If you’re organising a trip to Milan, I dare say you have things like hitting the designer stores in mind – this city is, after all, one of Europe’s fashion capitals. But did you know that it’s also home to some absolutely incredible religious architecture? This makes a little church-based sightseeing a must.
For those of you whose interests tend more towards traditional cultural attractions than shopping, I’m sure this fact will have already caught your attention. The shopaholics among you, however, might not at first see the appeal of discovering ecclesiastical buildings, but trust me – these form some of the city’s most spectacular and compelling sights.
To make covering all the attractions that interest you a bit easier, it’s a good idea to organise to hire a car at Milan airport. This way, you’ll have maximum freedom to visit attractions both within and outside the city without having to build your itinerary around public transport.
Turning our attention back to religious architecture, though, here are three sites I think you really shouldn’t miss.
Without doubt, the top religious building in Milan is the spectacular Duomo di Milano, a Gothic masterpiece located in the Piazza del Duomo. Open daily from 07:00 to 19:00 local time, the cathedral is free to explore – but you’ll need to be prepared to pay a small fee for the best bits, which include going up to the roof and exploring the baptisteries of Santo Stefano and San Giovanni.
This colossal building spans 11,700 sq m, but for me the most impressive thing about it isn’t its size, but rather its artistry. The whole building is made from a beautiful pink-tinged white marble, decorated with stunning statues, sculptures and paintings. Highlights include the gilded statue of Madonnina, the ornate grand doors and the stained glass windows.
It’s also well worth visiting the Tesoro del Duomo, which is a real treasure trove of a collection of religious art – ‘tesoro’, in fact, translates as ‘treasure’. Don’t miss the chance to climb to the top of the building, from where you’ll get glorious views not only across the city, but over the bustling piazza below.
Next on my list is Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, which is on the Corso Magenta. Boasting ancient origins, this building once housed the most important female convent in the entire Benedictine order; today, it is where you will find the Archaeological Museum of Milan.
It’s generally believed that the building was the work of Gian Giacomo Dulcebuono, who was an architect and sculptor. Looking at the building from the outside, you might not know it was anything particularly special, since its appearance is relatively plain. Inside, however, it’s a totally different story, with this place being famous for its ornate gold decorations.
Last on my list – though by no means the only other good example of religious architecture in the city – is the Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore. This early Christian basilica can be found at Corso di Porta Ticinese, where it stands as a wonderful piece of living heritage.
Dating all the way back to the 5th century, the building has – as you would expect – undergone several restorations in its lifetime, including a particularly large one in 1573, when the cupola collapsed. And thanks to this care and attention, it’s still as spectacular as ever and, as an added bonus, it’s free to enter.
While you’re here, make sure you don’t miss the famous mosaic of Christ among the apostles, which was created in the 4th century and can be seen in the Chapel of Saint Aquilinus. As a quick parting tip, you can’t visit the cathedral when mass is taking place – so that’s something to be aware of when planning when to visit each attraction.