12 things to do and see in Milan

12 things to do and see in Milan - In the case of Milan, it can be said that innovation and creativity have always been part of the city's history. Not only, therefore, when things turn out for the best, but also when, as in the 1990s, not everything went smoothly.

12 things to do and see in Milan


12 things to do and see in Milan

Milan to live and Rome for the weekend. For years this was the stereotype that described the two most important cities in Italy. At first the job, at the second the story; to one the economic-financial supremacy, to the other the political-cultural one. Obviously things have always been more nuanced than this (Milan, for example, has always excelled in the field of publishing) and yet there is no doubt that this representation has substantially held up for years from an empirical point of view. After the success of Expo 2015 the picture has changed. Milan, in fact, has also begun to thrive in terms of tourism, to the point of undermining cities such as Florence and Venice in terms of the number of annual visitors, placing itself immediately behind the capital of Italy. On the other hand, it is precisely the sudden changes that best highlight some constants. In the case of Milan, it can be said that innovation and creativity have always been part of the city's history. Not only, therefore, when things turn out for the best, but also when, as in the 1990s, not everything went smoothly. In short, the Milanese spirit is what makes the city so fascinating with evident reflections in various fields: fashion, design, gastronomy and the entertainment industry. Below we see the main attractions of the city. Enjoy the reading.

Cathedral (Duomo)

At the beginning we referred to creativity and innovation as constants in the history of Milan. To these two we must add a third: the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, in the center of the homonymous square. Since 1386, the year of its foundation by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, this church has represented the heart of Milanese spirituality, with over 4 million visitors a year. It must be said that the centrality of the square also contributes to the popularity of the building, a hub for almost all of Milan's tourist attractions, and for this reason generally taken as a starting point for visits to the city. From an architectural point of view, the Cathedral represents a precious testimony of Lombard-Gothic even if - it must be said - the construction of the cathedral lasted for over 5 centuries, so much so that it is customary to distinguish 6 successive phases of construction: Viscontea (1387-1447 ); Sforza (1450-1520); Borromeo (1560-1650); Sixth-eighteenth centuries (1650-1800); nineteenth century (1800-1900); Twentieth century (1900-present). This very long period of time also explains the high number of statues: over 3000 between inside and outside, with the singular presence of secular personalities (Dante Alighieri, Arturo Toscanini, Vittorio Emanuele II and even the boxer Primo Carnera) alongside prophets and martyrs of the Old and New Testament. The 135 spiers that decorate the exterior of the Cathedral, together with the Relic of the Sacred Nail kept in a case at the apex of the main apse (according to legend it would be one of the nails from the cross of Jesus), constitute two of the most charm of the Milan Cathedral which – it should be remembered – in Italy in terms of size is second only to St. Peter's in the Vatican. Also not to be missed is the ascent to the roof (via lift) and a visit to the basement with the archaeological remains of the original Basilica of Santa Tecla, on whose foundations Gian Galeazzo Visconti ordered the building of the new temple.

Museum of the Twentieth Century

If you like 20th century art, in particular Futurism which had such a cultural and political influence on the first half of the century, well then Palazzo dell'Argentario is a must for a visit to Milan. This building, a stone's throw from the Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (see next point), has since 2009 housed one of the most important collections of Italian art of the last century with great emphasis on the works of Boccioni, Marinetti, Balla and others interpreters of that avant-garde movement that was Futurism. However, many other national and international artists are part of the exhibition, among others Picasso, Klee, Kandinsky, De Chirico, Modigliani, Fontana and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, author, the latter, of the famous "Quarto Stato", the painting that this fact sanctioned the irruption on the artistic scene, as well as of course on the political and social one, of the peasant and worker masses.

Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery

Some have rightly defined the Milan gallery as a station without rails, tracks and trains. In fact, the comings and goings teeming with people are very similar to that of a railway station, with the substantial difference that here shopping counts much more than mobility needs. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, in fact, is a real shopping center with boutiques of the major high fashion brands alongside historic cafés and fast food chains. Together with the so-called "Quadrilatero d'Oro" (see next point), the gallery, designed in 1865 by the architect Giuseppe Mengoni, is one of the "stages" of the Milanese star system and showbiz. In short, there are those who come to look and those, instead, to be looked at. Always beautiful, during the Christmas period, according to many, it turns into the most "in" place in the city.

