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unesco world heritage site Milan unesco world heritage site
True, Italy’s financial center, business hub, fashion capital, and one of the world’s most industrialized major cities is crowded, noisy, hot in the summer and damp and foggy in the winter, less easygoing and more expensive than other Italian places—in short, not as immediately appealing a stopover as Venice, Florence, or Rome.
Milan, though, reveals its long and event-filled history in a pride of monuments, museums, and churches. It sets one of the finest tables in Italy, features art by such towering geniuses as Michelangelo (his final sculpture) and Leonardo da Vinci (Last Supper), and supports a cultural scene that embraces La Scala, fashion shows, and nightlife. With its dazzling shop windows and sophisticatedways, Milan is a pleasure to get to know—and, despite all that’s been said about the city’s exorbitant prices, you needn’t empty the bank account to do so.

History

It is presumed Milan was originally founded by the Celts of Northern Italy around 600 BC and was conquered around 222 BC by the Romans, who gave it the name of Mediolanum. In the 4th century, at the time of the bishop Saint Ambrose and Emperor Theodosius I, the city was briefly the capital of the Western Roman Empire. At that time Milan was the second largest city in Europe, with more than 300,000 inhabitants. St Ambrose is now the Patron Saint of the city.
In the 11th century, after the Ostrogothic and Lombard periods, the city regained its importance and led other Italian cities in gaining semi-independence from the Holy Roman Empire (wars of the Lombard League against the emperor Frederick Barbarossa). During the Middle Ages Milan became one of the most rich and powerful cities of Europe (due its commerce and industries) and conquered and influenced great part of northern Italy. At the start of 13th century the city touched the number of 200,000 inhabitants and during the Plague of 1349 Milan was one of the few places in Europe that was untouched by the epidemic, but it was deeply affected by the plagues of 1402 (50,000 deaths), 1542 (80,000), 1576 (17,000) and 1629 (also known as Great Plague of Milan, 70,000 deaths). During the Renaissance Milan was ruled by dukes of the Visconti and Sforza families, who had artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante at their service. After trying to conquer the rest of northern Italy in the 15th century, Milan was conquered by France, and then later on by Austria (Habsburg), then given in the early 16th century to the Spanish Habsburg line to rule.
In the 18th century Austria replaced Spain as Milan's overlord, because the Spanish line of Habsburgs died out. But the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars saw the city annexed into the French satellite states of the Cisalpine Republic, which later became the Kingdom of Italy. After this period, Milan was part of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia under Austrian rule. Milan eventually became one of the main centers of Italian nationalism, claiming independence and the unification of Italy.
In 1859 (after the second of the Wars of Italian Independence) Austrian rule was ended by the Kingdom of Sardinia (which transformed into the kingdom of Italy in 1861). The newly formed Savoy monarchy encouraged the use of the Neo-Renaissance style as a way to express patriotism, an excellent example of which is the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in via Gesù, 5.
As a critical industrial center of Italy, Milan was the target of continuous carpet bombing during World War II. The city was bombed even after Pietro Badoglio surrendered to the allied forces in 1943 - Milan was part of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic puppet state, and an important command centre of the German Army stationed in Italy. When war in Italy was finally over, April 25, 1945, Milan had been heavily damaged and entire neighborhoods such as Precotto and Turro were destroyed. After the war, the city was reconstructed and has again become an important financial and industrial centre of Italy. More than the 30% of the buildings were completely destroyed and another 30% were so heavily damaged that they were demolished in the first years after the war. Most of those buildings are located in the city centre. Hundreds of buildings built in the last 1,000 years were lost.

