I have admired every angle of Milan’s Duomo. I’ve seen it in daylight and lit up by lamps at night, in hazy summer and crisp winter air, in peak season and off. I’ve even toured the inside, sat for mass, examined dark angles and detailed stained glass. Yet I had never climbed to the rooftop.
A tourist in my own backyard, I had plans to make the climb someday (you know how that is). My friend Maddie’s visit was just the excuse I needed to finally cross this Milano item off my list, and I was happy to suggest it to her as an option. We headed to the back door of the cathedral around 4 p.m. when the light was just starting to dim, happy to find no line. We were informed by a very unfriendly man that we can pay 6 euro to climb the 250 stairs to the top or 12 euro to take the elevator and, unlike Florence’s Duomo that sports a line around the exterior year-round, in less than a minute we were on our way.
Though I expected magnificent views, I didn’t anticipate the grandeur of the Duomo’s rooftop. Florence’s Duomo, my only other climb, leads to a tight space at the top, large enough to squeeze past other tourists in a small circle before heading back down. Comparatively, the Duomo of Milan is truly fit for a king.
Finally at the top, we stepped out onto an angled space, a large jail of elaborate spires and sculptures. The size of each spire, stabbing into the blue sky with varying heights and strengths, can be overwhelming.
Not realizing the entire size of the space we were allowed to visit, we tentatively left the roof to see how far it went on. Walking through narrow hallways we passed row after row of elaborately carved stone, gargoyles and reliefs as we climbed stairs, heading toward the front of the cathedral.
The Cathedral is the fourth largest in the world, and the largest among Italy’s magnificent cathedrals. Though overwhelmingly gothic in style, the church was built nearly 700 years ago and actually shows a wide variety in styles and quality.
This might be why many judge it harshly, finding the ornateness of each pillar, the gargoyle drainpipes and the hundreds of saints carved on the Duomo’s facade to be too much. I admit, I once thought something similar – but as a more permanent fixture in my life, I’ve grown to adore the way the sun glistens off the pink-white marble, the way each angle reveals something new. The climb to the top introduced an entirely new perspective of the Duomo, one that can’t simply be dismissed and certainly not dismissed as bad taste.
Figures and saints of every type stand guard over the city they love, the city they’ve looked out over for centuries. The landscape has changed, with Ferrari tires running over the ancient stone streets instead of wooden carriage wheels, heels tick-tacking along with purpose instead of soft leather soles, but the Duomo has always stood as backdrop.
Today it stands to take us back in time, realizing that the soft leather soles likely carried the same worries, the same anxieties and the same joys that the heels now carry, nearly seven centuries later.
Climbing the Duomo of Florence I felt overjoyed looking out across the beauty of Florence. I felt young and strong, invincible at my height, at what my eyes could hold. Climbing the Duomo of Milan the experience is totally different. There I was simply a visitor, lucky to be crawling along the roof of a magnificent building. I felt the weight, the power of the structure, I felt small. Though a tourist attraction, it’s a visit that merits the time to truly appreciate this work of art, to step back in time and imagine the hundreds of men, hours and years that went into the Duomo of Milan.
We left as the winter sun sank low in the sky, appreciating the Duomo in a whole new way.