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One Last Day in Milano

October 10, 2022

I spent my last full day in Milan immersed in the Duomo. The day was bleak, so my images aren’t spectacular, but at least the rain stayed away. I took a so-called Fast Track tour, which I highly recommend, as you buy your ticket online, then meet your guide beside the entry at your appointed time, skipping the line of folks waiting to buy tickets and get in. It also allows you to take the elevator to the terraces, though you then must climb to the rooftop and eventually walk all the way down.

The cathedral, as you can imagine, is full of art, sculpture, stained glass, symbolism — a sensory overload that makes it impossible to remember everything shared by the guide — six centuries of history in ninety minutes. Construction began in 1386, with the apse at the rear and continuing toward the front, the Napoleon Façade, dedicated to himself in 1814. It wasn’t until 1965, however, that the finishing touches were added. It’s dedicated to the Nativity of St. Mary, and on its surmounting spire is the golden Madonnina, at over 300 feet high.

The major patrons of the project were the Visconti and Sforza families, whose family crests are prominently displayed in stained glass and bas relief. When the decision was made to use Condoglia marble as the construction material, it was the Viscontis who owned the quarry on Lake Maggiore who supplied the pink stone. Sadly, air pollution and acid rain cause the marble to crumble, so preservation efforts are continuous. As our guide pointed out, you will never see the Duomo without scaffolding somewhere. The marble is stunning, especially the parts that have been recently cleaned, with grey, pink and ivory striations. Notice in the image below left how the pattern is matched. What awesome craftsmanship!

Inside, one of the first statues to greet you is that of the disciple St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive and then beheaded for converting the king of Armenia to Christianity.

Fifty-two statues line the nave, each bearing a unique decoration.

Since most people of the time could not read, the acres of stained glass recount Bible stories to the faithful. The church has a precious relic, a nail supposedly from Jesus’ crucifixion, that is stored in the uppermost reaches of the nave ceiling. Each September the Archbishop is spirited up in a private elevator to take down the relic and do what with it I don’t really know! But it goes back up after whatever ritual is performed.

The gigantic organ has 15,800 pipes, the largest measuring more than nine meters in length(over 30 feet) and the smallest only a few centimeters. Imagine tuning it! Another interesting interior feature is the sundial, which is a simple piece of bronze embedded in the floor, marked by astrological signs. A tiny oculus in the ceiling captures the sunlight at noon on the summer and winter solstices, shining directly on the bronze strip.

The tiny five-person elevator whisks you up to the terraces in 25 seconds. I couldn’t help but think what a boring job the elevator operator has…while most jobs have their ups and downs, he has more than most. It’s hard to describe my first impression on reaching this midpoint to the top of the structure. It was like being in a fantasyland of carved marble, with gargoyles staring and carved figures and decoration on every surface. Further on, a series of stairs leads you to the rooftop. It’s remarkable to think how all this artistry was accomplished. Did they tote the marble up here and carve the figures in situ, or was the carving done below and the figures hoisted up?

My ticket also allowed access to the Museo del Duomo. Inside are hundreds of artifacts, including some original sculptures displayed here to protect them from the elements. The rooms are kept very dark, with spotlights on the pieces, and descriptive plaques are mounted close to the floor, making it virtually impossible for me to read what I was looking at. Nonetheless, it was a monumental collection.

There were dozens of bas reliefs.

After all the churches I’ve visited on this trip, this was a fitting and unique ending.

Home tomorrow, and I must say I’m ready for it, though this has been a memorable trip.

From → Italy, Uncategorized

  1. Cheri Anderson permalink

    What a marvel of architecture, craftsmanship and artistry, Diana! Your photos are wonderful! You captured the magnitude of the space, and the beauty of its details. I had no idea it was constructed with pink marble. Fabulous!

  2. What a trip! I cannot even imagine the myriad images and details running through your brain. The Duomo is just exquisite and a definitely the “icing on the cake” of your trip. So glad you were able to experience all your wonderful adventures but I know your own bed in your own home was a welcome experience!

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