26 November 2021

Duomo of Milan: what to see taking part in an organized tour?

The architectonic scene that strikes you when you arrive in Piazza del Duomo in Milan is really incredible: the fourth largest Catholic church in Europe, the undisputed emblem of the gothic style in Italy, stands proudly and majestically, shining in the elegant white-pinking marble in the centre of the large square.

There are many routes to visit Milan from north to south and east to west but it is impossible not to visit the interior of its star monument, the splendid cathedral, the Duomo of Milan. Taking part in an organized tour is an excellent way to enjoy even more the visit to its interior, rich in treasures and details that otherwise you would miss.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is what to see on an organized tour of the Duomo of Milan!

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Organized tour of Duomo of Milan: what to see? Let’s start from the outside

The first approach with the Duomo is outside; the marble used for its construction, from Candoglia, is of fine quality and has an unequalled gleam. You realize immediately how high and impressive the church and, looking up, you cannot fail to notice the famous “Madunina“, now an icon of Milan: it is a statue covered in gold, four metres tall and placed on the highest spire of the Duomo.

Observing the rich external decorations from closer, you immediately realize that carved into the marble a surprising encounter between the sacred and the profane is hidden: as well as the statues of the saints, there are others “invented” – such as that of San Napoleone –  which share the space with fantastical figures like demons and gargoyles.

The sundial and the sack of the Last Judgement inside the Duomo of Milan

At this point we can also answer another question: “The Duomo of Milan: what is there to see inside?” Let’s start from the sundial and the sack of the Last Judgement.

It was Joseph of Austria who, in 1776, ordered the two astronomers of the Astronomic Observatory of Brera, Guido Francesco Reggio and Giovanni Angelo De Cesaris to make the famous sundial of the Duomo, for the purpose of accurately knowing the date of Easter. The mechanism still works today: at midday on the dot a ray of sun filters from the outside and is projected along the brass line on the floor of the cathedral, indicating the period of the year we are in, identifiable thanks to the help of the signs of the zodiac shown on the inlaid floor.

Look up above the right nave and you will notice a strange sack hanging from the ceiling: nobody knows what it really contains, but legend has it that the sack will fall down when the Last Judgement arrives.

The sarcophagus of the archbishop Visconti and the other statues

Ottone Visconti was the first of the members of his illustrious family to have power over Milan. The sarcophagus of the archbishop Visconti is in the extreme right-hand nave, framed by two large columns of fine Verona marble and together with his remains there are also those of his successor, Giovanni Visconti.

There are other historical memories that you can admire inside the church, such as the bronze status in the style of Michelangelo dedicated to Gian Giacomo Medici, alongside the allegorical ones of Militia and peace, on an altar of Carrara marble. A little further on, it is impossible not to notice the so-called “skinned St Bartholomew”, a very fine work by Marco d’Agrate of 1564.

The splendid sculpted altars and the organ

The great altar is truly majestic, but also precious: it is said that the tabernacle contains one of the nails used to crucify Jesus Christ, the so-called Nail of the Cross. On the left of the great altar, on the other hand, the splendid golden organ: decorated with beautiful paintings that portray the life of Mary and other saints, it has four instruments.

Another altar not to miss on your guided tour inside the Duomo of Milan is that of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary: the lateral naves of the church hold, as well as sarcophagi and funeral monuments, several altars including one dedicated to San Giovanni Buono and, at the end of the left nave, a beautiful Baptistery in porphyry, a fine red marble. The altar of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary is a 16th century work by Agostino Busti known as the Bambaia, a masterpiece of the Milanese Renaissance, astonishing for the depth of perspective of the marble relief.    

A stroll on the Rooftops

Duomo of Milan: what to see on the Rooftops?

After having been fascinated by the coloured stained glass windows and the very fine sculptures inside the church, it is time to climb up to the top of the Duomo, closer to the Madunina: a stroll on the church rooftops, amid the gothic spires and the more modern sculptures is an experience not to be missed that offers an exclusive view of the square and the elegant buildings surrounding the Duomo.

The Ritual of the Nivola and the Quadroni of San Carlo

Lastly, two more experiences not to miss during a visit to the Duomo of Milan are participation in the Ritual of the Nivola and the contemplation of the Quadroni.

The Ritual of the Nivola has taken place at the Duomo of Milan since 14 September 1500, every year: every 14 September, a liturgy is celebrated dedicated to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Amid incense and prayers, the archbishop goes up with the “nivola”, a sort of 16th century lift, to the tabernacle where the relic of the Sacred Heart is kept.

The Quadroni of San Carlo on the other hand, can traditionally be admired only in November, when there is the feast day of the saint: there are over fifty paintings, very large, which are displayed between one pillar and another of the cathedral and celebrate the main episodes in the life of San Carlo Borromeo, the Milanese saint par excellence. The Duomo of Milan, besides, holds the remains of San Carlo just behind the altar in the beautiful “scurolo”.

Since 1386, when Gian Galeazzo Visconti started to build it, the Duomo has been enriched with splendid works: over 3.000 statues, 700 figures on the bas-reliefs and 55 stained glass windows, These are numbers that not only emphasize the magnificent size of the building, but also remind us how, to admire it in all its splendour, it is really helpful to visit it from top to bottom with an organized tour that is exclusive and complete.

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