years. If you are into opera, you might want to see if something is playing when you are there. I’ve heard that the acoustics of the opera house are incredible. I can highly recommend this half day tour. I just called the concierge at my hotel and told him that I wanted to see the Last Supper and he went from there. I’m not big on organized tours but this one was very good. And it was only 1/2 day so it was perfect to get a glimpse of the city.
Milan has a very good Metro system. You can get to practically every place with it and it is very easy to navigate. You can purchase your tickets directly from the kiosks located in the metro stations. I find it’s easier to get them from a person rather than trying to figure out the ticket machines. When I was there, it was 1 euro per ride. You might also be able to buy day passes.
Walking is a great way to get around. Many of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other. Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes!!