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A visit to La Scala is a wonderful reason for a trip to the capital of Lombardy. Vibrant Milan, the richest city in Italy, stands for fashion and design, and is famous for its Gothic cathedral, Leonardo´s Last Supper and many other art treasures, its opera house and two football clubs. Milan is a city of contrasts, and takes time to win your heart.
A MARBLE CATHEDRAL
Start your exploration of Milan in the heart of the city on Piazza del Duomo. From here, the site of an equestrian statue of the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, you have a view of the shining white façade of the Duomo di Santa Maria. Begun in 1386, the façade extravagantly decorated with gables, turrents and statues, it was not completed until 1810, and was freshly renovated for the Expo Milano 2015. Inside the world’s third-largest Catholic church, 52 richly adorned pillars and huge stained-glass windows make a strong impression.
An absolute highlight is a walk on the roof terraces, which you reach by walking or more conveniently by taking a lift on the north side. A stroll through this landscape of turrets, arches, columns and statues leads almost up to the Madonnina, a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary almost four metres high, and provides a clear view of the whole city, in good weather as far as the Alps.
AN ARCADE TO DREAM OF
Right next to the cathedral, a massive gateway in the shape of a triumphal arch leads to Milan’s luxury shopping arcade, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, built in 1877. It consists of two intersecting galleries with an impressive glass roof, and is decorated with stucco, elaborate frescos and enormous quantities of marble. The who’s who of the Italian fashion world is at home here, so you can enjoy window-shopping at Prada, Gucci, Luisa Spagnoli and other brands. Drink an aperitivo in Camparino, an Art Nouveau bar that has been serving Campari since 1915. In the evening, we recommend taking a seat on the upper terraces, where you have wonderful panoramic view of the cathedral.
MORE THAN A SHADY PIAZZA
Opposite the arcade, the Palazzo Reale was seat of the government of Milan for a long time. Today it houses the Museo del Duomo, where high-calibre exhibitions are held. Next to it the Museo del Novecento presents masterpieces of Italian Cubism and Futurism.
After eating ice cream at Gelateria Odeon (Piazza del Duomo 2), stroll on to Piazza dei Mercanti, the medieval square of traders and artisans. On a hot summer day you will find a shady spot here, even if the outside seating of McDonalds spoils the scene a little. On this rectangular piazza, traders once sold their wares and artisans offered their services, while in the open loggia of the late Romanesque Palazzo della Ragione assemblies were held, and the ground floor was a court of law.
Round off the day’s sightseeing with literature and art. The Palazzo dell´Ambrosiana, named after one of the fathers of the Church, Ambrose of Milan (died 379), is home to the famous Ambrosiana, where medieval manuscripts and documents, including drawings, prints and charters, are kept. The famous paintings in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana include Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician, Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit and the only surviving cartoon of Raphael´s School of Athens.
…AN EVENING AT LA SCALA
If you have got hold of tickets for La Scala, one of the world’s most famous opera houses for centuries, start the evening with an aperitif in the neighbouring ristorante. The evening’s spectators assemble here gradually, and you can have fun admiring their diverse styles and evening gowns. Before you enter the red-and-gold auditorium with its six tiers of boxes, you should know that the opera house takes its name from a small church, the 14th-century Santa Maria della Scala, which was simply demolished to build the prestigious theatre. Our tip: if you want to attend a performance at La Scala, plan well in advance. Book through the official ticket hotline of La Scala, and don’t buy supposedly left-over tickets at exorbitant prices from websites like Viagogo.
VISIT THE DUKE…
Allow some time for Castello Sforzesco, which was built for Francesco Sforza from 1450. The entrance to this square complex with massive corner towers is the Torre del Filarete, the almost 70-metre-high gate tower with a clock that bears the name of the man who constructed it, the architect and sculptor Antonio Averlino, known as Filarete. Through this gate you reach Piazza d’Armi, the parade and drill yard, and the wings grouped around courtyards, the Rocchetta to the west and the Corte Ducale, the ducal residence, to the north.
…SEE GREAT ART
Today the city museums are accommodated here. Don’t miss the Pietà Rondanini, Michelangelo´s final, unfinished sculpture, in the Museo d’Arte Antica, and Leonardo´s ceiling fresco of a tree in leaf in the Sala delle Asse. You can see works by Filippo Lippi, Andrea Mantegna, Canaletto, Correggio and Tiepolo in the Pinacoteca, one of the world’s foremost collections of musical instruments in the Museo degli strumenti musicali, and art from Antiquity in the Museo Egizio.
