5 things you didn't know about the Milan Duomo

We know that the Milan Cathedral, or Duomo (Italian for cathedral), is a symbol of Lombardy's capital. We also know it's impossible to take a photo in front of it without looking like an ant. But what about the lesser-known details about this architectural marvel? Here are five fun and eerie facts about Milan Cathedral you didn't know.

1. The Madonnina holds a weapon to protect herself from the elements

Perched atop the Duomo’s famous rooftop since 1774, the golden Madonnina or “little Madonna” holds court over modern Milan. At the height of 108.5 meters (365 feet), she protects the city not only from evil spirits, but also herself from the elements. The original statue was corroded by rain and thunder, and preserved in the Duomo museum in the 1960s. Today, she has a new frame made of stainless steel and copper plates. The Madonnina holds a lightning rod hidden in her Halberd (weapon similar to an ax) to protect her when thunder strikes. 

2. The Duomo was 6 centuries in the making 

We all know Italians like to take their time and enjoy life, but the Milanese have an expression when there's no end in sight: "It's like Fabbrica del Duomo!" The official construction of the Gothic cathedral church began in 1386 and wasn’t completed until the 19th century. But just one look at the cathedral, and you can see it was worth the wait — there are 34,000 statues inside and out, 135 spires, 55 stained glass windows, and 150 gargoyles. These works of art are draped across the cathedral's area of 11,700 square meters (125,937 feet). Thousands of artists, sculptures, and specialists from around the world were involved in bringing it to life. 

3. Archeological ruins lay under the Duomo

Back in the Roman times, when Milan was known as Mediolanum, there were two churches and a baptistery in the location of the Duomo. Here stood the ancient basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Tecla, and the Baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti. The baptistery was the first octagonal-shaped baptistery in Christianity, and St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose on the eve of Easter 397. The remains of St. Tecla and the 8-sided shape of the baptistry are still visible in the archaeological section of the cathedral.  

4. St. Bartholomew's clothes aren't what they appear to be 

At first glance, the Duomo's statue of St. Bartholomew is draped in a long, plain cloth. But there's more than meets the eye when it comes to this famous martyr. The faithful will know that the disciple met his end in a particularly gruesome manner. And the curious? If you walk around the back of the pedestal, you'll find out that the cloak he's wearing is natural — but not fabric.

5. The largest organ in Italy stands in the Duomo's main altar

The cathedral is home to the largest (musical) organ in Italy. Located in the main altar, the grand organ of the Milan Cathedral has 15,800 pipes and 4 organ cases. An instrumental masterpiece, some pipes stand over 9 meters high while the smallest ones measure just a few centimeters. The elaborate doors covering the pipes are works of art themselves, adorned with scenes from the Old and New Testament. 

Want to learn more fascinating facts about the Milan Duomo? Take a virtual tour of the Milan Cathedral with your expert tour guide, Marilena.  Like in a real-life tour, she brings you on a journey from the archeological ruins all the way up to the spires on the rooftop. Discover where the Duomo’s famous Candoglia marble comes from and learn how to “read” stories on the stained glass windows. Marilena shares hidden gems you won’t find in a travel book. 


For our world at home initiative, we're bringing some of our best-loved tours and experiences to you. It's our way of injecting a little of the joy of travel into your living room and of celebrating the fantastic guides who make our trips incredible. While you’re “in” Italy, check out our past virtual experiences, including a pasta-making workshop or a kid’s pizza-making class with an Italian chef. If you enjoyed the Milan Cathedral tour, you’ll love the virtual Vatican and Sistine chapel tour. Roam the halls and gardens to learn about Italy’s most iconic works of art.