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The legend of Tarantasio the Dragon carved into the Duomo's marble?

A peculiar popular tradition

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12 March Mar 2020 1734 12 March 2020

A dragon on the Duomo's façade?

Looking to the right side of the Cathedral's central door (in the photo), one may see emerge from the forest of sculptures there present, the unmistakable semblance of a small monstrous creature.

According to popular tradition, this is none other than Tarantasio the Dragon. During the 12th and 13th centuries this creature was considered the undisputed ruler of Gerundo Lake, a vast body of water of fluctuating volume and which no longer exists, located in Lombardy, straddling the river beds of the Adda and the Serio rivers, in an area that we would today say comprised the provinces of Bergamo, Lodi, Cremona, and Milan. This fantastical creature would suddenly emerge from the deep, devouring small children and animals and emitting deadly odours, spreading terror throughout the countryside.

Legends attribute the creature's death to Federico Barbarossa, Saint Christopher, or - according to a source that would be hugely popular in centuries to come - a member of the Visconti family. It is from this heroic gesture that the crest of the noble family was born, which depicts the infamous "biscione" devouring a child.

The legend was widely disseminated in and around the city of Milan. A gigantic bone, specifically a rib of the Gerundo dragon, can still be seen hanging from the ceiling of the sacristy in the Church of San Bassiano in Pizzighettone. In truth the rib is probably a fossilized bone of a whale or elephant.

Not everyone knows that the legend of the dragon was a source of inspiration for sculptor Luigi Broggini who used Tarantasio as a model to create the image of the six-legged dog, the logo of ENI, whose first reservoir of methane gas was discovered in 1944 in Caviaga, a hamlet of Cavenago d'Adda.

In actuality, we can reasonably affirm that the creature depicted on the façade of the Cathedral is not Tarantasio, however many residents of Milan still love to identify the Gerundo monster in this fantastic sculpture which is certainly striking in its originality.