A stroll along the terrace of Milan's famous cathedral? What a romantic tale… (especially at sunset… whether you are in love or not!)
I definitely fell in love! I climbed up to the Duomo terrace, so to one of the highest points in the city and was absolutely enchanted. By everything. The clear sky over Milan, the bustling crowds in the square below, the Gothic spires, the friezes, the many arches, the pinnacles … and, of course, the golden statue of Our Lady, more than four metres tall and arguably the symbol of Milan.
From such an altitude you can look out over the whole city and the sight is amazing: you can see the ultra modern skyscrapers of Porta Nuova including the UniCredit Tower and the beautiful Bosco Verticale. You can even perceive the distinctive profile of Torre Velasca and the famous “Pirellone” designed by Gio Ponti. You will also get a glimpse of the dome of the Vittorio Emanuele gallery and be able to glance over the arches of the Novecento museum, the rooftops of Palazzo Reale and the nearby bell tower of San Gottardo.
Access to the terrace is by means of a convenient lift (though usually crowded) or a commodious flight of stairs. However, there are over 250 steps to climb, but believe me once at the top, the effort will be amply rewarded…
The Carelli spire with a statue of Saint George at its pinnacle is close to the lift, and is the Duomo's oldest, having been built at the beginning of the 1400s thanks to a legacy. The face on the saint actually represents the facial features of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, a prominent figure in bygone Milan.
Continuing along the roof perimeter of the cathedral you will see wonderful decorations and details sculpted in the marble, produced over the centuries in various historic phases by exceptional human skill. Among my favourites are the gargoyles to drain the rainwater, which often appear as winged dragons and other legendary medieval creatures. Over time other characters have been added to the 3500 statues depicting a universe of saints, martyrs and biblical figures: for example, turning your back on the statue of Our Lady, you will distinguish four pairs of boxers among the spirelets, including Primo Carnera, the first Italian to win the World heavyweight boxing championships in the 1930s.
Work on the construction of the Duomo began in distant 1386, when Gian Galeazzo decided to provide the city with an impressive building to symbolise the ambitions of his nation and include Milan among the great European powers. The duke made the quarries owned by his family available and provided substantial grants and tax exemption: every single block destined for the Duomo was branded AUF (Ad usum fabricae), (for building use) and consequently free from any form of taxation or toll.
The interminable length of the work became proverbial: just imagine the last door was hung in the 1960s. To be perfectly honest, the work is ongoing to this day because of maintenance and the polishing of the marble, always carried out with patience and expertise. The white marble still comes from the Candoglia quarry (on Lake Maggiore, not far from Darbia) property of the Duomo's “Veneranda Fabbrica”, the company historically in charge of the preservation, the architectural and artistic repairs of the cathedral. Expert craftsmen shape the pieces of stone needed to occasionally replace the more seriously damaged parts, worn down over time by pollution, even… pidgeon excrement, the inhabitants traditionally associated with the spires.
Under the aureate protection of Our Lady, at seventy metres above ground level, the beauty of the Duomo and the city's skyline in the heavens over Milan is stunning …
P.S How about an appetising break after that walk at such an altitude? I have a couple of ideas for refreshments: Gino Sorbillo's renowned pizza, an absolute must (“Lievito Madre” located just behind the Duomo in Corsia dei Servi) or the awesome California Bakery (in Corso Garibaldi or in Corso Como) for an American-style dinner or, alternatively, either a savoury or sweet snack.