Main monuments

Cathedral
Cathedral Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

When Milanese think something is taking too long, they refer to it as "la fabbrica del duomo", the making of the Duomo, a reference to the 5 centuries it took to complete the magnificent Gothic cathedral that rises from the center of the city. The last of Italy’s great Gothic structures—begun by the ruling Visconti family in 1386—is the fourth-largest church in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome, Seville’s cathedral, and a new one on the Ivory Coast), with 135 marble spires, a stunning triangular facade, and 3,400-some statues flanking the massive but airy, almost fanciful exterior.
Cathedral Milan tourist board visit Milan LombardyThe cavernous interior, lit by brilliant stained-glass windows, seats 40,000 but is unusually spartan and serene, divided into five aisles by a sea of 52 columns. The poet Shelley used to sit and read Dante here amid monuments that include a gruesomely graphic statue of St. Bartholomew Flayed and the tombs of Giacomo de Medici, two Visconti, and many cardinals and archbishops. Another British visitor, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, rhapsodized about the view of the Alps from the roof (elevators on the church’s exterior northeast corner; stairs on the exterior north side), where you get to wander amidst the Gothic pinnacles, saintly statues, and flying buttresses. You are joined high above Milan by the spire-top gold statue of Madonnina (the little Madonna), the city’s beloved protectress.
Back on terra firma, the crypt contains the remains of San Carlo Borromeo, one of the early cardinals of Milan. A far more interesting descent is the one down the staircase to the right of the main entrance to the Battistero Paleocristiano, the ruins of a 4th-century baptistery believed to be where Saint Ambrose baptized Saint Augustine.
You can rent an audio guide wand that covers the interior and the crypt for 2.60€ ($3), or 2.05€ ($2.35) per person for two or more people.
The Duomo houses many of its treasures across the piazza from the right transept in the Museo del Duomo section of Milan’s Palazzo Reale. Among the legions of statuary saints there is a gem of a painting by Jacopo Tintoretto, Christ at the Temple, and some riveting displays chronicling the construction of the cathedral.
Adjoining this is the Museo Civico d’Arte Contemporanea (with works by living artists and such masters as De Chirico and Modigliani).
Piazza del Duomo - Metro: Duomo.
Tel.02-860-358 or 02-8646-3456.
Duomo: Free admission, daily 6:50am–7pm.
Roof: Admission 3.50€ 5€ with elevator; daily 7am–7pm.
Crypt: Admission 1.55€, daily 9am–noon and 2:30–6pm.
Baptistery: Admission 1.55€, Tues–Sun 10am–noon and 3–5pm.
Museum: Admission 6€ adults, 3€ children under 18 and seniors over 65;
Combination ticket for museum and elevator to roof 7€;
Tues–Sun 9:30am–12:30pm and 3–6pm

S. Ambrogio
S. Ambrogio Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

From the basilica that he constructed on this site in the 4th century A.D.—when he was bishop of Milan and the city, in turn, was briefly capital of the Western Roman Empire—Saint Ambrose had a profound effect on the development of the early church. Little remains of Ambrose’s church, but the 11th-century structure built in its place, and renovated many times since, is remarkable.
S. Ambrogio Milan tourist board visit Milan LombardyIt has a striking atrium, lined with columned porticos and opening on the side to the brick facade, with two ranks of loggias and, on either side, a bell tower. Look carefully at the door on the left, where you’ll see a relief of Saint Ambrose. Note the overall effect of this architectural assemblage, because the church of Sant’Ambrogio set a standard for Lombard Romanesque architecture that you’ll see imitated many times on your travels through Lombardy.
S. Ambrogio Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy On your wanderings through the three-aisled nave you’ll come upon a gold altar from Charlemagne’s days in Milan, and, in the right aisle, the all-too-scant remains of a Tiepolo fresco cycle, most of it blown into oblivion by World War II bombs. The little that remains of the original church is the Sacello di San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro, a little chapel in which the cupola glows with 5th-century mosaics of saints (enter from the right aisle). The skeletal remains of Ambrose himself are on view in the crypt. One of the “later” additions as you leave the main church from the left aisle is another work of the great architect Bramante—his Portico dell Canonica, lined with elegant columns, some of which are sculpted to resemble tree trunks.
Piazza Sant’Ambrogio 15
Metro: Sant’Ambrogio. Bus: 50, 58, or 94.
Tel. 02-8645-0895
Church: Free admission.
Sacello di San Vittore: 2€
Mon–Sat 9:30am–noon and 2:30–6pm.

