Dhanada K Mishra, Hong Kong, 8 July 2023
Konark temple – the world famous black pagoda known for its beautiful sandstone carvings took 12 years to be completed! But I was astonished to learn that the Duomo di Milano – the world’s second largest cathedral took over 600 years to complete!
Italians like to take their time and enjoy life, but the Milanese have an expression to describe a situation when there’s no end in sight: “It’s like Fabbrica del Duomo!” But just one look at the cathedral, and you can see it was worth the wait!
I recently had the opportunity to visit the monument, which strikes you at first glance with the sheer magnificence of its facade made of beautiful Italian marble with intricately carved designs. It is a truly awe-inspiring sight. I was amazed by its beauty and history. It’s a true masterpiece of art, crafts and engineering!
The construction of Duomo started in 1386 and finally got completed in the 1960s. It was built in the Gothic style, and its exterior is covered with intricate carvings and statues. The cathedral is also home to a number of religious treasures, including the Sarcophagus of Saint Charles Borromeo.
I was particularly interested in the history of the Duomo’s construction. It was built in a time of great political and economic upheaval, and the project was often delayed due to financial constraints. It was funded by the church, public donations and government grants at different times of its history. However, the cathedral was eventually completed thanks to the dedication of the people of Milan.
The Duomo has undergone a number of repairs and renovations over the years. In 1969, the cathedral was closed to the public due to safety concerns. A major restoration project was undertaken, and the cathedral was reopened in 1986.
Today, the Duomo is still undergoing regular maintenance. This includes cleaning, repairs, and the replacement of damaged statues. The Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, a foundation that was established in 1387, is responsible for the maintenance of the cathedral.
The financing of the Duomo’s construction was a complex process. The initial funding came from the archbishop of Milan and the Visconti family, who were the rulers of Milan at that time. However, as the project dragged on, funding became more difficult to secure. In the 16th century, the city of Milan began to contribute to the cost of construction, and in the 18th century, the Spanish government also provided funding.
The current cost of maintaining the Duomo is approximately €30 million per year which is about Rs. 270 crore. This money comes from a variety of sources, including admission fees, donations, and government grants. The Duomo also generates revenue from its shops and restaurants.
The Duomo is at the heart of the city of Milan and everything else has been built around it! As a civil engineer, I was particularly interested in the giant structure designed and built in an era without modern tools and techniques that we now take for granted.
The cathedral is 157 meters long, 138 meters wide, and 108 meters tall. It has over 3,400 statues, 55 stained glass windows, 134 spires and 135 gargoyles. The roof is made up of over 13,000 marble tiles. Architects, sculptors and specialists of various fields from all over the world have worked on this project over the years.
The Madonnina, a golden statue of the Virgin Mary, is located at the top of the cathedral. Placed on 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 axe) to protect her when thunder strikes.
The Duomo is justifiably a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 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.
I was in Milan to attend the Symposium on Lifecycle Civil Engineering! The chief engineer of the Duomo made a presentation on the ongoing repair and preservation works of the Cathedral! It was interesting to learn how a piece of marble is carefully sourced from a designated mine and taken to a workshop where expert sculptors worked on it, sometimes up to a year, before it could be moved to the site and hoisted in place! The way this process was managed is really instructive of the pride Italians take in their cultural heritage!
It is a truly magnificent building, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to visit it. I would encourage anyone who is interested in Gothic architecture or Italian history to visit the Duomo.
Italy values its architectural heritage with a passion unparalleled in the world! They look after them with the greatest care and effort sparing no cost to preserve and protect the same. People from all over the world come to Italy to experience its monuments. India and our state of Odisha has much to learn in this regard.