"What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful!" --Mark Twain
The Duomo di Milano is one of the most famous buildings in Europe. It is a particularly large and elaborate Gothic cathedral on the main square in the city center of Milan, Italy. It is also the second largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world.
The street plan of Milan, with streets either radiating from the Duomo or circling it, indicates that the Duomo occupied the most important site in Roman Mediolanum.
Saint Ambrose's "New Basilica" was built on this site at the beginning of the 5th century, with an adjoining basilica added in 836. When fire damaged both buildings in 1075, they were rebuilt as the Duomo.
In 1386 the archbishop, Antonio da Saluzzo, began the new project in a rayonnant Late Gothic style that is more characteristic of France than Italy. Work proceeded for generations.
The main spire was topped off in 1762 with a polychrome statue of the Madonna, to whom the Duomo and its predecessor have always been consecrated.
Even now, some uncarved blocks remain to be completed as statuary. Gothic construction on the rest of the Duomo was largely complete in the 1880s.
The Duomo has been under major renovations and cleaning for several years, obscuring the glorious facade with scaffolding. Works should be completed sometime in 2007.
Milan's Duomo is the second largest Catholic cathedral in the world: only the cathedral of Seville is larger (St. Peter's Basilica in Rome doesn't count because it's not a cathedral). It is 157 meters long— 40,000 people can fit comfortably within.
The Duomo of Milan blurs the normal distinctions between Gothic and neo-Gothic, for the Gothic west front was begun in 1616 and completed 200 years later. Only in its details does it reveal its Baroque and Neo-Classical date. From 1900 some of the least Gothic details of the facade were replaced in a more Gothic style to designs of Giuseppe Brentano.
The roofline dissolves into openwork pinnacles that are punctuated by a grove of spires, topped with statues that overlook the city. The main spire is 109 meters high. These can all be investigated up close on a breathtaking walk on the roof.
The huge building is made of brick faced with marble from the quarries that Gian Galeazzo Visconti donated in perpetuity to the cathedral chapter. Its maintenance and repairs are complex.
The cathedral's five wide naves are reflected in the hierarchic openings of the facade. Even the transepts have aisles. The great windows of the choir are reputed to be the largest in the world.
The Duomo also contians many treasures that can be viewed by visitors, including ivories, sacred vases in gold and silver, vestments and tapestries, most of which have been denoted by noblemen and princes over the centuries.
Mark Twain, a greast fan of the Duomo, can take over the description (from Innocents Abroad) from here:
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!...
The central one of its five great doors is bordered with a bas-relief of birds and fruits and beasts and insects, which have been so ingeniously carved out of the marble that they seem like living creatures-- and the figures are so numerous and the design so complex, that one might study it a week without exhausting its interest...everywhere that a niche or a perch can be found about the enormous building, from summit to base, there is a marble statue, and every statue is a study in itself...
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.
Living in the US (a country only being a little over two centuries old) it baffles the mind to think this structure took over five centuries to complete.
My goodness, that is spectacularly gorgeous!