Downtown Milan is home to the Duomo (Church/Cathedral) di Milano, which is the 3rd largest Catholic church in the world. This place is stunning! The entire building is made of hand-carved marble, and the detail of it, combined with Italian inefficiency, took them almost 600 years to complete. Every inch of the building is carved with intricate details; sculptures of Saints, religious symbols… A true enthusiast could be entertained for days just admiring the masterpiece that is this building.
But you didn’t think I would actually write an entire blog about a church, did you?
Although short of the Vatican, this thing is the crème de la crème.
The main focus of this post is to describe the atmosphere in the Piazza (Square) in front of the Duomo. Milan is a cool city, and there is a lot going on all the time, but there isn’t much to see from a tourist’s standpoint. Which means that anyone traveling through the city on vacation, staying in the city for a business trip, visiting a son or daughter that’s studying abroad (my family), or even just people living in Milan who are bored all go to this one place– downtown Milan at the Duomo.
The downtown area as a whole has a great atmosphere. The streets are lined with shops and restaurants in the city center that make for great shopping (real shopping for most people, and window shopping for broke college kids). Some other attractions include the Castello, built in the 14th century (very old and cool to look at); La Scala, the famous opera house, which is filled with culture in the form of ballets and opera; and the beautiful Parco Sempione, which has everything from babbling brooks and nice footpaths, to basketball courts, to a library, and even a miniature go kart track for kids (only for kids, though… believe me, I tried). In addition, the world renowned Galleria– an indoor/outdoor mall with some incredibly high end stores with prices that approach CEO housewife status– is a must see, even just if you buy a McFlurry (yes, they have a McDonald’s tucked in between Armani and Louis Vuitton) and walk through it admiring the architecture, along with the clothes and shoes that most of us normal people cannot afford.
However, the best thing to see is the Duomo itself, and as it turns out, my favorite thing to see has been the Piazza in front of the Duomo. This place is a people-watcher’s dream come true. Whether it is the street vendors selling useless stuff that you “need” to have (I have already made some solid purchases from these guys), the “Marochinni” looking to tie a “free good luck bracelet” to your arm as you walk by (which they will later pester you for money for), or the mass flood of tourists doing obvious cliché tourist activities (taking pictures, holding maps, etc… you know what I’m talking about), there is plenty to keep you entertained and busy. However, the most noticeable thing in the Piazza might be the pigeons. These crazy birds will swoop at your head from nowhere, so you need to watch out. I have seen locals with an unhealthy lack of fear walk up to these pigeons and pick them up without a flinch. They are everywhere! Some of the more brave, and in my mind, deranged tourists actually pay 50 cents to hold rice in their open hands and allow the flock of pigeons to eat straight from their hands…. It’s even more disgusting in person, trust me.
With the occasional event or concert in the Piazza, it is truly a local hangout because of its proximity to the most beautiful sites in all of Milan. Most recently in the Piazza, I attended a city-wide party located in the Duomo for the start of Milan’s “Fashion Week.” If you were in Milan, you were there, as shops everywhere offered free food and drink to all customers, with the city center decorated lavishly to promote the crown jewel of events for this fashion-driven city. In addition, the Piazza was home to the NBA (yes, the National Basketball Association) who sponsored a 3-on – 3 tournament for locals in the Piazza, as a way of promoting American basketball abroad.
At the end of the day, sitting and staring at the Duomo is awe-striking enough that at times, you can feel alone in the middle of this crazy atmosphere. Day or night (especially at night, because the stained glass windows light up and it is beautiful) the Duomo is spectacular. So, loyal readers, if you happen to be in Milan for a day, or week, or 4 months, make sure you take a trip downtown– all of the trams go to the Duomo, more or less. Walk around the downtown area, and conclude it with a trip to the top of the Duomo, which will allow you to see the city for miles straight from its center and enjoy the beauty of Milan from a whole new perspective.