• LOCATION 3 | The Mysteries of Milan: From the Duomo to the Royal Palace

    Duomo, southern flank

    You're now at the rear corner of the Duomo. Stop here for a moment to take in your surroundings and some of these phantasmagorical statues. If you look directly up you should see a statue of a man with a beard supporting an animal with a horn in its mouth.

    One person who was particularly keen on keeping Satan at arm’s length was the Duke of Milan, Giangaleazzo Visconti. He had had his uncle murdered so that he could become sole ruler of the city. Milan was possibly the wealthiest city in Europe. Afterwards he kept having nightmares about the Devil and thought that if he built this Cathedral then his guilty conscience would be eased and the Devil would leave him in peace.

    But his wife, the Duchess, like many of the other women in the city, would pray to the Virgin Mary that they be blessed with male children. And when they did they even gave their sons Mary as a second name! For many she’s a symbol that protects the city and the Duomo is dedicated to her and so is the city’s moving anthem, “O mia bela Madunina” – “Oh my Beautiful Little Madonna”. I’ll spare you my rendition of it! But that’s why there’s a gold-leaf statue of the Virgin ascending into heaven right on top.

    Now, turn with your back to the Duomo to have a look at the building across the road. It's the one with the lower part painted in cream and the upper part in bricks.

    This is the Archbishop’s residence. It’s been the site of the bishop’s home for more than 1700 years when Christianity first came to the city. The building you’re looking at was built over the 17th and 18th centuries but the windows at the top are still those of the mediaeval palace.

    Can you see that strange snake with a human figure in its jaws carved into the wall at the second row of windows?

    Once you've had a good look, continue walking in the same direction you were going. I'll tell you more as you walk.

    The snake is known as the Visconti Viper and you’ll see it in quite a few places throughout town. According to legend a dragon named Tarantasio lived in a huge lake with water flowing right under the Duomo. It would terrify the population with its stinking breath and make them drop like flies, and it devoured the city’s children. One day nobleman Uberto Visconti slew the dragon, at least that’s what his family claimed, and the lake dried up. So the Visconti dynasty of despots got to rule the city throughout the 14th and half of the 15th century. Hmm, I’m not sure I would have come to Milan 34 years ago if I’d known I was going to find a Milanese version of the Loch Ness Monster.

    Continue towards the square ahead. I'll meet you there.

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The Mysteries of Milan: From the Duomo to the Royal Palace