unesco world heritage site S. Maria delle Grazie
S. Maria delle Grazie Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

Two immortal names, Leonardo da Vinci and Donato Bramante, have made this church eternally famous. The church stands in the square of the same name. It was built between 1466 and 1490 to plans by Guiniforte Solari, but a few years later Ludovico il Moro commissioned Bramante to redesign the apse, which has a splendid "tribune", a fine example of the Renaissance use of space. Bramante also designed the cloister and the old sacristy. Leonardo's famous "Last Supper" is on one of the walls of the old Dominican monastery refectory. He began work on the fresco in 1495, and finished it in 1498. The new technique he employed allowed him several modifications on the fresco. The "Last Supper" is one of the finest paintings of all time, and was immediately acclaimed by Leonardo's contemporaries. However it began to show signs of deterioration just 20 years after completion. "The Last Supper" had four restorations: in 1908, 1924, in 1953 (after having been spared from the 1943 bombing) and in 1977. The latest one finished in 1999, and it has shown some new details of the fresco. Visitors should note Donato Montorfano's "Crucifixion" (1495) on the wall opposite the "Last Supper".

unesco world heritage site The last supper
The last supper Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

What draws so many visitors to Milan in the first place is the Cenacolo Vinciano, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. From 1495 to 1497 Leonardo painted this poignant portrayal of confusion and betrayal for the far wall of the refectory when this was a Dominican convent. Aldous Huxley called this fresco the “saddest work of art in the world,” a comment in part on the deterioration that set in even before the paint had dried on the moisture-ridden walls. The fresco got a lot of well-intentioned but poorly executed “touching up” in the 18th and 19th centuries, though a recent lengthy restoration has done away with these centuries of overpainting, as well as tried to undo the damage wrought by the clumsy patching and damage inflicted when Napoléon’s troops used the wall for target practice, and from when Allied bombing during World War II tore off the room’s roof, leaving the fresco exposed to the elements for 3 years.
In short, the Last Supper is a mere shadow of the work the artist intended it to be, but the work, which captures the moment when Christ told his Apostles that one of them would betray him, remains amazingly powerful and emotional nonetheless. Only 25 people are allowed to view the fresco at one time, and they must pass through a series of devices that remove pollutants from clothing. Accordingly, lines are long and tickets usually sold out days in advance. I’m serious: if you don’t book ahead, you’ll likely be turned away at the door, even in the dead of winter when you’d expect the place to be empty (tour bus groups swallow up inordinately large batches of tickets, leaving precious few for we poor do-it-yourself travelers).
Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie
Metro: Cardona or Conciliazione.
Last Supper: tel. 02-8942-1146.
Admission 6.50€ plus a booking fee of 1€
Tues–Sun 8am–7:30pm (may close at 1:45pm in winter).
Church: tel. 02-467-6111
Free admission
Mon–Sat 7:30am–noon and 3–7pm, Sun 7:20am–12:15pm and 3:30–9pm (may close earlier in winter)

S. Maria presso s. Celso
S. Maria presso s. Celso Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

 

 
La Scala
La Scala Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

Arguably the single most important opera house in the world, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala was built in the late 18th century on the site of a church of the same name in Piazza della Scala.
a Scala is hallowed ground to lovers of Giuseppe Verdi (who was the house composer for decades), Maria Callas, Arturo Toscanini (conductor for much of the 20th c., a position held since 1970 by Riccardo Muti) and legions ofother composers and singers who have hit the high notes of fame in the world’s most revered opera house.
La Scala Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy Although La Scala emerged from one renovation in 1999, the famed theater went under renovation wraps yet again in 2001, not to return to its duties and the traditional December 7 gala opening night until 2005 at the earliest. In the meantime, the show does go on, as shows must, in custom-built digs called the Teatro degli Arcimboldi way the heck up in the northern suburb of Bicocca.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

