Bonaparte A Marengo
5 December Dec 2016 1023 2 years ago

Napoleon in the Duomo

A page of European history that has left an indelible mark on the Fabbrica

The detailed report by Elisabetta Soglio and Giampiero Rossi, published in the Milan issue of “Corriere della Sera” last 15 November offers a summary of the costs and considerable commitments faced by the Fabbrica in order to proceed with the important work designed to protect and enhance the symbol of Milan in the world. This report appropriately reminded us how, from the early 18th century, the various governments (up until the present day) have worried about how to guarantee support to the Fabbrica in order to achieve important accomplishments of their own.

All of this serves as the background for recalling the extremely tough situation that the Fabbrica had to face when its own resources became impoverished during the Napoleonic era. Indeed, since 1797, just after he had entered Milan at the head of the great Army of Italy, Napoleon had been seeking information about the works designed to complete the facade of the Duomo. He did so because he wanted it to be completed in the hope that this gesture would have helped him gained the favour of the people of Milan. To achieve this ambitious objective, he forced the Fabbrica to sell its assets for a value of 1,200,000 old lire, so that the necessary works could be financed. And he had to insist on that sale, because only on 24 February 1810, he assigned two million lire of national funds, doing so because by then, the Fabbrica had sold all the fonds and houses that it owned.

On 20 March 1811, the facade was illuminated to celebrate the birth of Napoleon's son, who was given the title of King of Rome by his father, and on 31 March of the same year, it was presented to the people of Milan in its new form. A description by canon Luigi Mantovani relates the extraordinary spectacle of the Duomo as it played a major role in the Te Deum of 15 April that year: "Inside, the Duomo was all decorated with damasks of the various churches of the city, and outside it was lit up beautifully, with large torches at the foot of the stairs, and coloured balloons on the facade and the main spire. Alongside the last doors on the side of the building there were two orchestras with sixty symphonists who played until late at night”.

However, that period of apparent splendour coincided with a difficult season for the city, which was the target of continuous requests for money to finance the French wars. Under the statue of St Bartholomew Flayed, in the Duomo, there is a sign bearing the phrase “Kingdom of Italy”. Three years later, on 28 April 1814, the Austrian troops entered Milan.

Despite the Napoleonic tempest, which had hurled itself at the Fabbrica with great vehemence, it managed to weather the storm, using all its energy and skills to transform a dramatic moment into a chance to once again affirm the central role played by the Duomo, not only as a religious symbol, but also as the first civic symbol of the city. A role that it continues to play, and one that has a strong influence on the development of Milan and Italy in modern times, each year attracting approximately six million people to cross the threshold between the great doors of the Monument. A factor that, even in light of everything skilfully achieved by the Fabbrica in these last few years, in its Great Restoration Sites, the authorities simply cannot ignore.