The Duomo di Milano

The Italian word duomo means cathedral, but when you hear the word, your thoughts would automatically go to the Duomo di Milano and with good reason: it is the fifth largest church in the world and second largest cathedral, and perhaps the best known cathedral (or duomo). It also took almost 500 years to complete, with contruction started back in the late 14th century. We actually have to thank Napoleon Bonaparte for speeding up the completion of its facade, since he wanted the cathedral completed before his coronation as king of Italy – to this end, he proclaimed that all expenses will be shouldered by the treasury of France. Needless to say, with the guarantee of reimbursement, construction was completed in less than a decade.

The duomo stands out from other churches I’ve been to because of the Candoglia marble facade. Plus, it has many turrets and spires instead of towers, and many marble statues adorning its walls, entrances, and many corners. However, you can tell that construction was never really finished as there are still blank blocks waiting to be carved into gargoyles or statues.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a very beautiful building whether you visit it early morning with little light coming from the sun just rising from the horizon, or midday with the full light of the sun almost making the church too bright for the naked eye, or evening with the soft light from the nearby lampposts rendering it almost ethereal against a backdrop of dark skies.

It’s quite romantic, minus the crowd that never seems to dissipate.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI used to think that those movies showing tourists feeding flocks of pigeon at the piazza were exaggerations until I got to experience it myself. There are many sellers who will try to sell bread for you to feed the pigeons with but my friends and I brought our own and this made them a bit upset and some of them got quite rude. It’s a good thing there were five of us so we just huddled together and walked away whenever the sellers would try to approach us.
IMG_4073The side of the duomo reminds me of the Notre Dame in Paris, maybe because of the similar window panels.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMassive as it is on the outside, it feels even bigger inside given the floor to ceiling height. And the thick marble pillars all contribute to the Gothic theme of the cathedral.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuilt in the early 20th century, the organ of the duomo is the largest in Italy, and one of the 15 largest in the whole world. It is made of several organs scattered inside the duomo.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecognized as the most famous statue in the cathedral, this artwork of Marco d’agrate (circa 16th century) shows St. Bartholomew with his flayed skin over his shoulders. As per tradition, St. Bartholomew was martyred in Albania, skinned alive and then crucified. I can’t imagine how much suffering he must have endured to have the skin stripped off his body and then crucified. The status itself is quite disturbing enough without you knowing the history behind it.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are various sarcophagi inside the duomo, especially of former archbishops. While I am fine loking at sarcophagi and marvelling at their usually intricate designs, I can’t help but be creeped out by glass coffins.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are well-maintained crypts under the duomo and oftentimes, private masses are being held there.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn one of its crypts, underneath the main altar itself, is the sarcophagus of Saint Charles Borromeo, a member of the Medici family, one of the most powerful families during the Renaissance. Though born an aristocract, he was actively involved in the reformation of the church, helping establish seminaries during his time.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe duomo was undergoing restoration works during our visit – all that marble probably needs a good cleaning what with hundreds of years worth of pollution. Austerity measures implemented by the government included budget cuts to the city’s cultural funds, and this probably forced the duomo’s administration to get creative: they launched this adopt a gargoyle initiative where patrons can “adopt” one of the gargoyles and have their names carved underneath, in exchange for donations. This donation will then be used for the maintenance of the gargoyles they’ve adopted. In fairness, the duomo is one of the best kept churches I’ve been to in Europe (a lot are really old and felt abandoned). I am quite saddened though that beautiful old churches such as the duomo, which are great treasures not just of Catholics but of the entire human population, now have to fend for themselves and beg for alms just to survive.

I didn’t get the chance to go up the duomo and see the Madonna statue up close and get a 360-degree view of Milan, but hey – that just means I should include it in my next trip, right?

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Brera

On our second day, we visited the picturesque neighborhood of Brera, considered by some to be the Milanese equivalent of the Montmarte. In short, it’s the artsy side of Milan.

A lot of websites say it’s walking distance from the Duomo but judging from our map, it looked quite far (or at least more than thirty minutes) so we decided to take the metro and save our energy for actuall sight-seeing and museum hopping.

There are a lot of old buildings and even a castle (the Sforzesco Castle which I will blog about separately) in the Brera district, which got its name from the Lombardian word brayda, or land without trees (either naturally or cleared of it) but it took us quite awhile to find the actual Brera street which is supposedly the heart of this district. Fortunately, a kind old lady helped us and after a few minutes, we found ourselves on a pretty stretch of narrow cobblestone roads and pastel colored houses. It reminded me of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, for some reason.

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So picturesque, isn’t it? Too bad I don’t have a photo here (my face was starting to swell a bit by this time and I avoided close up and solo photos).

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There are many shops and restaurants in and around Brera Street. We found a couple of nice shoe stores selling the cutest ballet flats so we decided to do some retail therapy.

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And that purple seat? I want!

We were quite famished roaming around; fortunately, the entire district has rows and rows of decent looking restaurants . The entire stretch seems popular with locals as  well since we found groups of them, some obviously out on their lunch break, crowding around the nicest restos in the area.

Since we were in Italy, we decided to eat authentic Italian pasta and pizza. Cliche, I know, but that’s what makes it fun, right? Surprisingly, there wasn’t a big tourist crowd in Brera, and we quickly found an almost empty place off the main Street – the Ristorante Il Kaimano Brera.

The staff at the restaurant were also quite funny and friendly, and they spoke English well enough for us to order the exact food we wanted! The place was really small, and they didn’t have an al fresco table good for five; to our surprise, one of the waiters brought out a chair with the two back legs sawed in half – so that it could fit comfortably on the steps! Quite ingenious! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay, I wonder why I look so happy in this shot? Perhaps this was after we realized that the can of tomato sauce was being given to us for free (after we gave a generous tip at the prodding of the waiter – I honestly would have been offended if he weren’t so funny).

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Anyway, I was already fighting a really bad case of allergies so I had to make do with just salivating over the pasta with lobster, mussels and clam.  But I did enjoy the pizza, ossobuco, and fried zucchini flowers (which we developed a liking for, since having some for dinner the night before).

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We would have ordered water since it was a hot day but it was so expensive! So yes, we ended up having wine again…

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…and then we drank our bottled water as soon as we stepped out of the restaurant – travel tip #1: always have bottled water with you; water is very expensive in restaurants/cafes/fast food chains in Europe).