Milan's Cathedral, or simply the Duomo, is one of the most photographed tourist spots in the centre of the city.
Its imposing beauty is unquestionable, but these 10 facts will make you look at it with a refreshed sense of awe.
1. The Duomo is the largest Gothic Church in the world and the largest church in Italy (remember that Saint Peter’s Basilica is in the State of the Vatican City).
2. What makes the Duomo not only a church but also a cathedral, is the fact that it is home to the archbishop of Milan, currently Archbishop Mario Delpini.
3. Besides being the official home to the archdiocese of Milan, the Duomo hosts an astonishing number of statues and gargoyles. The official Duomo website states that 3,400 statues, plus over 700 marble figures, stand all over the cathedral.
4. Among the thousands of statues, some are naturally images of saints and figures from the history of Christianity, but some others are rather peculiar: sirens with double-ended fishtails, the portrait of boxer athlete Primo Carnera, and the face of Benito Mussolini are just a few worth searching around.
5. But among all 3,400 statues, the Duomo’s - and arguably the city’s - most revered figure is the golden representation of Mary, endearingly called the Madonnina (Little Madonna). Measuring four metres high and completely covered in gold, the Madonnina stands at the highest point of the Duomo’s roof and looks over the city asserting her role as the protector of the Milanese people.
6. The Madonnina was, in fact, the highest point of the city until the 1960s, when the Pirelli skyscrapers were built and surpassed her height by just a few metres. In order to make up for this audacious move against the city’s guardian, when the Pirelli towers inaugurated, a copy of the Madonnina was placed on top of one of the towers as a statement: the highest point of Milan continues to belong to St. Mary.
7. Another thing that sets the Duomo apart from most churches around the world is the lack of visible bell towers. The Duomo’s bells aren’t visible, but they exist. Although even locals may not remember them because the bells are only played a handful of times per year to avoid the potential impact that its vibrations might have on the church’s structure.
8. The Duomo’s construction process has lasted almost six centuries! The construction started in 1386 supported by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, ruler of Milan at the time, who had aspirations of turning this project into the world’s largest church. By the time the cathedral was consecrated, in 1418, its nave was barely finished. Most people agree that the official completion year is 1965, but some argue that the Duomo has never been fully completed, considering the frequent restoration that has for long been underway.
9. It was due to Napoleon Bonaparte's insistence that the Duomo’s façade was finally completed in 1811, just in time to celebrate the birth of Napoleon’s son in style.
10. The construction of the Duomo has physically affected the city way beyond its walls. The cathedral was built with the white-pinkish marble that comes from the Candoglia Quarries, located approximately 90 km to the northwest of Milan. The strategy to bring the marble stones to the construction site was to use water transportation. The marble navigated to Milan along rivers, and where the rivers ended, canals were built in order to continue the marble’s journey well into Milan’s centre. Even after the transportation of marble was over, the canals remained. As a result of the Duomo's construction, therefore, Milan now enjoys its Navigli canals, which have become a vibrant part of the city filled with bars, shops and street markets.