Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 15, 2016

Up 0n the Roof … of the Cathedral: Milan

One of the world’s great cities, Milan, Italy, merits as much time as you can devote to touring it. It has the vibrant beat of a modern industrial, cultural and artistic center, as well as a wealth of monuments, museums, restaurants and theaters (La Scala!).

In one blog post, I can give you only a snapshot. To make my task more reachable, I’ll limit myself to Il Duomo di Milano, the cathedral of Milan.

Milan Piazza Brad Nixon 073 (640x480)

On the right is how the facade of the church — undergoing some restoration — looked when we saw it in 2006, so please look online to see it without scaffolding. It’s one of the world’s remarkable buildings. The building with the tall arch is the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II. I look inside it in another article.

Unfortunately, the church is still too vast a subject for a few hundred words. It’s the second-largest church in Italy (after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), replete with art and architecture worth seeing. Here’s the apse (rear) of the church.

Milan cathedral Brad Nixon 058 (640x480)

Milan was once Roman Mediolanum. There’s been a church on the site since the 4th Century, and Milan is literally built around streets radiating from the Piazza del Duomo.

There are still portions of the 4th Century structure visible in the crypt. The present Gothic structure was begun in 1386, and finished promptly in the 20th Century: an efficient 6 century project delivery.

You can spend a full day touring the vast structure. If you’re the kind of traveler I am, you’ve seen more than your share of the interiors of Gothic buildings. There is, however, an extremely unusual way to experience this one: walking around on the roof.

Milan cathedral Brad Nixon 032 (640x480)

For a fee, you can access the “rooftop terraces” and get a closeup view of one of Europe’s most intensely-decorated structures, with dozens of spires, statues, stonework and gargoyles.

Milan gargoyle Brad Nixon 039(640x457)

I highly recommend doing this. I don’t know if Il Duomo Milano is unique in offering an opportunity to walk around on the roof, but it’s the only cathedral I know that offers the chance.

In the next photo, The Counselor is in the middle of the shot, looking up at the central spire

Milan cathedral Brad Nixon 029 (463x640)

Here’s what she sees.

Milan cathedral Brad Nixon 027 (513x640)

The statue atop the spire represents Santa Maria Nascente, St. Mary of the Nativity, to whom the church is dedicated.

Milan cathedral Brad Nixon 012 (480x640)

You get the opportunity to ramble over, around and through the rooftop structures.

Milan cathedral Brad Nixon 38 (480x640)

At every turn, more spires, statues, buttresses, covered in carvings and statuary.

Milan cathedral Brad Nixon 016 (479x640)

Milan cathedral Brad Nixon 018 (640x588)

If you can take your eyes (and your camera) off the stonework, you have views over the city, too.

Milan cathedral Brad Nixon 013 (480x640)

I’ve climbed my share of towers and spires, including to the dome of St. Peter’s and the Torre del Mangia in Siena, but nothing has matched the experience of walking around on top of one of Europe’s largest historic buildings.


I’m not particularly leery of heights, but I do not believe those of you who are — at least within reasonable bounds — will find it scary. You’re generally in well-enclosed or wide areas, not walking at the edge of precipitous overhangs.

HERE is the English language page about tickets to the cathedral which include access to the “terraces” (for some reason, the site never refers to “roof” or Italian tetto; do any of my Italian readers know why?) Note that prices vary according to whether you’re going to walk all the way up or use an elevator to get there.

HERE is a page in Italian (apparently not offered in Inglese) about rooftop tours, charmingly described as un’esperienza unica da fare almeno una volta nella vita, “a unique experience to do at least once in life.”

Amidst the food, fashion, art and other marvels Milan offers, consider going on the roof.

Do you know of other monuments where you can walk on the roof? I’d be pleased to have your comments.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017


  1. lovely pics


  2. Amazing building!


  3. It is a magical experience. Your photos make me want to repeat the adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m glad you took those pix from on high. I’d get vertigo up there. I’ll just keep my feet on terra firma, thanks.


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