The Milan Cathedral or Duomo di Milano as its called in Italian is Italy`s largest cathedral and at a larger scale it is the fourth largest cathedral in the world. One of the most famous buildings in the world, the gothic structure really represented a challenge for architects, since it took nearly six centuries to be completed.
The Milan Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan, currently Cardinal Angelo Scola and it is dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary Nascent). The Gothic style in which the church was decorated reminds us more of the French style rather than the Italian one.The one who initiatied this grand project was Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo,in 1386.
There were a lot of coincidences with the starting date of the construction,since it coincided with the accession to power in Milan of Gian Galeazzo Visconti,who was the archbishop cousin.The construction was meant to be looked as a reward to the noble and working classes.
Under the supervision of Federico Borromeo the foundations of the new façade were built by Francesco Maria Richini and Fabio Mangone at the beginning of the 17th century.Five portals and two beautiful middle windows were added until 1638. Changes came with the new leading architect, Carlo Buzzi that in 1649 decided to change the façade so it would fit the Gothic style,that was originally intended for the cathedral and that also included the details within gigantic Gothic pilasters and the two giant belfries.
There were other suggestions and designs proposed by Filippo Juvarra (1733) and Luigi Vanvitelli (1745),but they weren`t accepted. The façade was demolished in 1682 and the covering of the roof was finished. The cathedral is also famous for the Madonnina spire that was built in 1762, having the height of 108.5 m. Francesco Croce designed the spire while the Madonnina statue is the creation of Giuseppe Perego. There is also a local supersition,Milan being renowned for the foggy climate-when the Madonnina can be easily spotted from a distance the Milanese think that it`s going to be a fair-weather day.
But how did the façade get to be completed? The story is quite interesting and it started on May 20,1805 when Napoleon Bonaparte was about to be crowned King of Italy- he insisted that the façade should be ready.He also offered to pay all expenses and he appealed to the French treasurer.
So thanks to Napoleon it took only seven years to build the façade.Buzzi`s vision was respected by the new architect,Francesco Soave,even if he decided to add some new-Gothic elements to the upper windows.Napoleon`s generosity wasn`t forgotten so this is why a statue of Napoleon was put at the top of one of the spires.His wish came true and he was crowned King of Italy in the cathedral.
During 1829-1858 the stained glass windows were replaced with new models but the change didn`t impact the design too much. Missing arches and spires were also added in this period. But other details and finishing were added in the 20th century,the last gate being inaugurated on a recent date,on January 6,1965.
This gate represents the last element that ends centuries of additions, renovations and constructions.But there are rumours that remind us that some statues will also be added in the future,because some uncarved blocks await to be “brought to life”. The main façade of the cathedral was under renovation from 2003 up to February 2009 when it was revealed to the public.