Milan’s late-19th-century version of a mall is this wonderful steel-and-glass-covered, cross-shaped arcade. The elegant Galleria is the prototype of the enclosed shopping malls that were to become the hallmark of 20th-century consumerism. It’s safe to say that none of the imitators have come close to matching the Galleria for style and flair. The designer of this urban marvel, Giuseppe Mengoni, didn’t live to see the Milanese embrace his creation: He tripped and fell from a girder a few days before the Galleria opened in 1878. His shopping mall par excellence provides a lovely route between the Duomo and La Scala and is a fine locale for watching the flocks ofwell-dressed Milanese—you’ll understand why the Galleria is called Il Salotto di Milano (the drawing room of Milan).
Just off Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Scala
Metro: Duomo

The Sforza Castle
Sforza Castle Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

Though it’s been clumsily restored many times, most recently at the end of the 19th century, this fortresslike castle continues to evoke Milan’s two most powerful medieval and Renaissance families, the Visconti and the Sforza. The Visconti built the castle in the 14th century and the Sforza, who married into the Visconti clan and eclipsed them in power, reconstructed it in 1450. The most influential residents were Ludovico il Moro and Beatrice d’Este (he of the Sforza and she of the famous Este family of Ferrara).
Sforza Castle Milan tourist board visit Milan LombardyAfter ill-advisedly calling the French into Italy at the end of the 15th century, Ludovico died in the dungeons of a château in the Loire valley—but not before the couple made the Castello and Milan one of Italy’s great centers of the Renaissance. It was they who commissioned the works by Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci, and these splendors can be viewed on a stroll through the miles of salons that surround the Castello’s enormous courtyard.
Sforza Castle Milan tourist board visit Milan LombardyThe salons house a series of small city-administered museums known collectively as the Civici Musei Castello Sforzesco. They include a pinacoteca with works by Bellini, Correggio, and Magenta, and the extensive holdings of the Museo d’Arte Antica, filled with Egyptian funerary objects, prehistoric finds from Lombardy, and the last work of 89-year-old Michelangelo, his unfinished Rondanini Pietà.
Piazza Castello
Metro: Cairoli, Cadorna, or Lanza
Tel. 02-6208-3940
Free admission
Tues–Sun 9:30am–5:30pm

S. Maurizio al monastero maggiore
S. Maurizio al monastero maggiore Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

Construction of the church began in 1503. It was annexed to a Benedictine convent known as the "Monastero Maggiore". The church has a nave but no aisles. The wooden choir-stalls are beautifully made and in excellent condition. The walls are decorated with splendid 15th century frescoes, most of which are by Bernardo Luini (1522-1529). The foundations and part of the body of the two towers behind the church date back to the Roman period. The historical organ was made in 1554 by Giacomo Antegnati and commissioned by the Benedictine nuns of the Monastero Maggiore.

S. Satiro
S. Satiro Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

What makes this beautifulchurch, just south of Piazza del Duomo, so exquisite is what it doesn’t have space. Stymied by not being able to expand the T-shaped apse to classical Renaissance, cross-shaped proportions, the architect Bramante created a marvelous relief behind the high altar. The effect of the trompe l’oeil columns and arches is not entirely convincing but nonetheless magical. Another gem lies to the rear of the left transept: the Cappella della Pietà, so called for the 15th-century terracotta Pietà it now houses but built in the 9th century to honor Saint Satiro, the brother of Saint Ambrose. The namesake statue is not the most alluring adornment in this charming little structure; it’s the lovely Byzantine frescoes and Romanesque columns that will catch your eye. While this little-visited complex is now eclipsed by other, more famous Milan churches, it was an important pilgrimage site in the 13th and 14th centuries, after news spread through Christendom that an image of the Madonna here shed real blood when stabbed.
Via Torino (at Via Speronari)
Metro: Duomo or Missori.
Free admission
Daily 9am–noon and 2:30–6pm

