A steaming cappuccino sipped under a quaint shop window; a radiant smile from a passing stranger; a moment of solitary reflection stolen inside an ancient basilica: this snapshot could describe any European metropolis.
But step deeper into the picture, and the cappuccino becomes a morning art form, the stranger a Gucci guru, and the basilica wall a da Vinci masterpiece.
Packed with artistic gems and cultural treasures, Milan leaves little space for the traveller to comprehend all its offerings. Unlike Rome, Venice, or Florence, which wrap themselves in a veil of historic allure, Milan presents itself as it is: rushed, refined, and unabashedly cosmopolitan.
Milan has its share of urban sores – thirsty mosquitos, traffic congestion, and the notoriety as one of the most expensive cities in Europe. But true Milanesi claim their city proudly.
Once the capital of the Cisalpine Republic and the western half of the Roman Empire, Milan is now the center of Italian style, financial markets, and industry.
Car tire giant Pirelli, fashion house Armani, and countless banks establish the city as Italy’s economic powerhouse. Its artistic masterpieces include a superlatively ornate kuomo, da Vinci’s Last Supper, and La Scala’s stunning operas.
The city’s pace quickens twice a year when local soccer teams AC Milan and Inter Milan face off in matches with fanfare that rivals many religious holidays. The Milanesi move fast and they do it with style, changing their fashions and those of the rest of the world twice a year.
NEAR THE DUOMO
The geographical and spiritual center of Milan and a good starting point for any walking tour of the city, the duomo is the third-largest church in the world.
Gian Galeazzo Visconti began construction in 1386, hoping to coerce the Virgin to grant him a male heir. Building proceeded sporadically over the next four-centuries and was finally completed at Napoleon’s command in 1809.
In the meantime, the structure accumulated a dense lacework of statues and bas reliefs, with more than 3400 statues, 135 spires, and 96 gargoyles.
The fantastic facade juxtaposes Italian Gothic and Baroque elements and inside, 52 columns rise to canopied niches with statues as capitals. The church is a five-aisled cruciform shape, capable of seating 4000.
The imposing 16th-century marble tomb of Giacomo de’ Medici in the southern transept was inspired by the work of Michelangelo. Nearby, a gory statue of St. Bartholomew (1562) by Marco d’Agrate, depicts the saint wearing his own skin as a coat as a reminder that he was flayed alive.
Climb (or ride) to the top of the cathedral from outside the northern transept, to enter the roof walkway, which cuts through a forest of white marble statues and spires. A gilded statue of the ”Madonnina” crowns the rooftop kingdom.
Currently the entire facade is under wraps of restoration, as the same Veneranta Fabbrica that built it over hundreds of years restores it.
Cathedral open: daily 7am – 7pm, November – February. 9am – 4:15pm. (Modest dress strictly required).
Roof open: daily 9am – 5pm.
The Museo del Duomo – displays artifacts relating to the duomo’s construction.
Open: daily 10am – 1:15pm and 3pm – 6pm.
Tel: 02 – 86 – 03 – 58.
The 23 palatial rooms of the Ambrosiana display exquisite works from the 14-centuries, including Botticelli’s Madonna of the Canopy, da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician, Raphael’s wall-sized sketch School of Athens, Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit (the first Italian still-life), Titian’s Adoration of the Magi, and works by Brueghel and Bril.
The courtyard’s statues, fountains, and marble staircase are also enchanting.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5:30pm.
Tel: 02 – 864 – 62 – 981.
TEATRO ALLA SCALA
Founded in 1778, La Scala has established Milan as the opera capital of the world. It’s understated Neoclassical facade and lavish interior set the stage for premieres of works by Rossini, Puccini, Mascagni, and Verdi, performed by virtuosos like Maria Callas and Enrico Caruso.
The theater is scheduled to reopen in December 2004 after a lengthy renovation project. (Through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele from P. Duomo).
