MILAN — Historic Centre

The Historical Centre is enclosed by the inner ring which corresponds to the former walls which protected Milan during the Middle Ages. This area incorporates the fashion district which is called the Quadrilatero d’Oro, Castello Sforzesco, the Piazza della Scala and the neighbourhood of Brera amongst others. Many people live in the city centre, and there is alwys plenty to do though parking can be a nightmare and there are very few supermarkets here as well.

The sights found here are:
Basilica di Sant Ambrogio
San Giorgio al Palazzo
Santa Maria Presso San Satiro
Ambrosiana
Piazza dei Mercanti
Palazzo della Ragione
Piazza Duomo
Duomo
Vittorio Emanuele Gallery
Museo del Novecento
Palazzo Reale
Santo Stefano Maggiore
San Bernardino alle Ossa
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
San Carlos Church
Piazza San Babila
Quadrilatero della Moda
Museo Bagatti Valsecchi
Museo Poldi Pezzoli
Casa Manzoni
Palazzo Belgiojoso
Casa degli Omenoni
Santa Maria della Scala in San Fedele
Piazza della Scala
La Scala Opera House
San Giuseppe Church
Brera
Santa Maria del Carmine
Castello Sforzesco

Basilica di Sant Ambrogio

Basilica di Sant Ambrogio
The Basilica of St Ambrose was built for Bishop Ambrose between 379 and 386. Foundations of the original basilica have been excavated under the existing building and they show that this would have been a huge complex. The basilica was rebuilt in the 11th century in the Romanesque style and this is the building that you see today. The exterior of the basilica contains a huge atrium and two towers of different heights which gives the church an unusual look. The atrium is almost as large as the church itself and is very impressive when you first see it. Here you will find the archeological fragments and tombs under the arcaded gallery. The western facade has six open arches under a peaked roof. The south tower is known as the Monk’s Tower and it is designed very simply but the north tower is more ornate and it is known as the Canons’ Tower. The highlight of the interior of the basilica is the 9th century golden altar shaped like a sarcophagus that is found at the front of the nave. It shows the life of Christ in gold leaf on the front and the life of St Ambrose in gilded silver on the back. The altar is covered by a canopy made of four columns decorated with 10th century stucco reliefs. The one facing the nave on the left shows Christ giving the Book of Law to St Paul and the one on the right Christ giving the Keys of the Kingdom to St Peter.
For more information about the basilica visit the website at: http://www.basilicasantambrogio.it (in Italian only)

Traveller's Tip

Make sure you visit the crypt where you will find the skeleton of St Ambrose dressed in all his finery. Very unusual.
San Giorgio al Palazzo

San Giorgio al Palazzo
This church dates from the 8th century and is stands on the ruins of a palace built by Diocletan. It was rebuilt in 1623 in the Baroque style and the facade that you see today dates from the 18th century. The highlight of the interior is the third chapel found to the right of the aisle with its frescoes and panels. Here you will see Scenes from the Passion of Christ cycle painted by Bernadino Luini in 1516.

Santa Maria Presso San Satiro

Santa Maria Presso San Satiro
This beautiful church was first built in 876 and was dedicated to St Satyrus who was the brother of St Ambrose on what was reputedly the site of his house. Later the church was dedicated to Mary, hence the name which in English means St Mary Staying with St Satyrus. Some of the highlights of the interior of the church include the ‘trompe l’oeil’ columns and arches found behind the high altar and the Capella della Pietà which is found at the back of the left transept which houses a 15th century terracotta Pietà. Make sure you look at the beautiful Byzantine frescoes and the Romanesque columns in this chapel.

Traveller's Tip

This church was famous in the 13th and 14th centuries because it was claimed that an image of the Madonna which was found here shed real blood when stabbed.