S. Nazaro maggiore
S. Nazaro maggiore Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

This church was founded in the fourth century by Sant’Ambrogio. It burnt down in 1075 and was rebuilt in a Romanesque style. The chapel of San Lino contains 13th-15th century frescoes by Bramantino

s. Simpliciano
s. Simpliciano Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

This was one of the first churches to be built in Milan. St. Ambrose commissioned it, but it was finished under his successor St. Simpliciano, who was buried there. In 398 the relics of the three martyrs, Sisinnio, Martino and Alessandro were placed there. Since the 4th century the church has been remodelled many times. The most extensive work was done in the 7th century and in the 11th century. Inside, in the apse is the Incoronation of Mary, a fresco by Bergognone.The church is linked to the memory of the Battle of Legnano, and the stained-glass windows in the facade illustrate the glories of the "Carroccio".

S. Lorenzo maggiore
S. Lorenzo maggiore Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

The oldest church in Milan attests to the days when the city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire. This 4thcentury early Christian structure has been rebuilt and altered many times over the centuries (its dome, the highest in Milan, is a 16th-century embellishment), but it still retains the flavor of its roots in its octagonal floor plan and a few surviving remnants. These include 5th-century mosaics (one depicting a beardless Christ) in the Cappella di Sant’Aquilino, which you enter from the atrium. A sarcophagus in the chapel is said to enshrine the remains of Galla Placidia, sister of Honorius, last emperor of Rome and wife of Ataulf, king of the Visigoths. Ironically, her mausoleum is one of the mosaic masterworks of Ravenna, and it is most likely she is buried in Rome, where she died. You’ll be rewarded with a glimpse at even earlier history if you follow the stairs from behind the altar to a crypt-like room that contains what remains of a Roman amphitheater.
Corso di Porta Ticinese
Metro: Missori, Tram: 3, Bus: 94.
Admission 2€ adults, 1€ children
Mon–Sat 8am–12:30pm and 2–6:30pm; Sun 10:30–11:15am and 3–5:30pm.

S. Eustorgio
S. Eustorgio Milan tourist board visit Milan Lombardy

The construction of the Basilica was ordered by Bishop Eustorgio around the years 315- 331. Relics of the Magi were guarded there until 1164, when they have been stolen by Barbarossa, and only partly returned in 1903.
S. Eustorgio Milan tourist board visit Milan LombardyIt was rebuilt in Romanesque style in the 11th century. The interior was recently restored. The Chapel of the Three Kings is in the right transept. Behind the apse is the Portinari Chapel, a gem of Renaissance architecture, made of two square rooms, covered with domes. In the top part there is a beautiful cycle of frescoes by Vincenzo Foppa and Giovanni Balduccio.

 

