Saturday, May 20, 2006

Finally, the Duomo!

Our delightful Milanese tour guide Arianna took us on a a ride on the subway and taught us about the city’s public transport system, as we will be on our own this afternoon and tomorrow. We then headed to the Piazza del Duomo to begin our city tour. We were disappointed that the façade of the world’s fourth largest (and possibly most ornate) cathedral was covered up for cleaning:

But there was an upside. We arrived while the Archbishop of Milan was saying Mass, with the choir and pipe organ in attendance. The interior of the Duomo is dark but even more ornate than the outside; with the choir’s voices resonating in that cavernous marble space it was spine-chilling. (Interior pictures not allowed, sorry.)

(BTW - I'll have some pics of Duomo details coming in a later post.)

Suffice it to say, Milan has been multicultural from the get go, having been ruled by the French, the Spanish and the Austrians, in the form of one powerful Duke or Prince after another. Finally, Milan was united with the rest of Italy under the reign of Vittorio Emannuele, who commissioned the building of a shopping mall—and what a mall it is!

I think it was Michael Palin who called Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele the Mother of All Shopping Malls.

The Galleria was a real favorite of Ernest Hemingway. Its arcades are domed and vaulted, its various arcades are elaborately tiled. You can't help but gasp at the enormous arched roof of iron and glass. (Tragic backstory: Just one day before the Galleria was inaugurated, the architect who designed the structure slipped from the scaffolding as he was inspecting the dome. He fell to his death.)

The upper levels have very detailed balconies, and what seem to be murals are actually mosaics. We were told the Milanese humidity (I can vouch that it certainly is humid!) would damage paintings, so the pieces were replaced with mosaic.

You know what's awfully incongruous in the Galleria? Right across from the Louis Vuitton and Prada boutiques, just to the right of this picture above, is – McDonalds! (I couldn't bring myself to photograph that, so use your mind's eye here, if you can stomach it.)

More pictures of the Galleria can be found at this site.

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