Italy | Milan’s Pride: Il Duomo

“Fra le tue pietre a le tue nebbie faccio villeggiatura. Mi riposo in Piazza del Duomo. Invece si stelle ogni sera si accendono parole. Nulla riposa della vita come la vita.” — Umberto Saba, 1934

(“I am vacationing amidst your bricks and fog. I relax in the Cathedral Square. Words, not stars, illuminate each night. There is nothing more relaxing in life than life itself.” — Umberto Saba, 1934)

“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!” — Mark Twain, 1867

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it, or how many times I’ve ventured atop, the Duomo never gets old. In fact, for the first month of my stay in Milan, it would literally take my breath away, as if someone had punched me in the chest. Though each Italian city, big or small, has a Duomo, not one can compete. Mind you, I am aware that I am partial, but even my visitors have stared at its marble facade in total silence, mesmerized by its elegance and grandeur. My roommates and I frequently took specific exits from the Metro, just so we could emerge in its shadows. It adorns the cover of the Italy Lonely Planet, it’s the stage for a good deal of Italian cinema, and it wears many labels, including the fourth largest cathedral in the world, but it is still underrated. Most of the world’s people can tell you where to find the Eiffel Tower, how to get to the Statue of Liberty, or the location of Big Ben, but few could name this beauty upon seeing some of its white marble, despite being frequently referred to as one of the greatest churches in the world. I would even venture to say that it is more amazing than any of these other things. For example, for as much as I adore Paris, the Eiffel Tower has never left me dumbstruck and breathless.

Clearly respected among the cathedral admirers, it is the only other Duomo (along with Florence’s) that is simply referred to as the Duomo outside its own city. One could spend hours wandering the rooftop, adoring every carving and view. There is simply no escaping the intense size and unique look of this church; it makes Notre Dame look rather pitiful. Adorned with thousands of intricate statues, including a selection of saints and icons, the Duomo looks almost lacy in its intricacies. A golden Madonna watches the city from her perch; I recommend going to see her on a slightly dreary day, when the crowds have fizzled and the photographic opportunities plentiful. It is during a day like this that unobstructed flying buttresses, pinnacles, and spires can really be appreciated, without the clustering of souls through tiny tunnels and pathways. You may even find a part of yourself atop the marble roof, where history and present meet, poetry is born, and grand thoughts thought.

Amazingly, the interior manages to be nearly equally impressive, despite its darker, unrestored marble. Five aisles wide and endless rows deep, the main floor opens to the inspiring ceiling. Along the edges, you can find countless treasures, if you know what you are looking at. Included are numerous sarcophagi, Pellegrini’s three epic alters, Marco D’Agrate’s St. Bartholomew statue, a presbytery, the Trivulzio Candelabrum, and a nail from the crucifixion of Christ. Additionally, it is only from the inside that one can appreciate the amazing, rich stained glass and see some of the sculptures from up close. The cathedral is so vast, that even today, some marble still awaits carving, though Duomo construction began in 1386 and was allegedly completed in 1965. In 2009, the Duomo is finally set to be completely uncovered, completing its six year restoration.

Tip: Amazingly beautiful at night. Also, at Christmastime, the Milanese put up the largest Christmas tree I have ever seen in my life, decorated gracefully with flowers and lights. If you are in town for the season, a must see.

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