12 Interesting Facts About Milan Cathedral

Did you know that one of the largest and most amazing churches in the world is located in a fascinating city in the north of Italy?

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Milan Cathedral, an incredible Gothic Cathedral!

1. The cathedral is located right into the heart of Milan

Milan Cathedral is located in the second-biggest city in Italy after Rome with about 3.6 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area. Milan is also the capital of the Lombardy Region and located in the northern part of the country.

The cathedral is located right within the historical center of the city and was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s the seat of the Archbishop of Milan.

One of the most amazing facts about Milan Cathedral is that the location it was built on was already the central point of the Roman city of Mediolanum which would become Milan. The entire city was built around this central site with the first basilica dedicated to Saint Thecla completed here in the year 355 A.D.

View of Milan from Cathedral
View of Milan / Stefano Stabile / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

2. It’s one of the largest churches in the world

The cathedral is considered to be the largest cathedral in Italy. Even though the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is larger, it’s located within Vatican City, a sovereign nation.

In fact, only the cathedral in Vatican City is larger in Europe! There are two churches in Brazil which are bigger, Followed by Milan Cathedral and Seville Cathedral. This makes it the 4th largest church in the world by floor area!

The numbers are quite staggering as well:

  • Capacity: 40,000
  • Floor area: 11,700 square meters (125,937 square feet)
  • Length: 158.6 meters (520 feet)
  • Width: 92 meters (302 feet)
  • Height: 108.5 meters (356 feet)
  • Spires: 135
  • Dome height: 65.6 meters (215 feet)
Milan Cathedral facts
Side of the cathedral / Pixabay

3. Building Milan Cathedral took an incredibly long time

Construction of the cathedral started in the year 1386, and shortly after, French architects were hired to build one of the most amazing Gothic Cathedrals in the world. The enthusiasm was great and just 16 years later in the early 15th century, almost half of the cathedral was completed.

Little did the people of Milan know back then that it would take over 5 and a half centuries more to finally complete the massive structure, something that happened in the year 1965.

The biggest problems: a lack of money and ideas to complete the Gothic Cathedral while the Renaissance was flourishing!

Milan Cathedral Cornerstone
Cathedral Cornerstone / Wiki Commons / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

4. Some famous artists of the Renaissance aimed to design the cupola

What better thing to do than to organize an architectural competition to finalize the design of the cathedral. The competition was mainly aimed to integrate a Renaissance-style cupola into the Rayonnant Gothic elements used by the French architects a century earlier.

The competition was launched in 1488 and attracted some of the most famous artists of the Renaissance, including the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Donato Bramante.

The octagonal cupola of the cathedral as eventually completed in the early 16th century.

Milan Cathedral Interior
Milan Cathedral Interior / Darafsh / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

5. It only had one decorative element in the early 16th century

One of the most remarkable facts about Milan Cathedral is that back in the early 16th century, the church didn’t have nearly the number of decorations that give it such an amazing appearance today.

In fact, it only had one decorative element referred to as the “Guglietto dell’Amadeo,” or “Amadeo’s Little Spire.” This name refers to the Renaissance artist named Giovanni Antonio Amadeo who designed the spire in the Renaissance style between 1507 and 1510.

Amadeo Milan Cathedral
Amadeo / Pe-Jo / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

6. The famous spire of the cathedral was completed in the 18th century

The Archbishop of Milan between 1564 and 1584 named Carlo Borromeo was the first to attempt to completely redesign the cathedral. This was an attempt to subdue the Gothic elements that weren’t popular anymore and replace them with Renaissance-style design features.

In this period, the façade of the cathedral was shaped, a construction phase that would continue until the year 1638 and include five portals and two middle windows.

The Madonnina’s spire, one of the most prominent elements of the cathedral, was constructed in the year 1762 and eventually reached a height of 108.5 meters (356 feet).

Milan Cathedral Spire
Spire of Milan Cathedral / Pixabay

7. The Madonnina Statue on top of the spire marks the weather of the day

The spire is decorated with an amazing polychrome statue referred to as the “Madonnina.” This statue was created by famous Italian Baroque artist “Francesco Croce” in 1764 and has been one of the most fascinating features of the cathedral ever since.

For the residents of Milan, this statue has an important connotation as well. The city is often covered in a foggy mist due to its location and climate. If the Madonnina is visible from a relatively far distance, it means Milan is enjoying an amazing day in regards to the weather conditions!

Madonnina Statue
Madonnina Statue / Pixabay

8. The façade was completed under Napoleon who got a special thanks

The other remarkable feature of the cathedral is its façade, which features both the Gothic and Renaissance styles and has been both praised and rejected by critics.

One of the most interesting facts about Milan Cathedral is that the completion of the façade was initiated by nobody else than Napoleon Bonaparte. This happened on May 20, 1805, just before he was about to be crowned the King of Italy. Just 7 years later, the façade was finally completed.

Napoleon was crowned as the King of Italy at the Cathedral with the Iron Crown of Lombardy, just 6 days after he gave the command to complete the façade. The financial support he promised for this project never came.

Milan Cathedral Facade
Façade of the Cathedral / Pixabay

9. The cathedral was finally completed in the year 1965

The façade wasn’t the only feature that was still in development in the early 19th century. There were still a lot of arches and spires missing and many niches still didn’t have statues.

These were all added in the 19th and 20th centuries and the cathedral was finally completed in the year 1965 when the final gate was inaugurated on January 6 of that year!

Yes, this means that the total construction period lasted 579 years between 1386 and 1965!

Are of Milan Cathedral
Cathedral and area / Pixabay

10. You can have your name carved into one of the cathedral’s spires

Do you have €100,000 of spare cash lying around? Then you can support the cathedral’s preservation by having your name engraved into one of its spires.

Because the Italian government became a bit thrifty around 2012, the budget to preserve national monuments was seriously reduced. That’s why the cathedral’s management came up with this idea to ensure its condition won’t deteriorate.

With a total of 135 spires up for “adoption,” they aim to raise a grand total of €13.5 million, which is more than enough to ensure its preservation for the upcoming decades!

Milan Cathedral facade spires
Spires on the façade / Pixabay

11. Tourists can visit the roof of the church

In order to fully appreciate the spires and statues which decorate the cathedral, you really need to visit the roof of the Duomo. You can visit the roof for a small fee and get a close-up look at these amazing decorative elements which are impossible to see from the street level.

On top of the cathedral, you’ll find pinnacles, spires, and statues on top of flying buttresses. Yes, that’s right, the most amazing elements of Gothic architecture!

On top of Milan Cathedral
Roof of the church / Daniel Case / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

12. Not everybody appreciates the cathedral’s architecture

Because the cathedral was constructed over a period of nearly 600 years, multiple styles were used. At the end of the 15th century, the construction even stalled because they found it too complicated to integrate the Renaissance-style into the flamboyant Gothic architecture.

This lack of ideas reflects in the overall design of the church, which is the main reason its design has been criticized by some people over the centuries.

Oscar Wilde, who visited Milan in June of 1875, mentioned that “The Cathedral is an awful failure with a monstrous and inartistic design.”

American writer Mark Twain was a little more enthusiastic. He wrote about the cathedral after his visit to Milan in the summer of 1867 and said: “What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful!”

Regardless of what some people say, we have to admit that the Duomo of Milan is one of the most fascinating structures ever built!

Fun facts about Milan Cathedral