The Cathedral of Milan is a very fine piece of Gothic architecture, the fifth largest cathedral in the world. But what makes it really special is that you can walk on the roof. And not just a short walk, either. The Duomo Terraces cover the whole of the roof, giving an unusual view of the Cathedral and its architecture. You can walk among the marble statues and the soaring spires, while taking in the views of the city and beyond.
The Duomo And Its Terraces
The Milan Cathedral was built over a period of 500 years, beginning in 1386. As a result it displays a variety of architectural styles. It is primarily Gothic, but also incorporates the Romanesque and other elements from later centuries. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin was dismissive of the building and its fusion of styles, saying it showed “every style spoiled”, with “not a ray of invention”. However, others disagreed, and today it is regarded as a Gothic masterpiece.
Ruskin was less scathing about the roof, praising the “crowding of the spiry pinnacles into the sky”. In fact, the roof and its terraces would have been comparatively new when he visited. The building work had progressed slowly. The main spire and the statue of the Madonna were added in the 18th century, but the rest of the roof remained unfinished. The final work was done on the orders of the Emperor Napoleon, who became King of Italy in 1805.
A Walk On The Roof
The Duomo Terraces allow visitors to explore the whole of the roof, with corridors and wide open spaces. It is a magnificent sight. The whole area is paved with marble, and you are surrounded by intricately carved stone, spires, and marble statues.
The Cathedral of Milan is said to have more statues than any other building in the world, and many of these are on the roof. There are thousands of statues, gargoyles and other figures, as well as 135 spires. Then there are the views. Looking out over the city of Milan, you can see as far as The Alps on a clear day.
The Tiburio And The Madonnina
The main spire, known as the Tiburio, is 108m high. It was a massive feat of engineering: although it was not finally built until the 1760s, one of the earliest plans for it had been drawn up by Leonardo da Vinci almost 300 years earlier.
At the top of the Tiburio is the Madonnina, a statue of the Virgin Mary. Completed in 1774, the copper figure is covered in gold leaf and stands more than 4m tall. For many years no building in Milan was allowed to be higher than to top of the Maddonina, a tradition that endured until 1959. The statue is now regarded as the symbol of Milan.
Visiting The Duomo Terraces
You can reach the Duomo Terraces via a stairway (251 steps) or elevator. Both options require you to purchase a ticket. You can also get a guided tour to the rooftop. Unfortunately wheelchair access is limited to the lower rooftop area. Note that appropriate dress is required, and that shoulders and knees must be covered.
Make sure that you leave time to explore the interior of the Cathedral once you have left the rooftop. Apart from the statues and the impressive stained glass there is an archaeological area in the crypt where you can see the remains of a 4th century baptistery. When you leave the building you will come to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (on the side of the Piazza del Duomo), an excellent place to stop for a drink or a snack.