ART CAN ALSO BE RELAXING
To relax, take a walk in the extensive palace park, Parco Sempione, with its mature trees. At its edge the Triennale Design Museum occupies an imposing building from the 1930s that holds a permanent exhibition about Italian design and interesting temporary exhibitions. Depending on the weather, you can take a break in the park café or the Triennale Design Café while enjoying views of the park.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE
If you have pre-booked tickets for Santa Maria delle Grazie, now head for this Dominican church, a basilica that is among the finest examples of Renaissance art and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The dome by Bramante is a highlight, and above all visitors are drawn by Leonardo da Vinci´s Last Supper on the wall of the refectory in the monastery. This mural measuring 9 x 4 metres painted in the secco technique is considered a milestone of the Renaissance thanks to its composition. Here Da Vinci captured the moment when Jesus revealed to his disciples that one of them would betray him.
Tip: You should order your tickets at least three months before going.
AND THEN A LITTLE SHOPPING…
In the afternoon you can shop and stroll to your heart’s content – because in Milan, city of fashion and design, shopping is an essential part of the experience. Everywhere you will find small shops and boutiques where you can browse, try things on and make purchases. The truly high-class district is the Quadrilatero della Moda, the “fashion block”, around Via Monte Napoleone above the cathedral square, where the world’s best couturiers present their creations. A further well-known shopping area is around Corso Vittorio Emanuele II between the cathedral and San Babila. You will find youthful international fashion brands around Via Torino and on Corso Buenos Aires between Porta Venezia and Piazzale Loreto. The best-known department store is La Rinascente on Piazza del Duomo, where many designer labels are of offer on eight floors. If you prefer something quieter, walk through the lanes of the Brera quarter, where there are many small boutiques and galleries. It is also worth making a trip to the Navigli quarter, where artists and designers have set up in the streets around the canal and many small shops await discovery. Here Giorgio Armani has built a museum to exhibit his fashion, drawings and photos (Via Bergognone 40)
…AND OF COURSE THE EVENING!
In the evening at the latest, make your way to the Navigli quarter. The Navigli are Milan’s man-made waterways, created in the course of centuries to connect the city to the rivers and lakes of its hinterland. They served to transport, for example, marble for building the Duomo. Workers and artisans once lived on their banks. Today Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande are at the heart of Milanese nightlife, with numerous bars and restaurants. If it gets too crowded here, walk a little way along Torso di Porta Ticinese back to the Colonne di San Lorenzo, the remains of 16 Corinthian columns dating from the 3rd century. The area surrounding the Basilica San Lorenzo is a popular evening rendezvous. On the piazza you can dine superbly at Rugantino or sip an aperitivo in one of the bars.
FIRST A FEW SUPERB PAINTINGS…
Part of the programme for the last day is a visit to the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of the leading Italian art collections. Here you can admire many masterpieces, from Rubens’ Last Supper and Bellini’s Virgin and Child to Caravaggio´s Christ in Emmaeus and Raphael´s Marriage of the Virgin. The foundations of the collection were laid by Napoleon, who is honoured with a bronze statue of Mars the Peacemaker by Antonio Canova in the courtyard. For a rest afterwards, go to the Orto Botanico south of the palazzo. It was founded in 1774 by Maria Theresa, empress of Austria (Via Brera, 28).
Before travelling to Milan, you can book a guided tour of the Pinacoteca di Brera.
…THEN A LEISURELY STROLL!
A walk through the narrow lanes of the trendy Brera quarter close to La Scala rounds off a visit to Milan.
Thanks to the Accademia di Belle Arti, the Brera district has been a genuine artists’ quarter since the 19th century. Little boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, many restaurants and bars here invite you to walk around and linger. Especially on balmy summer evenings and at weekends, this makes the district a popular place with both the Milanese and guests in the city.
Picture credits: all photos BKB Verlag except Milan, Piazza del Duomo: fotolia.com, originator: Nikokvfrmoto, Foto-ID: #108264377; Models on the runway: originator: fotolia.com, araelf, Foto-ID: #153175249; Milan, Cathedral’s terrace: fotolia.com, originator: frenk58, Foto-ID: #116817881; Milan, Scala: fotolia.com,originator: Amro, Foto-ID: #6414098; Milan, Malpensa: fotolia.com, originator: boscorelli, Illustrations-ID: #91051407; Milan, central station: fotolia.com, originator: fotobeam.de, Foto-ID: #69536730; Milan, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II: fotolia.com, originator: andersphoto, Photo-ID: #98298890; Milan, Castello Sforzesco: fotolia.com, originator: orpheus26, Photo-ID: #90731679; Milan, Santa Maria delle Grazie: fotolia.com, originator: Pavlo Vakhrushev, Foto-ID: #97195630; Milan, Touriston the Piazza del Duomo: fotolia.com, originator: Alliance, Foto-ID: #128064719; Milan, Naviglio. Canale Grande: fotolia.com, originator: faber121, Foto-ID: #119134808; people in the city: fotolia.com, originator: oneinchpunch, Foto-ID: #122591134.