Up on the Roof

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space  

                      Song: Up on the Roof by Gerry Goffin and Carole King 1962

One of my favorite places to visit in all of Italy is the Milano Duomo.  In fact so much so that for the last 14 years, every trip begins with a flight into Malpensa (Milan’s International Airport), a stop in Sesto San Giovanni (9 km) to see my cousins and a 15 minute ride on the tube (Milan’s subway system) to Milano centro. I walk up the steps from the tube at the Duomo Metro station and before me, rising out of the concrete earth of the piazza the massive spired cathedral stands like a Gothic Transformer. For me it is an indelible sight, unforgettable, unique; a sight that created a moment in time that changed the way I felt about traveling.  It was unexpected and impressive and in a way was to represent what traveling in Italy would become for me and why I would return again and again.  

The Duomo of Milan has been described as one of the greatest churches in the world, second only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Dressed to impress, Milan’s cathedral was built of Candolglia marble from the quarries of Northern Italy. It took more than 500 years to complete, is 515 feet long, 302 feet wide and 148 feet in height. There are 5 naves divided by 40 pillars with a capacity of 40,000. Inspiring and impressive, the art and altars, statues (3,400 inside and out), stained glass and reliquary of Milan’s domus Dei make it one of the greatest churches in the world.  Yet for me the true beauty of this cathedral is up on the roof. To experience the sheer size and intimate grace of the Duomo, visit the rarified air of the roof terraces of the cathedral. It is a fairyland of pinnacles, spires and flying buttresses with a spectacular view of the city and the wide plain stretching down to the River Po (on a clear day you can see the Alps and Apennines). Mark Twain described it as a “delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath”. There are 800 statues up on the roof, “a silent population of prophets, saints, virgins, martyrs and bishops”. My first climb to the top of the roof was in 1999 with my cousin Lidia.  You can go up on the roof (salita) of the Duomo con ascensore (by lift) or a piedi (by stairs).  Like the romantic urban aspirations of James Taylor’s dreamy rendition of Up on the Roof,  it seemed to be the “only place where you just have to wish to make it so”. Up on the roof of the Duomo, the world below melted into the timeless landscape of Italy and I began to discover that traveling was as much about how you feel as what you see with many rooftops yet to discover.  

  • Geographic coordinates: 45°27′51″N, 9°11′29″ E Coordinates: 45°27′51″N, 9°11′29″E
  • There is a small charge to ride the elevator to the roof also to ascend by stairs