The park of royals and Ferraris

Traveling by car between Milan and Monza, one doesn’t know where one city begins and the other ends. However, in the not-too-distant past Monza was capital of Brianza, an historic area where the Milanese vacationed or took day trips. Tourists and residents alike are known to ride bicycles to the hills to collect daffodils.

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Monza has since grown in size and become a province, separating itself from the politics of Milan. Brianza is no longer an oasis of green, even if it protects its natural resources and parks. Scattered on the hills are hundreds of villas and gardens that try to preserve their bucolic status. The great park of the Villa Reale thrives as an expanse of woods and fields enclosed within nine miles of walls, the largest enclosed area of its kind in Europe. The grand Neoclassical Villa Reale was built between 1777 and 1780 by the architect Giuseppe Piermarini as a country retreat for Archiduke Ferdinand of Austria, son of Empress Maria Teresa. A nearby park was constructed at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Eugenio Beauharnais, viceroy to Napoleon. He enlarged the garden and widened the perimeter to include a farmhouse and two eighteenth-century villas. With the end of the royal rule the park had to accept the compromise of progress. During the first decades of the twentieth century, first a racecourse was built, then polo grounds and a golf club.

Corona Ferrea

Corona Ferrea

On the other end, Monza has a different and much older history and preserves some unique treasures. According to archeological finds, the area is of Roman origin and reached its greatest splendor under the rule of the Lombard queen Theodolinda. In AD 595 she built a basilica dedicated to Saint John the Baptist in the place indicated to her by a white dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, as God was said to have announced to her in a dream. The Corona Ferrea (Iron Crown) is kept in the chapel of the Duomo of San Giovanni and dedicated to the queen.

The crown is of fine workmanship (possibly dating to the fifth century) and is set with twenty-four diamonds and twenty-two other precious gemstones. Legend has it that the band of iron inside the crown came from one of the nails used to crucify Christ. The crown was employed during the coronation ceremonies of the Lombard kings and the Holy Roman Emperors from Charlemagne (664) to Charles V (1539), followed by Napoleon in 1805 and Ferdinand I of Austria in 1838. The queen’s treasure is kept in the basilica’s museum and includes ampoules from the Holy Land, jewels, medieval relics, third-century ivories, and sixteenth-century tapestries.

Ferrari at Monza
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Ferrari at Monza

The Automobile Club of Milan built a racetrack to celebrate the twenty-fifth year of its founding. It was constructed inside the Royal Park of Monza in only 110 days and was, at that time, one of the first in Europe. Even then, an undersecretary of education who was sensitive to environment issues suspended the work on the track because of the “artistic value of the monuments and the conservation of the landscape.” He only managed, however, to reduce the dimensions of the original project. Even today, environmentalists protest against the unnatural use of this green oasis. But the racetrack is now an institution that is part of the history of Monza and the sport of motor racing in Italy.

From “One hundred and one Beautiful small towns in Italy” – Paolo Lazzarin