Visitors can soak up La Scala’s history at the Museo Teatrale alla Scalla. From poster art to a plaster cast of Toscanini’s hand, the museum offers a glimpse into operatic past.
Open: daily 9am – 6pm, last entry 5:15pm.
Tel: 02 – 805 – 34 – 18.
MUSEO POLDI PEZZOLI
Poldi Pezzoli, an 18th-century nobleman and art collector, bequeathed his house and its art collection to the city ”for the enjoyment of the people” in 1879.
Today masterpieces hang in the Golden Room, overlooking a garden. Famous paintings include Andrea Mantegna’s Virgin and Child, Botticelli’s Madonna and Child, Belline’s Ecce Homo, Guardi’s magical Gray Lagoon, and the signature piece, Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of a Young Woman.
Smaller collections fill Pezzoli’s former private chambers. A tiny but sublime display of Italian military armaments fills one of the rooms.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Tel: 02 – 79 – 48 – 89.
GALLERIA VITTORIO EMANUELE II
An immense glass and steel cupola (48m) towers over a five-storey arcade of overpriced cafes, shops, and offices. Intricate mosaics representing different continents sieged by the Romans adorn the floors and walls.
Once considered the drawing room of Milan, the statue-bedecked Galleria exudes elegance. Spin on the mosaic bull clockwise three times for good luck.
Open: Monday – Saturday 10am – 11pm, Sunday 10am – 8pm.
Tel: 06 – 46 – 02 – 72.
This impressive structure served as the town hall in 1138 before becoming the residence of Milanese royalty until the 19th-century.
Giuseppe Piermarini, architect of La Scala, designed its facade with Neoclassical restraint. Today it houses temporary exhibits in the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 9:30am – 7:30pm.
Tel: 02 – 620 – 83 – 219.
MUSEO BAGATTI VALSECCHI
This beautifully preserved 19th-century aristocrat’s house has antique ceramics, frescoes, mosaics, ivory, and Renaissance weapons.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 1pm – 5:45pm.
Tel: 02 – 760 – 06 – 132.
NEAR CASTELLO SFORZESCO
Restored after heavy bomb damage in 1943, the Castello Sforzesco is one of Milan’s best-known monuments. Its mighty towers and expansive courtyard have seen their share of history: originally constructed in 1308 as a defense against the Venetians, de Vinci also had his studio here before Spanish and Australian invaders used the grounds as army barracks, horse stalls and storage.
Inside are the 12 Musel Civici (Civic Museums). The highlight is undoubtedly the Museum of Antique Art, which contains Michelangelo’s unfinished Pieta Rondanini (1564), his last work.
Da Vinci also painted the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sala delle Asse; his design was once considered so insignificant it was whitewashed over, actually protecting the original colors.
The Applied Arts Museum showcases ornate household furnishings and the Automa contesta di demonio. Play puppeteer to the red-eyed wooden demon by cranking the lever below.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 9:30am – 7:30pm.
Tel: 02 – 884 – 63 – 703.
CHIESA DI SANTA MARIA DELLE GRAZIE
The church’s Gothic nave is dark and elaborately patterned with frescoes, contrasting the splendid, airy Renaissance tribune added by Bramante in 1492.
Open: Monday – Saturday 7am – noon and 3pm – 7pm, Sunday 7:15am – 12:15pm and 3:30pm – 9pm.
Next to the church entrance is the Cenacolo Vinciano (Vinciano Refectory, or the convent dining hall), home to one of the best-known pieces of art in the world: Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Following a 20-year restoration effort, it was re-opened to the public in 1999, though rumors persist that it may again be closed to the public; pieces have been flaking off almost since the day Leonardo finished it, and the roof of the building was blown off during world War II, leaving the interior exposed for several years.
Advance booking is mandatory. Lone travellers with a flexible schedule should call at least one week in advance; groups and those with limited time should call several weeks ahead. Groups are allowed in the refractory for a maximum of 15 minutes.
