Milan is one of Italy’s most populous metropolises, with 1.3 million inhabitants and 3.2 million in the region. The northern Italian city is the country’s second-largest city after Rome and the undisputed economic capital of Italy. Even in ancient times and in the Middle Ages, the city flourished due to its prominent location on the Italian mainland. Today, Milan offers a magnificent mix of historic architecture and modern skyscrapers. The city is Italy’s leading cultural, media and fashion capital, a university city and the seat of the Italian Stock Exchange. In addition, you can do excellent shopping in the international fashion capital.
Tip 1: Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral is one of the most famous buildings in Italy.
The construction of the cathedral, dedicated to St. “Maria Nascente”, dragged on for centuries, the foundations were laid in 1388, but the cathedral took its current form only at the end of the 19th century. The appearance of the façade of the front in particular was disputed for centuries.
There was also a great deal of ambiguity around the question of the church towers: the bell tower, built in 1490, was demolished in 1858.
The five-bay interior, which is up to 68 meters high, can seat up to 5,000 people. It is dominated by huge stained glass windows, most of which date from the mid-19th century.
Above the choir, a red light can be seen: it indicates where an alleged nail from the Cross of Christ has been kept as a relic since 1461. The Cathedral Treasury houses treasures of immense value, including a silver capsule given to St. Ambrose, the patron saint of the city of Milan, by the Pope in the 4th century.
A special feature of Milan’s Duomo is the walkable roof. From the roof you have a great panoramic view of the entire city and in good weather the view even reaches the Alps.
Tip 2: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele 2
The Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery is a commercial gallery in Milan, in the form of a covered pedestrian zone that connects Piazza Duomo with Piazza della Scala. Due to the presence of elegant stores and cafes and restaurants, after its opening it became the meeting place of the Milanese bourgeoisie, the “Milan Salon” so to speak. Built in neo-Renaissance style by Giuseppe Mengoni, it is one of the most famous examples of European iron architecture and represents the archetype of the 19th century shopping gallery. Simply called la Galleria by the Milanese, it is often considered one of the first examples of a shopping center in the world.
Climbing this famous building in the heart of the city is a unique experience. From the terraces of the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view of Piazza del Duomo, the Duomo and its spires, and the city of Milan.
The floor of the octagon of the gallery is decorated by a mosaic representing a bull. According to tradition, tourists and citizens are supposed to turn on its testicles three times around its axis with one foot. Legend has it that this ritual brings good luck.
Tip 3: Castello Sforzesco
The history of the castle is a good example of the turbulent and intriguing history of Milan. First, the Visconti family built a castle here (1360-1370), not only to resist external enemies, but also to keep out the discontented Milanese themselves. When the Visconti dynasty was left without a male heir in the mid-15th century, the Milanese immediately seized the opportunity to put an end to the Visconti rule over the Duchy of Milan, destroying the castle and establishing a republican government. But it was so weak and divided.
In order not to let the duchy fall apart, the Milanese called in the help of the mercenary leader Francesco Sforza from Cremona, who helped the Milanese against the Venetians and against other Lombard cities, but then placed himself at the head of the duchy as the first ruler of a new dynasty.
Thus, in the second half of the 15th century, the castle was rebuilt larger and more splendid than ever, with the greatest artists of the time helping to decorate it: Bramante, Leonardo da Vinci, Filarete and Cesare Cesariano.
Later the castle served the respective conquerors of Milan: first the Spanish, then the Habsburgs, finally Napoleon. Finally, Milan became a part of the Italian national state, founded in 1860. At that time, the Milanese fiercely debated whether it would be better to demolish the castle, but finally it was decided to restore it, which was completed by 1905.
Tip 4: Simplon Park
The beautiful and quiet Simplon Park adjoins the city center to the northwest. It was created in 1893 on a former parade ground. Its name refers to the Corso Sempione, which begins north of the square and leads to France via the Simplon Pass (Sempione). Parco Sempione is home to the Torre Branca observation tower, built in 1933, and the Palace of Art, also built that year. Until mid-September 2016, the latter will open its doors as the Design Museum and Triennale Palace of the Milan 2016 Design Triennale. In the southeast of Simplon Park, towards the old town, stands the mighty Castello Sforzesco from the 15th century, crowned with battlements.
Tip 5: Santa Maria Delle Grazie
The Dominican Church of St. Maria delle Grazie is an impressive sight: located in the west of Milan, the building with an attached monastery has a magnificent Renaissance portal and is built with five axes. Gothic elements alternate with Renaissance elements in the interior. The cloister, with its plane trees and fountain, is reminiscent of the design of oriental courtyards.
But what makes St. Maria delle Grazie one of Italy’s most important attractions for tourists from all over the world is a painting in the refectory, the dining room. The secco, a mural on hard plaster, occupies the entire north wall of the room, which can be entered through a small, separate entrance to the left of the church. It is da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” one of the most famous murals in the world. It was created at the end of the 15th century by order of Duke Ludovico il Moro. During restoration work beginning in 1947, the original lighting was restored, making the room appear much larger and open to the rear.