Our first stop in our short tour of Northern Italy was Milan, a two hour flight from Lamezia Terme. Valeria and her new friends from Roccella had a rather wet and rainy ‘Girl’s Weekend’ in Milan first and I flew up to join her on Monday, 12th March. We spent 3 nights in an Air B&B apartment over looking the Piazza de XXIV Maggio on the south side of town. Luckily for us I brought the sun from Roccella and we had two days of glorious weather; in contrast to Valeria’s damp weekend. In the rain Milan has little to commend it other than shopping and Prosecco!
Milan was founded in about 600BC by a Celtic tribe and was conquered by Rome in 222BC, therafter rising in importance to become the capital of the western Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages Milan suffered centuries of destruction and rebuilding at the hands of the Goths, Visigoths, Ostragoths and Attila the Hun. It was conquered by the Lombards and then in the 8th century fell to Charlemagne and the Franks.
By the end of the 12th century Milan had become a Duchy and the conquering and destruction seems to have abated under the three Ducal families, first the Torres, followed by the Visconti and lastly the Sforza. Our tour guide told us that the last of the Torre Dukes in Milan was imprisoned by the new Visconti family in an open air cage in Como. They fed him bread and water for the 18 months it took him to die of exposure and malnutrition. George Martin didn’t need to look too hard for inspiration for Game of Thrones!
In 1500 the French, having found the Italian city states unable to defend themselves, seized the city and heralded a period until the 19th century when control of Milan alternated between the Spanish, French and Austrians with monotonous regularity. In the mid 19th century the Kingdom of Sardinia backed the Milanese against the Austrians resulting in the Sardinians gaining control over what is now Italy. In 1861 the Kingdom of Sardinia became the Kingdom of Italy.
Milan also has the dubious honour of being the birth place, in 1919, of Facism, but was also where it ended when Partisans strung Mussolini up after the war. The city was also a target for heavy bombing by the Allies in WWII. Apparently the Duomo was relatively unscathed because that was the bomber’s land mark.
So, after centuries of being destroyed, sacked, depopulated, rebuilt, reorganised and redeveloped there isn’t much of ‘old’ Milan left; other than the Sforza Castle and the Napoleonic Arch of Peace most of the remaining monumental buildings are religious.
We had two days to explore Milan and took a Walking Tour on Tuesday starting at the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie. housing Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and ending at the Duomo, or Milan Cathedral stopping at the Castle, La Scala Theatre and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on the way. On Wednesday we walked around quite a few more of the sights and it is far easier just to show the photos.
I personally didn’t find Milan a particularly attractive city. However; with its history that is understandable. The buildings now standing were apparently designed to be plain outside but we’re built around pretty hidden courtyards so as not to boast Milanese wealth to the various occupying powers. There is also a vast amount of grafitti which adds to the sometimes drab, unloved appearance.
BUT, its architecture is massively impressive, and it is home to some stunning monumental architecture. We spent an enjoyable time wandering around town and the real challenge here has been to cut down on the number of photographs I wanted to use!