Refractory open: Tuesday – Sunday 8:15am – 7pm.
Tel: 02 – 894 – 21 – 146 or 19 – 919 – 91 – 00.
PINACOTECA DI BRERA
The Brera Art Gallery presents a superb collection of 14th – 20th-century paintings, with an emphasis on those from the Lombard School.
Works include Bellini’s Pieta (1460), Andrea Mantegna’s brilliant Dead Christ (1480), Raphail’s Marriage of the Virgin (1504), Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus (1606), and Francesco Hayez’s The Kiss (1859).
A limited collection of works by modern masters includes pieces by Modigliani and Carlo Carra, as well as Picasso’s Testa di Toro.
Open: daily 8:30am – 7:15pm.
Tel: 02 – 72 – 26 – 31.
MUSEO NAZIONALE DELLA SCIENZA E DELLA TECNICA ”DA VINCI”
This family-friendly, hands-on museum traces the development of science and technology from the age of Leonardo to the present.
The hall of computer technology features a piano converted into a typewriter by Edoardo Hughes of Turin in 1885. Don’t miss the da Vinci room, which contains wooden mock-ups of his flying machines, cranes, and bridges.
Open: Tuesday – Friday 9:30am – 4:50pm, Saturday – Sunday 9:30am – 6:20pm.
Tel: 02 – 48 – 55 – 51.
BASILICA DI SANT’AMBROGIO
A prototype for Lombard-Romanesque churches throughout Italy, Sant’Ambrogio is the most influential medieval building in Milan.
St. Ambrose presided over this building between AD 379 AD 386, and his skeleton rests beside those of the martyrs Gervasius and Protasius, in a dim crypt below the altar.
Ninth-century reliefs depict the life of Christ in gold on one side of the altar and the life of St. Ambrose, in silver, on the other. The 4th-century Cappella di San Vittore in Ciel D’oro, with exquisite 5th-century mosaics adorning its cupola, lies through the seventh chapel on the right.
The asymmetrical bell towers are the result of an 8th-century feud between a group of Benedictine monks and the priests of the church, each of whom owned one tower.
Open: Monday – Saturday 7:30am – noon and 2:30pm – 7pm, Sunday 3pm – 7pm.
Chapel open: Tuesday – Sunday 9:30am – 11:45pm and 2:30pm – 6pm.
STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA
In a country where calico is taken as seriously as Catholicism, nothing compares to the rivalry between Milan’s two soccer clubs, Inter and A.C.
As passions roil, the city reaches a feverish pitch heightened by political overtones: Inter fans are often left-wing, while A.C. fans tend to be right-wing.
The face-off takes place in their shared three-tiered stadium (capacity 85,700), architecturally distinct for its exterior spiralling ramps.
Tours: non-game days 10am – 5pm.
Tel: 02 – 622 – 85 – 660 ( A.C. tickets).
Tel: 02 – 771 – 51 (Inter tickets).
Tel: 02 – 39 – 22 – 61 (both tickets).
FROM NAVIGLI TO THE CORSO DI PORTA TICINESE
The Venice of Lombardy, the Navigli district boasts canals, footbridges, open-air markets, and trolleys. The Navigli are sections of a larger medieval canal system that transported thousands of tons of marble to build the duomo and linked Milan to northern cities and lakes. Da Vinci designed the original canal locks.
BASILICA DI SANT’EUSTORGIO
Founded in the 4th-century to house the bones of the Magi, it lost its function when the dead sages were spirited off to Cologne in 1164.
The present building, erected in 1278, sports a Lombard-Gothic interior of low vaults and substantial columns. The aesthetic pinnacle and one of the great masterpieces of early Renaissance art is the Portinari Chapel (1468), attributed to Michelozzo. It holds the tomb of St. Eustorgious (1339) in an ornate casket borne upon the marble shoulders of eight devotees. Look closer – one has three faces. Near the church is the squat 12th-century Porta Ticinese.
