The Cathedral of the Nativity of Saint Mary, better known as Duomo di Milano, is the largest church in Italy, and the fourth largest in the world. The Cathedral, which took almost six hundred years to complete, is the most important tourist attraction in Milan and the most famous symbol of the city.
Once, on the site where the Duomo stands today, there was the ancient Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore and the Basilica of Santa Tecla. After the collapse of the bell tower of the cathedral, the Archbishop Antonio de’ Saluzzi, supported by the population, proposed in 1386 the building of a new and larger cathedral. To make room for the new church, both churches were demolished.
In January 1387, the foundations of the pylons were laid. The chief architect was Simone d’Orsenigo, who, in 1388, began the perimeter walls. Between 1389 and 1390, the French Nicolas de Bonaventure was commissioned to design the windows.
In 1393, the first capital of the pillars was sculpted by Giovannino de’ Grassi, who was the main architect of the work until his death, in 1398. In 1400, Filippino degli Orgi took his place, who focused on the construction of the apse windows. From 1407 to 1448, he was responsible for the construction, time in which the apse was completed. In 1418, the high altar was consecrated by Pope Martin V.
From 1452 to 1481, the head of the works was Giovanni Solari, who, for the first two years, was also joined by the Tuscan architect Filarete. In 1567, the Archbishop Carlo Borromeo put Pellegrino Tibaldi in charge of the works, who redesigned the presbytery, solemnly consecrated in 1577.
Regarding the facade, Pellegrino Tibaldi made a design in 1580, based on a two-storey base with giant Corinthian columns and an aedicule in correspondence of the central nave, flanked by obelisks. After the death of Carlo Borromeo, in 1584, his protégé left the city, and the works were taken over by his rival Martino Bassi, who sent Gregory XIV, a Milanese pope, a new facade project.
In the 17th century, the works were conducted by the best architects in the city, such as Lelio Buzzi, Francesco Maria Richini, Carlo Buzzi and Gerolamo Quadrio. In 1628, the central portal was built.
Between 1765 and 1769, Francesco Croce completed the crowning of the lantern tower and the main spire. The outline of the Buzzi’s facade was resumed at the end of the century by Luigi Cagnola, Carlo Felice Soave and Leopoldo Pollack. The latter, began the construction of the balcony and the central window.
In 1805, at the direct request of Napoleon, Giuseppe Zanoia started the work on the completion of the facade, in anticipation of the Coronation of Napoleon as King of Italy, which took place on May 6, 1805. The project was finally concluded in 1813 by Carlo Amati.
After the Second World War, as a result of the damage inflicted by aerial bombardment, the Duomo was largely restored. The remaining wooden doors were replaced with bronze doors, the work of the sculptors Arrigo Minerbi, Giannino Castiglioni and Luciano Minguzzi.
The construction of the facade began in 1590, under the direction of the architect Pellegrino Tibaldi, in Late-Modernist style, continuing in the first half of the 17th century under the direction of Richini and Carlo Buzzi.
The five portals and part of the windows above date back to that period, each of the portals having above a broken tympanum. The bases of the central buttresses are decorated with 17th-century reliefs, with atlantes designed by Carlo Buzzi. To the Napoleonic era belong the three Neo-Gothic windows, realized on a project by Soave and then by Amati. The bronze doors are from the 20th century. The central one is from 1906, with light Neo-Gothic lines, while the other four were made after the Second World War.
The cathedral has a Latin cross plan, with five naves and a transept with three naves, with a deep presbytery surrounded by a ambulatory with a polygonal apse. The supporting structure is composed of pillars and the perimeter walls were reinforced by buttresses.
The apse is polygonal and framed by the bodies of the two sacristies, which are crowned by the most ancient spiers. The apse is illuminated by three huge windows.
HOW TO GET THERE
The closest Metro station is Duomo, on the Metro Line M1, which has many exits to the square in front of the Cathedral, Piazza del Duomo. You can also reach the Cathedral by tram (Lines 12, 16 and 19) or by bus (Line NM1), getting off at the homonymous stop, Duomo, located about 200 meters away.