Fashion district

In Milan it is impossible not to go shopping. We have already seen it with the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II but the so-called "Quadrilatero della moda" (via Montenapoleone, via della Spiga, via Manzoni, via Sant'Andrea) is the temple of Milanese shopping. Ferragamo, Prada, Valentino, Gucci, Krizia, Dolce & Gabbana, Trussardi, Chanel, Moschino, Versace and other major brands are practically all present in such a concentration that is unmatched anywhere else in the world, even in New York. Obviously there are few who can afford to buy in this area but that's not even the point. In fact, the most interesting aspect of the fashion district is that it sets trends, anticipating what will then be the tastes that will be the most popular.

Sforza Castle

The Castello Sforzesco, another obligatory stop on a visit to Milan, is located not far from the Duomo. And, just like the city cathedral, the building of this fortress is due to Gian Galeazzo Sforza who, continuing the initial work of his predecessor Galeazzo II Visconti, built the lodgings for the troops, contextually rearranging the park and the moat all around. After the Viscontis it was the turn of the Sforzas: first Francesco Sforza and then Ludovico Maria Sforza, known as il Moro. The latter gave great prestige to the Milanese fortress by calling to court, among others, artists of the caliber of Leonardo da Vinci and Donato Bramante. From the 16th to the 18th century the castle went through a very turbulent phase, passing into French, Spanish and Austrian hands. It is in these centuries that the image of a foreign fortress, a hostile symbol of occupation, settles down. A negative prejudice that the Milanese definitively left behind only after the unification of Italy. Coming to the present day, there are two reasons why the Castello Sforzesco is one of the main tourist attractions of Milan. The first is because, right behind it, there is the beautiful Sempione Park, an oasis of peace in the city centre. Being able to switch off without having to go too far from work and current affairs is certainly a great advantage, especially in a busy and always rushing city such as Milan. The second reason is the presence, inside the building, of several museums. First of all, the Museum of Ancient Art, with the section dedicated to Michelangelo's Pietà Rondanini, but the Museum of Musical Instruments, the Prehistoric Museum and the Egyptian Museum are also worth a visit. In short, whether you are looking for a little relaxation or, on the contrary, for cultural stimuli that leave their mark, the Castello Sforzesco is one of the unmissable places in Milan.

Branca Tower

The Parco Sempione mentioned above (see Castello Sforzesco, point 5) is not only the green lung of Milan but it is also - above all - a place of memory that bears many traces of the recent history of the city. From the commemorative monument of Napoleon III, to the Arena by Antonio Canova, where Inter and Milan also played, passing through the Mysterious Bagni, the fountain designed by Giorgio De Chirico, the favorite park of the Milanese oozes history, culture and art. Special mention for the Torre Branca, which is located right at the entrance to the park. It is a metal tower designed by the designer Gio Ponti and built in 1933 on the occasion of the V Triennale di Milano. It is called Torre Branca because in 1972, the Branca brothers, owners of the homonymous distillery, took charge of the restructuring of the work that had been unusable for some time. In addition to the still current union between architecture and technology, the peculiarity of this metal totem is that an elevator allows you to climb to the top (108 m), from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city. Not to be missed!

Brera art Gallery

The first thing that catches the eye of the Brera palace is the statue of Napoleon Bonaparte in the courtyard that precedes the entrance. Created by the artist Antonio Canova, the sculpture portrays the leader with the features of the Roman god Mars, celebrating not only his conquering skills but also his role as a civilizing hero. What we admire, however, is a bronze copy of the work, since the marble original is in the Wellington Museum in London. And Napoleon, moreover, also has something to do with the centerpiece of the Brera palace, namely the famous Pinacoteca with hundreds of paintings from the Middle Ages to modern times. In fact, Napoleon used this former Jesuit college as a deposit, piling up many of the works of art confiscated from around northern Italy. A form of state collecting that marks a profound change compared to private collecting from which, for example, the Uffizi in Florence sprang. In any case, it was fortunate for Milan that some of the greatest masterpieces of Renaissance art found themselves "at home". Just to mention a few, without claiming to be exhaustive: the Pietà by Giovanni Bellini, the Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna, the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael and the Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio. In short, the Pinacoteca di Brera is another obligatory stop on a visit to Milan, especially since the collection, as mentioned, does not end only with the 15th and 16th centuries but also houses significant contributions from Flemish art, without forgetting some of the the best interpreters of Italian painting between the 19th and 20th centuries.