Open: Monday and Wednesday – Sunday 9:30am – noon and 3:30pm – 6pm.
Capella entrance through adjoining museum open: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm.
CHIESA DI SAN LORENZO MAGGIORE
The oldest church in Milan, San Lorenzo Maggiore testifies to the city’s 4th-century greatness. Begun as an early Christian church according to an octagonal plan, it was later rebuilt to include a 12th-century campanile and a 16th-century dome.
To the right of the church sits the 14th-century Cappella di Sant’Aquilino, which incorporates an old Roman door jamb. Inside, a 5th-century mosaic of a beardless Christ among his apostles looks over St. Auilino’s remains.
Open: daily 7:30am – 12:30pm and 2:30pm – 6:45pm.
PARCO DELL’ANFITEATRO ROMANO
This archaeological park opened in 2004 and is home to the paltry remains of Milan’s once grand Roman amphitheater. Though Mediolaum, as it was known, boasted a 155m-long stadium for gladiatorial fights, it was disassembled in the 6th-century out of fear the Longobards would overrun it and use it as a stronghold.
Pieces of the structure were recycled into the town walls and St. Lorenzo Church. A small antiquarium holds artifacts from the digs.
Park open: Tuesday – Sunday 9:30am – 5pm.
Museum open: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 9am – 2pm.
Tel: 02 – 894 – 00 – 555.
IN THE GIARDINI PUBBLICI
GALLERIA D’ARTE MODERNA
Napoleon and Josephine lived here when Milan was capital of Napoleonic Italy (1805 – 1814). Evocative of Versailles, the gallery displays modern Lombardian art as well as works from Impressionism onward.
Of special note are Modigliani’s Beatrice Hastings, Picasso’s Testa, Klee’s Wald Bau, and Morandi’s Natura Morta con Bottiglia, as well as pieces by Matisse, Mondrian, and Dufy.
Open: Tuesday – Saturday 9am and 11am only.
Tours: Tuesday at 11am.
Tel: 02 – 760 – 02 – 819.
The adjacent Padiglione D’Arte Contemporania is a rotating extravaganza of multimedia, photographs, and paintings.
Open: Tuesday – Thursday and Saturday – Sunday 9:30am – 5:30pm, Friday 9:30am – 9pm.
The city sponsors free events to sustain its active cultural scene. Look for details in the monthly Milano Mese, distributed at the tourist office.Milano Magazine is a monthly publication of the Ufficio Informazione del Comune with info on bars, films, and seasonal events.
Milan’s famed tradition and unparalleled audience enthusiasm make it one of the best places in the world to see an opera. The city’s beloved opera house will finally re-open for the 2004-2005 season, beginning December 7, 2004.
The theater’s excellent acoustics enhance the art such that even those in the cheap seats appreciate a glorious sensory experience. During the interim, the Scala troupe performs at Teatro degli Arcimboldi.
Tickets are available in La Scala’s temporary ticket office, in the Metro station at the Duomo stop. Performances run year-round, with a break in August and September.
Open: daily noon – 6pm.
Tel: 02 – 720 – 23 – 339.
THEATER, MUSIC, AND FILM
Founded after World War II as a socialist theater, the Piccolo Teatro, specializes in small-scale classics and off-beat productions.
Performances: Tuesday – Saturday 8:30pm, Sunday 4pm.
Tel: 02 – 723 – 33 – 222.
The organization Teatri d’Italia sponsors Milano Oltre in June and July, a drama, dance, and music festival
Tel: 02 – 864 – 64 – 094.
Milan is known as the jazz capital of Italy, cementing its reputation with the Brianza Open Jazz Festival during the first two weeks of July.
Tel: 02 – 237 – 22 – 36.
Milan’s increasingly popular Carnevale is the longest lasting in Italy. The masked mystique and medieval revelry radiates from the duomo and spreads throughout the city. Carnevale occurs annually during the days preceding Ash Wednesday and always enjoyed by Milan hookups.