Museums

Pinacoteca di Brera

This 17th-century palazzo houses one of Italy’s finest collections of medieval and Renaissance art; it’s inarguably the world’s finest collection of northern Italian painting. The concentration of so many masterpieces here is the work of Napoléon, who used the palazzo as the repository for the art he confiscated from public and private holdings throughout northern Italy; fittingly, a bronze likeness of the emperor greets you upon entering the courtyard. Just as a sampling of what you’ll encounter in these 40 or so rooms, three of Italy’s greatest masterpieces hang here: Andrea Mantegna’s amazingly foreshortened Dead Christ , Raphael’s Betrothal of the Virgin , and Piero della Francesca’s Madonna with Saints (the Montefeltro Altarpiece) . It is an indication of this museum’s ability to overwhelm visitors that the last two absolute masterpieces hang near each other in a single room dedicated to works by Tuscan and Umbrian painters.
Paintings are continually being rearranged, but in the wake of a recently completed renovation, in the first rooms you will not encounter Napoleonic bounty but the museum’s sizeable collection of 20th-century paintings. From there you enter several galleries of sumptuous Venetian works, including Jacopo Tintoretto’s Finding of the Body of St. Mark , in which the dead saint eerily confronts appropriately startled grave robbers who come upon his corpse.
Caravaggio (Supper at Emmaus is his masterpiece here) is surrounded by works of his followers, and just beyond is a room devoted to works by foreigners; among them Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Young Woman. Given Napoléon’s fondness for the Venetian schools, it is only just that the final rooms are again filled with works from that city, including Canaletto’s View of the Grand Canal.
Via Brera 28
Metro: Lanza or Montenapoleone.
Tram: 1, 4, 8, 12, 14, or 27.
Bus: 61 or 97.
Tel. 02-722-631 or 02-8942-1146 (for reservations)
Admission 6.20€
Tues–Sun 8:30am–7:30pm
You can rent an audio guide for 3.50€, 5.50€ for two.
Cheap guided tours are available weekdays if you book at least 2 to 3 days ahead (they’ll do it even for just one person), Saturdays at 3pm and 5pm, Sundays at 10am, noon, 3pm, and 5pm

Natural history Museum

It is one of the most important in Europe, comprises sections dedicated to mineralogy, geology and palaeontology, vertebrate zoology, entomology and botany.
corso Venezia 55 - phone 02 88463280

 
Pinacoteca ambrosiana

Much to the appreciation of art lovers who waited through the late 1990s for the museum to reopen, this exquisite collection is housed in newly restored galleries. The collection focuses on treasures from the 15th through 17th centuries: An Adoration by Titian, Raphael’s cartoon for his School of Athens in the Vatican, Botticelli’s Madonna and Angels, Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit (his only still life), and other stunning works hang in a series of intimate rooms. Notable (or infamous) among the paintings is Portrait of a Musician, attributed to Leonardo but, according to many scholars, of dubious provenance; if it is indeed a Leonardo, the haunting painting is the only portrait of his to hang in an Italian museum. The adjoining Biblioteca Ambrosiana, open to scholars only except for special exhibitions, houses a wealth of Renaissance literaria, including the letters of Lucrezia Borgia and a strand of her hair. The most notable holdings, though, are Leonardo’s Codice Atlantico, 1,750 drawings and jottings the master did between 1478 and 1519. These and the library’s other volumes, including a rich collection of medieval manuscripts, are frequently put on view to the public; at these times, an entrance fee of 9€ ($10) allows entrance to both the library and the art gallery.
Piazza Pio XI, 2
Metro: Cordusio, Duomo.
Tel 02-809-921.
Admission 7.50€ adults, 4.50€ children.
Tues–Sun 10am–5pm

The Sforza Castle museums

The Sforza Castle Art Gallery houses precious collections of Lombard painting and sculpture dating from the Middle Ages to the 18th century as well as the “Pietà Rondanini” by Michelangelo. Large collections of decorative arts, furniture, tapestries, antique weapons and musical instruments can be admired. An important Egyptian art section can also be found in the Rocchetta courtyard

Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology

The heart and soul of this engaging museum are the working scale models of Leonardo’s submarines, airplanes, and other engineering feats that, for the most part, the master only ever invented on paper (each exhibit includes a reproduction of the master’s drawings and a model of his creations). This former Benedictine monastery and its beautiful cloisters are also filled with planes, trains, carriages, sewing machines, typewriters, optical devices, and other exhibits, including some enchanting recreations of workshops, that comprise one of the world’s leading collections of mechanical and scientific wizardry.
Via San Vittore 21
Metro: Sant’Ambrogio.
Tel. 02-485-551 or 02-4801-0016.
Admission 7.00€ adults, 5.00€ under 18 and over 60.
Tues–Fri 9:30am–5pm; Sat–Sun 9:30am–6:30pm