To try and take in the Duomo in its entirety, let alone try to photograph it, is to try and wrap your head around centuries of architecture, designed specifically to stun and awe. But if I ever do make an 'architecture in Europe' photo compilation book (entitled 'Overenthusiastic Stonemasonry' for sure), the Duomo would occupy a good chapter or so.
I settled for focusing on the details - like a reverse Monet, this is a structure that gets more intricate and complex the closer you move (or zoom) in. How many hours, days, centuries did each flourish take to carve out, perfectly symmetrical and ridiculously intricate? How many shoes from how many eras had stepped on the same pink tiles, had worn them down; how many bodies had leaned against this ledge for a photo, to look out. How many people had sat on that flat part of the roof and taken in the view around? How many hands had wrapped around Christ's hands and legs and with what sort of emotions? With these iconic monuments, these are always the questions that come to mind -- and the sheer surreal feeling of looking across the spires to people sipping coffee on the terrace of the rooftop cafe next door, sitting on bright modern orange chairs.
After Prague, the 150 step manual climb to the terrace was pretty easy actually, and it's the best way to really appreciate the detailing. If going into the cathedral isn't strictly necessary for you, going for the stairs up to the terrace (a must) in the early morning is the best way to minimise spending half your day in the predictably crowded line.
Funnily enough, the 'modern' iteration of the Duomo - a structure designed to shock and awe - is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall right next door. An exercise in imagining the sort of life you would lead to be able to casually stroll in and actually call it a 'shopping mall' (but if you're going to get your Prada or Louis Vuitton, it might as well be there).