It took me five years to come to Milan for the first time after I moved to Italy in autumn 2012. A very long time! It’s true. But there was always a good reason to postpone the trip. And there was always a bad one: when you live in the south of Italy, which is practically anywhere to the south of Rome, you get to know many things about Milan: it is rainy, it is crowdy, it is noisy, it is dull and, most of all, it is arrogant. The curious thing is that very often such views are expressed by people who have never even been to Milan, thus, do not really know anything about this city. But they already have an opinion, usually a negative one (choose one or more of the prejudices listed above).
One way or another, I must admit to have undergone this superficial brainwashing (mia culpa). Thus, I did not hurry up to have a chance to make up my own idea with regard to Milan. But sooner or later we are all given an oppurtunity to change our mind, and mine came at the beginning of this September. Came, saw and conquered: after only one weekend in Milan I erased everything I thought I knew about this city and let myself fall in love with it. At first sight, actually, my mind and my heart open as they were.
And now I am ready to give you some good reasons to give this city a chance if you still haven’t thought of doing so.
- il Duomo di Milano, my ‘forever-number-one’
The city’s Cathedral, known as il Duomo and dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity, is rightfully considered the symbol of Milan, its excellence, the biggest gem in its crown, its true marvel. One of the most frequently photographed churches in the world and the third biggest cathedral after those of Rome and Seville, it is an absolutely wow! appearance that dominates the surrounding urban landscape. The titanic construction of the Duomo hosts 135 spires, 3.400 statues, 200 high reliefs and 52 internal columns all made of the splendid Candoglia marble.
At the end of the 14th century the city of Milan had two important, almost twin churches – the one dedicated to St. Tecla and the other one dedicated to Santa Maria Maggiore. Both churches represented the religious heart of the city till the moment in which one of their bell towers collapsed. The decision to erect a new cathedral on the place of the two old churches was made. Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan, decided to underline his own importance and that of the city of Milan and the latter’s legacy to the Northern Europe choosing the new construction to be made of marble in the Gothic Flamboyant style that still determines its unusual peculiarity in the overall context of Italian religious architecture.
Call it predictable or even a commonplace, for me the Duomo is and will remain a must, the very first thing to see in Milan.
- il Cenacolo, my ‘dream-to-see-but-not-yet’
The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece situated in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, is not an easy thing to see. The explanation, on the contrary, is a very easy one: the access to the fresco is limited, thus, request exceeds availability. To cut the long story short, you have to book your tickets in advance. Very much in advance, I mean to say.
Let me be your example: I knew I’d go to Milan more or less one month and a half before the actual departure and found no available tickets for the days of my trip… So it is never too early to start arranging the visit in question. You can make an idea on the actual availability of the tickets at the following website.
- la Pietà Rondanini and the Milan Castle, my ‘absolutely-unexpected-experience’
When I realized it was not possible to get to see the Last Supper, I had to find something to comfort my cultural hunger with. The only cure could be that of the last incomplete work produced by the hand of Michelangelo’s genius – la Pietà Rondanini, one of the most mysterious pieces ever created by the Maestro.
The amazing sculpture is situated inside the Castle of Milan, or the Castello Sforzesco, which looks more like a fortress than like a proper castle. The origins of the fortified structure date back to the 14th century when the city was ruled by the Visconti family. But it was under the reign of Francesco Sforza, one of the most skilled military leaders of the 15th century, that the castle was rebuilt on a more impressive scale. Enriched and enlarged, it became a perfectly elegant scenery for the Renaissance court of Milan. In the course of centuries once a sumptuous residence underwent numerous transformations and served various purposes, becoming nowadays the seat for many important museums, art collections and cultural institutions, preserving untill today its significance and noticable impact over the city’s visitors.
- the Brera quarter and its Pinacoteca, my ‘stroll-and-relax-time’ in Milan
The Brera neighbourhood is a quite island in the stormy life a of a big city. It doesn’t even seem to be in the centre of Milan with its narrow pedestrian streets, cosy restaurants and cafès, with its poetic rhythm and rhyme of life inside life. Far from the madding crowd, close to the culture that is never too much in one’s day – as everyone who decided to visit Brera and its famous Pinacoteca would confirm.
Its very first collection was born in 1776 with educational purposes, while the Pinacoteca itself was officially established in 1809. Under Napoleon, Brera welcomed numerous important works of art from the territories conquered by the French army, the biggest part of which was made up by the religious paintings confiscated from churches and convents throughout Lombardy and Veneto. Thus, the famous collection was not born as a private one but as the state and its policy’s creation. A creation with a particularly religious accent that nowadays boasts numerous breathtaking masterpieces.
