Milan in two days

This is an excerpt from the book “Milan

 Francesco Duomo di Milano e Galleria
Photo Francesco – Duomo di Milano e Galleria

MILAN is a rich and glorious city of Umbro-Etruscan origins, which has been time and again resuscitated after the numerous devastations and bitter blows of its long history. The first evening might be spent in getting the feel of its monumental aspect, the real visit beginning on the morning of the IX day, with the Castello Sforzesco, an imposing pile started under Francesco Sforza in 1450 and recently restored to its former glory-after centuries of neglect, during which it was reduced to being used as a barracks by the various armies which at one time or another garrisoned the city.

Through the great gate in the Torrione del Filarete, between the two cylindrical corner towers, we enter the Piazza d’Armi, beyond which lies the Castle proper, with its courtyards, the elegant Loggia of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the great art collections, the Archaeological Museum and the rich Picture Gallery, with masterpieces by Mantegna, Toppa, Bellini, Lippi, Lotto, Tintoretto, etc. Most important among the statues are the Equestrian Statue of Bernabo Visconti (1380) by Bonino do Campione, a work of controlled and almost barbaric strength, and the overpowering Pieta by Michelangelo.

Leaving the Castle, we go down Via San Giovanni sul Muro into the nearby corso Magenta, where we find, to the left, the Church of San Maurizio (1503) with frescoes by B. Luini, and immediately after, to the right, the Baroque Palazzo Litta. A little further on we find the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, begun in 1465 and later (1492) entrusted to Bramante who rebuilt the Presbytery and the fine domed apse. Outside the church, to the left of the facade, is the former Refectory, in which is one of the marvels of painting of all times: the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

Sant'Ambrogio - Photo © franfiorini
Sant’Ambrogio – Photo © franfiorini

Retracing our steps down Corso Magenta and turning into Via Carducci, we come to the Church of Sant’Ambrogio, the most beautiful church in Lombardy and a masterpiece of medieval architecture founded in 386 by St. Ambrose, it vas remodeled in the IX century, the right-hand bell-tower dating from that period; the aisled nave and atrium were reconstructed in the XI and XII centuries. Inside, there is a Romanesque Pulpit standing over a Roman Sarcophagus. Ask to see the Altar, a miraculous work in repose gold and silver with Bizantine enamels (IX century).

Taking Via De Amicis, we come to the ancient Ticinese Gate, with its row of sixteen Corinthian columns formerly belonging to a Roman building: nearby, the Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore, rebuilt along severe and elegant classical lines during the Renaissance. Following Corso di Porta Ticinese, before coming to the neo-classical Gate, we come upon Sant’Eustorgio, one of the most beautiful churches in Milan, with family chapels added along the right-hand side, Michelozzo’s fanciful Cappella Portinari (1463) in the apse, the marvelous Gothic Tomb of St. Peter the Martyr, and the frescoes attributed to Foppo. Down Viale San Galeazzo and along Corso Italia we come to two churches in curiously contrasting styles: San Celso, with its simple Romanesque-Lombard lines, and the sumptuous Santa Maria, with its lavish interior.

Going back to Corso Italia, and turning right down Via Santa Sofia and Corso di Porta Romana, we come to San Nazaro Maggiore, which is preceded by a ponderous atrium containing a Chapel with the sober Tomb of Maresciallo Trivulzio, designed by Gerolamo delta Porta. Behind the church rises the vast pile of the Ospedale Maggiore, founded in 1456 by Francesco Sforza; begun by the Florentine Filarete, it was completed over the ensuing centuries. The handsome Courtyard dates from the XVII century.

Through Piazza Santo Stefano and down Via Largo, we reach Piazza Fontana, with a Fountain by Piermarini and, facing on to the square, the Archibishop’s Palace. Passing along one side of it, we come to the Royal Palace (1778), designed by Piermarim; it is now used for art exhibitions.

Milano Duomo - Photo © Gianni D.
Milano Duomo – Photo © Gianni D.

