Duomo di milano building materials

The Duomo di Milano: A Tale of Building Materials and Architectural Splendor

The Duomo di Milano, or Milan Cathedral, is an awe-inspiring structure that dominates the skyline of Milan, Italy. Known for its intricate Gothic architecture and impressive scale, the Duomo is a testament to centuries of artistic and engineering prowess. One of the most fascinating aspects of this architectural marvel is the variety of building materials used in its construction. This blog post delves into the materials that have shaped the Duomo di Milano, exploring their origins, significance, and the challenges they presented.

Marble: The Quintessential Material

Candoglia Marble

The most iconic material of the Duomo di Milano is the Candoglia marble. This beautiful, pink-hued marble comes from the quarries of Candoglia, located near Lake Maggiore in the Piedmont region. The choice of Candoglia marble was driven by its unique color, durability, and the ease with which it could be carved into intricate designs.

The marble’s journey from quarry to cathedral was an engineering feat in itself. Blocks of marble were transported via a network of canals to the construction site in Milan, a process that required careful planning and coordination. The use of Candoglia marble is so integral to the Duomo’s identity that even today, restoration works continue to source marble from the same quarries.

Verona Marble

In addition to Candoglia marble, Verona marble was also used in the construction, particularly in the interiors and decorative elements. Verona marble, known for its red and pink tones, added another layer of visual richness to the cathedral’s design.

Brick and Terracotta: The Backbone of the Structure

While marble dominates the exterior and the decorative elements of the Duomo, brick and terracotta played crucial roles in the cathedral’s structural framework. These materials were essential for constructing the internal walls and the supporting framework that bears the weight of the massive marble facade.


The Duomo’s brickwork is an engineering marvel, designed to support the weight of the heavy marble without compromising the structural integrity of the building. The bricks were locally sourced, making them a practical choice for the builders. The use of brick also allowed for greater flexibility in the design, enabling the construction of the cathedral’s complex vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses.

Terracotta Elements

Terracotta, a material made from baked clay, was used extensively for decorative purposes within the cathedral. The flexibility of terracotta allowed artisans to create detailed sculptures and ornamental elements that complement the marble’s grandeur. These terracotta pieces were often gilded or painted, adding color and texture to the interior spaces.

Metalwork: The Hidden Strength

Beneath the Duomo’s stunning facade lies an extensive network of metalwork that provides additional support and stability. Iron was the primary metal used, reinforcing the brick and stone structures and ensuring the cathedral’s longevity.

Iron Ties and Chains

Iron ties and chains were strategically placed within the cathedral’s walls and foundations to counteract the outward thrust exerted by the heavy roof and the marble spires. These iron elements are hidden from view but are critical to the structural integrity of the Duomo.

Lead Roofing

The cathedral’s roof is covered with lead sheets, a material chosen for its durability and waterproofing properties. Lead roofing protects the intricate stonework from the elements, ensuring the preservation of the cathedral’s beauty over the centuries.

Wood: The Temporary Scaffold

Wood, though not a permanent part of the Duomo, played an essential role during its construction. Massive wooden scaffolds were erected to support the builders and artisans as they worked on the higher sections of the cathedral. These scaffolds were feats of engineering in their own right, enabling work on the towering spires and the elaborate facade.

The Challenges of Restoration

Maintaining a structure as complex and historically significant as the Duomo di Milano requires ongoing restoration efforts. The same materials that were used in its original construction are often sought for restoration to preserve the cathedral’s authenticity. This process involves sourcing Candoglia marble, repairing iron ties, and replacing damaged bricks and terracotta elements.

Modern Techniques

While traditional materials are used, modern restoration techniques and technology play a crucial role in the upkeep of the Duomo. Laser cleaning, advanced structural analysis, and innovative preservation methods ensure that the cathedral remains a testament to both historical craftsmanship and contemporary conservation science.


The Duomo di Milano stands as a monument to the ingenuity and artistry of its builders. The careful selection and use of materials like Candoglia marble, Verona marble, brick, terracotta, iron, and wood reflect a deep understanding of both aesthetics and engineering. As you admire the Duomo, remember that its splendor is not just in its visible beauty but also in the story of the materials that have shaped it. From the quarries of Candoglia to the iron ties hidden within its walls, every element of the Duomo contributes to its status as one of the world’s most remarkable architectural achievements.