Iconic and desirable. You’d never say it is what it is from the outside (I found its appearance quite misleading). Nevertheless, as my dear friend and a true connoisseur of the theatre life behind the scenes Kat says: ‘what really counts is always out there’. So if you have the intention to discover the truly meaningful staff, it is here where you can find plenty of it.
- the Corso Como and the vertical forest
The Corso Como is something everyone knows about but nobody knows why exactly he or she knows about it. Me neither. What I learnt about it for sure is that it is a short street with some shops and restaurants leading from the city centre in the direction of the ultra-modern Unicredit Tower and the famous bosco verticale (vertical forest), the residential buildings for the ultra-rich. Both of them define Milan’s modern downtown skyline. Good to know and good to see, a change of the setting is always the best way to have some rest, also for one’s eyes and imagination.
Un naviglio means a canal. Yes, the one with quite a bit of water in it used to transport people and goods. Surprise! Milan, even if far from the sea, used to be quite a busy merchant town thanks to its canals that connected the city to the lakes Como and Maggiore, the river Po and through it to the sea. The complex hydraulic system was born already in the 12th century. Its part that connected Milan to the lake Como was carried out by the great Leonardo da Vinci himself.
The epoch of flourishing was substituted by that of decay for the canals of Milan. Refurbishment time came together with Expo 2015 granting new life to the whole area always cherished by the locals, even in its worst period, and happifully revived in the recent years.
- Sant’Ambrogio Basilica
The second in the order of importance after the Duomo, this church, architecturally, a perfect example of the Lombard Romanesque style, was founded in the 4th century and was dedicated to St. Ambrogio, the Saint protector of Milan.
- some autumn rain and yellows trams
When in Milan you can’t but use its efficient means of public transport to move from point A to point B, especially when it is raining. Don’t miss a chance to have a ride on one of the symbolic yellow trams and enjoy the view of the city from its windows.
What I can personally suggest you is to purchase a 24-hour ticket every day at the closest Tabacchi store or at any metro station via self-service machines. It costs 4,50 euro per person and spares your budget if you plan to use public means more than three times within the next 24 hours. Note also, that once in the underground you will need your ticket not only to access the trains but also to leave the metro, so do not even think of throwing it away until you are out.
- Vittorio Emanuele gallery and shopping
There’s no Milan without shopping and no shopping without Milan. If you need a new wardrobe, there’s no better place to find it: shops, shops, shops are everywhere!
But if you have no desire, no time or no something else to spend on shopping, you can just try to catch its very essence in the Vittorio Emanuele gallery situated right by the Duomo. Founded in the 19th century, this spectacular structure became a real living room of the city, the picture of its modernity and development. Originally, the idea was to provide a covered passage between the Duomo and the Teatro alla Scala. Nowadays the gallery became a meeting point full of fancy shops and cafès.
There’s also a veil of tragedy that covers the famous spot: its creator Giuseppe Mengoni died only several days after it was inaugurated. Some whispered that he committed a suicide after receiving some criticism with regard to his creation. But in reality, he was very ill and made it only to witness the gallery’s opening.
One more curiosity: there’s a mosaic illustrating a bull situated on the floor under the gallery’s dome. They say that if you put your heel into the cavity the bull has between its legs and make three turns around yourself, there will be some good luck in store for you. The poor bull’s ‘cavity’ is becoming ever deeper as the years and tourists are passing by. But who could blame anyone for wanting some good luck! May good patience be with the good bull, anyway.
Milan is all these places and much more than that: worth to discover, pleasant to live, surprising and uncommon. It creates possibilities, gives chances, allows to do and to make, it is absolutely poetic in that autumn atmosphere of its own, covered in humid rain, fallen leaves and subtle colours that mutate with the changing light.
It is easy to judge especially without seeing, knowing, learning. It is the easiest thing on earth to judge without giving a chance, without looking into anything. Diving deep is dangerous, staying on the surface safes time and effort. But never leads anywhere. Do not be lazy and superficial, go, see and try to understand. It may happen you will not, but it least you know you’ve tried.
It is ok if Milan isn’t on the list of your travel priorities. But if it isn’t on that list just because someone told you something balblabla about it, review your priorities with no prejudice and give Milan and any other city you judged before visiting it yourself a chance. Love’s always where we least expect to find it.
Photos credit: Machs Gut (c)