Today we’re going to take an educational journey through the centuries, and chat about the history of the impressive Milan Duomo, which took an astounding six centuries — six hundred freaking years — to complete. If you are not already completely impressed, there’s something wrong with you. I remember all the whining that went on when Vancouver decided to build a new SkyTrain line in preparation for the 2010 Olympics; if the Duomo was being built in Vancouver, it quite simply never would have made it.
But this is Italy! A country where grown men stop what they’re doing for the love of pastry and elderly women savor sickeningly sweet pastries with strong black coffee for breakfast! This is a country in which people don’t obey traffic laws, and swear at each other incessantly! Even if you’re a customer! This is a country of pleasure and enjoyment, and the Milan Duomo is an ultimate exercise in visual pleasure (okay…maybe it has something to do with religious devotion as well…maybe). And so those Milanos (the people, not the cookies) stuck with it year after hundreds of years, and in 1965, the Milan Duomo was finally completed and…ready for restoration work to begin.
With the city’s streets radiating out from or circling around the Milan Duomo, it is clear the cathedral has played a central role in the lives and culture of the Milanese over the years. And they’re not without a sense of humor about the prolonged timeline required to build their city’s most iconic building. Today, the phrase “building the duomo” is used to refer to any impossibly or ridiculously long task. It’s like if Mario kept getting foiled by Bowser while trying to rescue the princess, and Luigi would be like, “Come oooooon, Mario! It’s not like you’re building the Duomo,” and Mario would be all like “Damn you Luigi! Get your green ass over the castle to help me stomp this lizard out once and for all!” Exactly like that.
Although I can’t quite fathom how it took 600 years to build, it IS pretty impressive. And, the sheer size of the thing may have something to do with it: the Milan Duomo is actually the sixth largest cathedral in the world (Pop Quiz: What are the top five largest cathedrals in the world?).
But a visit to the Duomo does beg the question: why did it take so freaking long? So here now is WanderTooth’s Much Abridged History of the Milan Duomo:
- 1385 – Milan’s evil Duke Barnabo dies, and is replaced by the way-less-evil Duke Gian Galeazzo.
- 1386 – Duke Gian decides to give the people a wee treat after being subjected for years to the evil Barnabo’s wars and high taxes, and decides a new Cathedral is the perfect reward. The Milan Duomo is born, and ground is broken for the project, which is to be built under the direction of Chief Engineer Simone da Orsenigo and made of brick in the Lombard Gothic style.
- 1389 – The Duke gets a bit antsy about all this “Lombard Gothic Style” business, and worries his duke friends will laugh at him for being old fashioned. He hires the French engineer Nicolas de Bonaventure to make sure the Milan Duomo follows the latest trends. Bonaventure decides Rayonnant Gothic is the way to go. He also decides brick is sooooo 1386, and that marble is au courant.
- 1399 – A new guy is asked to come along and check on the progress of the Milan Duomo (I’m starting to get the feeling that Duke Gian is a bit of a micromanager). He FREAKS out, says the whole thing is messed up and is going to come crumbling down, and changes all the construction methods. Turns out he was wrong, but whatever…
- 1402 – Duke Gian bites the dust – dead, finito, kaput. The Milan Duomo is almost half complete by this point, but is in for a rough next couple of hundred of years…
- 1422-early 1600s – Progress is painfully slow, and almost all of it is on the interior: some tombs, some windows, some aisles, etc. In 1552, the organ gets did (Oh gross! Get your mind out of the gutter…I didn’t mean it like that), and some panels in the alter area add some pizzazz.
- 1571 – Pellegrino Pellegrini is appointed as Chief Engineer. He is all about “renaissance” and decides the Milan Duomo should look renaiss-saucy! Because the facade of the church STILL WASN’T COMPLETE, despite the fact that it had been worked on for 200 years at this point, Mr. Renaiss-saucy designed a new facade. Sadly for Mr. Renaiss-sauce, his facade was not to be.
- 1649 – Shock! A new Chief Architect is appointed – Carlo Buzzi – and decides the Milan Duomo SHOULD look gothic after all!
- 1682 – The roof covering is completed
- 1805 – Napoleon gets in on the micromanagement action. “Complete the facade,” he demands. He hires a new architect, Carlo Pellicani, who pretty much follows his predecessor Buzzi’s plans. By 1812, it was finally complete, and the Milan Duomo looked pretty much on the outside then as it does today. Without the Versace ads (I’m not even kidding).
- 1805 – Napoleon is crowned King of Italy AT THE MILAN DUOMO! The Duomo is now officially hells ya important.
- 1829-1858 – Old stained glass windows are replaced with new ones.
- 1812-1965 – The final touches are added to the Milan Duomo. In 1965, the last gate was inagurated. That doesn’t mean it is actually finished – there are still bits of uncarved stone!
- 2003-2009 – The main facade is now old enough that it has to be renovated.
2012 – WanderTooth visits the Duomo and is so impressed, our mouths are agape.
And there you have it! WanderTooth’s Much Abridged History of the Milan Duomo! We hope you enjoyed this wee trip through history. Have you been to the Milan Duomo?