On a truly grand scale


Sometimes a single photograph simply doesn’t convey the sheer scale and drama of a building. Last month I was staying in Milan and took the opportunity to visit the magnificent Italian Gothic cathedral – the Duomo di Milano. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the third largest in Europe with only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Seville Cathedral being bigger.

Even when you walk across the Piazza del Duomo through the tourist crowds it doesn’t ‘feel’ huge as unlike many other medieval cathedrals it is broad rather than tall. Then, the closer you get the magnificent marble façade looms and looms above you. The scale is best appreciated when a few humans stand in front of the mighty west doors – mille grazie soldati!

The church is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity and was begun in 1386 and took over six centuries to finish. It is constructed from grey and pink-veined Candoglian marble that was ferried down a system of waterways from the Lake Maggiore quarries. From a distance it looks like an intricately iced cake, but up close you can truly appreciate the many marble statues and the fine ornate decoration.

There are 3,400 statues, 135 spires including 700 figures and 96 large gargoyles adorning the church. Looking up at the spires you might assume they were simply decorated with architectural, sculpted foliage, but in fact they are spires with multiple niches each holding a statue and finally each pinnacle is topped by another statue.


Interestingly, such a vast and lengthy undertaking as building and embellishing a magnificent cathedral resulted in a collaboration between local Lombardy sculptors and workers from further afield including French and German sculptors.

And inside. . . The interior can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres – I think the guide below was just checking to see where they all were on this very, cold morning.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

16 thoughts on “On a truly grand scale”

  1. Didn’t you go up on the roof to have your photo taken in the same pose as the madonna? That’s what everyone did when I was there!

    1. Sadly, I didn’t take the lift to the roof as it was bitterly cold and my father, in his eighties, was already frozen to the bone after touring the inside which was as cold as outside!

    1. I could have done with a wide angle lens to do it justice, but wouldn’t have got some of the upper details. I don’t like carrying around loads of stuff and these days everywhere you go security check you out. Some of the soldiers pictured were scanning everybody before they went in. They were rather serious and the phone in my coat pocket set their wand pinging. I took it out, waved it at them with a smile, but they weren’t amused.

  2. Yes, there’s no false modesty here. More is definitely more! Not entirely sure who they think can look up and see all the ornamentation, but maybe it’s not for us mortals.

    1. Yes, menacing is spot on. You know I visited Milan back in 1990 and there was no ‘security’ at all. I have just dug out a couple of photos (to check my memory) and there were far, far less tourists in the Piazza del Duomo too. Also a sign of the times.

    1. The soldiers were rather ill-tempered. I don’t think that carrying out security checks on an endless line of tourists is what they imagined they’d be doing as soldiers

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