Cenacolo Vinciano

In terms of notoriety, Leonardo's Last Supper is second only to the Mona Lisa kept in the Louvre in Paris. The rapid deterioration of the work that the Florentine artist painted on the wall of the refectory of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie probably contributed to the (relative) lesser fame of Leonardo's Last Supper. To commission the painting, 4 meters high and 9 long, Ludovico Il Moro who strongly pushed for the representation of the announcement of the betrayal that Jesus addressed to the apostles before being arrested. A scene to which Leonardo managed to transfer all the drama of the biblical story, painting on the faces of the apostles the incredulity of listening and the simultaneous fear of being pointed out by the prophet. From 1977 to 1999 Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper was the subject of one of the longest and most complicated restoration campaigns ever experienced. An enormous work that has allowed the satisfactory recovery, even if necessarily partial, of one of the absolute masterpieces of the Renaissance on which the Florentine genius worked for three years, from 1494 to 1497.

Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio

Second in importance only to the Duomo, the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio is undoubtedly another obligatory stop on a visit to Milan. Its importance goes beyond the religious aspect and directly affects another cornerstone of the city's identity: the close link between the local church and civil society. A relationship that is one of the secrets of Milan's success, since it has historically allowed the most dynamic part of the city to experiment and innovate by pursuing profit, leaving the care of the least to the church. Having said that, the basilica of the patron saint also deserves from an architectural point of view. In fact, art historians agree in considering it the most shining testimony of the Romanesque-Lombard style, a source of inspiration for the building of many other churches around the region. Worth seeing is the Sacello di San Vittore in ciel d'Oro, a small chapel near the altar famous for the mosaics that decorate the walls and the barrel vault. Equal importance for the Golden Altar made by master Vuolvinio, a very active goldsmith in the 9th century. From the same period the older of the two bell towers, built by Benedictine monks. The other, the higher one, was instead built three centuries later by the hands of the canons to seal a long conflict between the parties regarding the use of the church altar.

The Navigli

The Navigli, about half an hour's walk from the Duomo, are one of the most interesting areas of Milan. They are so both for the historical importance they had in the past and for the tourist present which began in the 80s of the last century and definitively exploded after Expo 2015. Walking along the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese, the two waterways around which extends the district, it can seem to be in Amsterdam or Stockholm, which is incredible considering that unlike the two northern European cities, Milan has never had large waterways. Indeed, the Navigli were born precisely to make up for the absence of a main waterway by drawing on the small Seveso, Lambro and Nirone to provide the city with a river port that would favor trade. To fully understand the historical value of this grandiose work of hydraulic engineering, to which Leonardo da Vinci also contributed, just think that the blocks of marble used for the construction of the cathedral were transported entirely along the canals. In the 19th and 20th centuries the prevalence of road and rail transport decreed a slow but inexorable decline of the neighborhood, in the meantime inhabited mainly by workers who were absorbed by the industries around the city. At the end of the 20th century, however, the decline of industry, to the advantage of the tertiary sector and finance, accompanied a further transformation of the area, frequented by artists and the new city bourgeoisie. With the new millennium, the definitive tourist consecration with the opening of bars, restaurants, trattorias and an infinite number of other commercial activities that have made the Navigli one of the key areas of Milanese nightlife. It's not just that though. Alongside the canals, including the Naviglio della Martesana, not mentioned up to now, the network of cycle paths has been strengthened, in order to allow those who wish to get to know the other Milan, that of areas such as Crescenzago, Gorgonzola, Assago, Rozzago etc. otherwise overlooked by traditional tourist tours. Not to be missed!

Monumental Cemetery

Among the symbols of Milaneseness, next to the Cathedral and the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, there is also the Monumental Cemetery. Not only because there are buried personalities who have made the civil, political, artistic and literary history of Italy (just to mention a few: Alessandro Manzoni, Filippo Turati, Salvatore Quasimodo, Arturo Toscanini, Giorgio Gaber and Franca Rame) but also because this The enormous space of over 250,000 square meters offers multiple architectural cues. More in detail, the peculiarity of the Monumental Cemetery of Milan consists in incorporating different styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau, passing through Romanesque, Byzantine and Neoclassical. In short, at the same time a place of memory and an example of architectural eclecticism that deserves to be visited and valued.

San Siro stadium

San Siro is not a stadium like any other. The historic definition of "Scala del calcio" (in evident similarity with the Teatro alla Scala, also in Milan) is enough to understand the emotional bond of the Milanese with this stadium where the two glorious city teams, Inter and Milan, alternate. For some years, in addition to the museum, it is possible to visit all the interiors by retracing the true itinerary of the players: mixed area, changing rooms, tunnels, playing field and even the stands. In short, once in Milan, especially if you care about one of the two teams, a visit to the Giuseppe Meazza in San Siro is a must.