Rising before us now is the Cathedral, a fantastic world of stone and marble, and the largest Gothic structure in Italy. Begun in 1386, under Gian Galeazzo Visconti, it was continued in the same style over the following centuries; the spires were only finished in the XIX century. There are 135 of them; the highest, bearing the gilded statue of the Madonna, reaches a height of 354 feet. The spires, nooks and crannies of this vast edifice are witness to the impressive flowering of no less than 2,245 statues, while, almost two thousand more adorn the interior, which is dominated by the mighty forest of the fifty-eight pillars that divide it into four aisles and a nave and which is thronged with works of Lombard art, especially sculpture. We may finish our visit to the Cathedral by climbing up among the spires on the roof to contemplate the view of Milan.

After lunching in one of the restaurants in the vicinity, we can start off the afternoon with the Church of S. Satiro (in Via Torino), rebuilt by Bramante on the plan of a IX century church, of which only the severe bell tower remains.

Continuing down Via Torino and passing the round Renaissance church of San Sebastiano, we come into the square dominated by the Romanesque church of San Sepolcro, whit is incorporated into the group of buildings housing the Ambrosian Library and Picture Gallery. These contain, besides the Codices of Leonardo da Vinci, paintings of the Lombard School (among them, the magnificent portrait of Beatrice d’Este by Ambrogio de Predis, and works by Borgognone, Luini, etc.), and of the Venetian and Flemish schools as well (a Velvet Breughel is represented).

Going down Via Sand Orsola, we arrive at the Palazzo Borromeo, a rare example of a XV century nobleman’s dwelling, with a fine courtyard and charming frescoes picturing the games, hunts and other entertainments of Lombard life in Renaissance times. Crossing the busy Piazza Cordusio, we turn right and come into the Piazza dei Mercanti, the architectural heart of old Milan, with marvelous buildings on all sides: the Romanesque Palazzo della Ragione, the Palazzo dei Giureconsulti (1562), the Palazzo delle Scuole Paladine, (XVII century) and the Loggia degli Osii (1316), a medieval gem ornamented with statues in niches.

Brera
Brera – Photo © desertsky

Crossing the Piazza dei Duomo and going through the XIX century Gallery, we come into Piazza della Scala containing the famous Opera House; next to it is the square which takes its name from the Jesuit church of San Fedele (XVI century), and contains the nobly-designed XVI century Palazzo Marino. Down Via degli Omenoni, named after the Palazzo Omenoni decorated with muscular Telamones (by Leoni, 1513), we come to Piazza Belgioioso, with an elegant neoclassical palace of the same name.

In our first day in Milan we have given special attention to the external aspect of the city; the next day will be devoted to the great art collections.

From Piazza della Scala we make our way to the XVIII century Palazzo Clerici to see the great fresco which Gian Battista Tiepolo palm Led in 1740, entitled, The Course of the Sun, Following Via Brera we come to the Brera, a distinguished building designed by Richini with an austere courtyard, in the centre of which stands Canoed’s Statue of Napoleon (1809), inspired by classical models. The extremely important picture gallery will be briefly discussed elsewhere (see “The Ten Capitals of Italian Painting”), as will the astonishing collection of paintings left to the city in 1571 by Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, and which can be reached from the Brera by taking Via Borgonuovo and Via Manzom. A visit to the two galleries will take up most of the morning.

After lunching somewhere close by, we will continue our tour in the afternoon by wandering through the enchanting streets of romantic Milan, dear to Stendhal. Choose the area delimited by Via Montenapoleone, the modern centre of fashionable Milan, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Manzoni and Via delta Spiga. Also go along Via Borgospesso, Via Santo Spirito and Via dei Gesu, where you will be struck by the theatrical perspectives of the XVI century Palazzo Bagatti Valsecchi. Enter the courtyards, where to your astonishment you will discover, among the splashing fountains, the green lawns and the elegant arcades, an atmosphere of quiet you would have never expected to find in the heart of the city. You can then go on to the Gardens, or the Royal Villa.

Where to stay in Milan

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