Italy has many majestic cathedrals, often with spectacular works of art inside. A cathedral is a city's main church and is usually called the duomo but also can be named basilica, cattedrale or chiesa madre (mainly in the south). While most cathedrals do not charge admission there are a few that do and others have a place for donations.
These are my picks for top Italian cathedrals to visit.
Florence's Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore, usually referred to as il duomo, is probably Italy's most famous cathedral. Brunelleschi's Dome was a masterpiece of construction and its interior is covered in frescoes. You can climb to the top of the Dome for good views (see Pictures from the Duomo Dome). The cathedral's exterior is made of pink, white, and green marble with 44 magnificent stained glass windows. Duomo admission is free but there are charges for visiting the crypt and dome.
Taking almost 600 years to complete, Milan's cathedral is Italy's largest Gothic cathedral and one of Europe's largest churches. It's one of my favorites for the amazing rooftop visit where you'll see not only great views of the city but get a close look at some of the 135 spires and 3200 statues that adorn the cathedral (see Milan Rooftop Photos). The cathedral also has beautiful stained glass windows, several impressive sarcophagi, and two large organs. Admission is free but there is a charge for the rooftop and archeological area.
Basilica San Marco, Venice's cathedral, is a mixture of Byzantine and western styles. Named after Venice's patron saint, Saint Mark, the cathedral's stunning mosaic-covered domes are a focal point of Saint Mark's Square. Byzantine mosaics, mostly from the 11th - 13th centuries, and paintings by top Venetian artists adorn the interior. Admission is free.
The 13th century duomo of Siena is one of Italy's top Gothic cathedrals. Its black and white facade is decorated with intricate carvings and statues while inside are many art works including beautiful frescoes and floor mosaics. Artists whose works you'll see include Michelangelo, Pisano, Donatello and Pinturicchio. Most spectacular are the stunning marble floor mosaics dating from the 14th - 16th centuries but they are only displayed for a couple months each year, usually around September. Be sure to visit the Crypt and Baptistery too. There is an admission charge for the duomo but it's included with the Siena Combination Ticket.
Orvieto's medieval cathedral is known for its gleaming mosaic-covered facade and is one of Italy's top Romanesque - Gothic masterpieces. Also of note are the large bronze doors, statues adorning the exterior, and two interior chapels with beautiful frescoes. The cathedral is also stunning because of its setting, sitting atop a tufa ridge.
The 12th century duomo of Modena is one of Italy's top Romanesque cathedrals and most recently became the final resting place of popular tenor Luciano Pavorotti. The exterior is adorned with Romanesque figures depicting scenes from the Bible and inside treasures include mosaics, a 13th century marble parapet portraying the Passion of the Christ, and two terra cotta nativity scenes from the 15th and 16th centuries. The cathedral, along with the bell tower and and Piazza Grande, have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While people associate Pisa with the leaning tower, all the Romanesque monuments on the Campo dei Miracoli, Field of Miracles, are spectacular and make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The white duomo dates from 1063 with a facade built in the 12th century. Inside are a great marble pulpit and several important art works.
The Umbria town of Assisi and the Basilica di San Francesco are famous as the home of Saint Francis, Italy's patron saint. The tomb of Saint Francis is housed in the basilica, a popular pilgrimage site. Built into a hillside, the basilica is made of two churches, the lower and upper, and outside is a large portico. Both churches are richly decorated with frescoes by medieval artists. Although badly damaged by an earthquake in 1997, most of the church has been restored although some frescoes were lost. Saint Francis Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Parma's 12th century cathedral is another great example of a Romanesque church. The ceiling frescoes have been recently restored and are an amazing site. Lion statues flank the entrance and the bell tower is topped with a gilded copper angel. Its octagonal dome is unusual for a church from that era.
Trani's cathedral is one of several interesting churches in the Puglian Romanesque style. The location is spectacular, right by the sea. Bitonto has another great Puglian Romanesque style cathedral with a fantastic archeological area underneath. Also in Puglia, the cathedral of Otranto is unusual for its chapel of bones.
People sometimes think Saint Peter's Basilica is the cathedral of Rome. Saint Peter's is not in Rome or even in Italy, but in Vatican City, a tiny country. It is the seat of the Pope and Catholicism. Rome's cathedral is the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, San Giovanni Laterano, the home of the Popes until 1305. Inside are six Papal tombs.