Ambrosiana
The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana houses a stunning collection of masterpieces from the 15th to the 17th centuries. Some of the highlights include Adoration by Titian; Madonna and Angels by Botticelli and Basket of Fruit by Caravaggio amongst others. Adjoining this gallery is the Biblioteca Ambrosiana which is only open to scholars except when the library is hosting a special exhibition. One of its most famous collections are the 1,750 drawings and jottings of Leonardo da Vinci called the Codice Atlantico. These are frequently on display to the public and information about this can be found on the Ambrosiana website.
For more information about the Ambrosiana visit the website at: http://www.ambrosiana.eu/jsp/index.jsp?lang=ENG

Piazza dei Mercanti

Piazza dei Mercanti
This small square found off Via Mercanti dates back to the 13th century and housed the city’s judicial proceedings. In the centre of the square is the single-storey Palazzo della Ragione and on the north side is the Palazzo dei Giureconsulti which is home to the Chamber of Commerce. The clock tower on the facade of the Palazzo dei Giureconsulti is known as the Torre del Commune. It was built in 1272 by Napo Torriani who ruled Milan until he was defeated in 1277. The marble-facaded building on the south side is the Loggia degli Osii dating from 1316. This Gothic building was constructed with large open arcades and housed the offices of notaries and judges. The facade is decorated with statues of saints and coats of arms. Opposite the Loggia is the Palazzo delle Scuole Palatine which is an ornate Baroque palace built in 1645. The facade of this building is decorated with statues of St Augustine and the Roman poet Ausonius. To the right of the palace is the Casa dei Panigarola which is a lovely Gothic building decorated with terracotta ornaments. The Piazza dei Mercanti was Milan’s financial centre during the Middle Ages and was where tradesmen, craftsmen and shopkeepers gathered. These trades gave the names of the six gates as well as nearby streets surrounding this area: Armorari (arms makers), Spadari (sword makers), Cappellari (hatters), and Orefici (goldsmiths). A public well, which had been removed in 1583, was put back in the centre of the square in 1921 and it is still there today.

Traveller's Tip

The ceiling of the marketplace found on the right of the square was built in such a way that people standing next to each other in specific spots could hear each other clearly without being heard by others so that private trades could be made by the merchants who frequented this area.
Palazzo della Ragione

Palazzo della Ragione
The Palazzo della Ragione was built in 1233 as law courts. The portrait of the mayor who commissioned the building of the Palazzo della Ragione can be seen in relief on the facade of the building facing the square as well as a statue of him on a horse inside the arches of the courtyard. Markets and public meetings were once held on the ground floor of the building and public hangings were also held here. In 1771, the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa decreed the building should become an archive for deeds and had it enlarged. Today it houses municipal offices and is closed to the public. It is one of the few remaining medieval buildings in Milan and in 1988 restoration work was carried out which uncovered 13th century frescoes.

Piazza Duomo

Piazza Duomo
This is the main square in Milan and it takes its name from the Milan Cathedral that sits at one end of it. It was built originally in 1330 and since then a church has stood here. The square is crossed by thousands of people every day and it is surrounded by palatial buildings including the Royal Palace and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele 11. Near the west end of the square is the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele 11. Under the square are the foundations of the Basilica di Santa Tecla and the Battisterio di San Giovanni al Fonti which were found during the construction of the metro. There is an underground passage with shops that extends from the cathedral on the Pizza Duomo to the Piazza Cordusio.

Duomo

Duomo
This cathedral is one of the largest in the world. It has an elegant marble facade and 135 spires and 3,400 statues. Building of the cathedral started in 1386 but it wasn’t finished until the early 1800s. The building started out as a Gothic cathedral but over time it underwent many modifications and is now a mixture of styles. The exterior of the Duomo is made of brick faced with marble that was cleaned in recent times and gleams magnificently. The interior is huge but rather gloomy after the brightness outside and not particularly interesting. It is divided into five aisles with 52 columns and some brilliant stained glass windows. There are several extra places to visit within the cathedral including the roof climb, the treasury and the remains of the baptistery of an earlier church. The roof climb allows you to walk on the roofs of the cathedral and to see some magnificent views as well as being able to examine the spires and statues at close range. You can take the stairs which are found to the left of the front of the cathedral or there is also a lift. Inside the cathedral near the choir is the entrance to the crypt and there you will find the tomb of Cardinal Borromeo. Also in the crypt is the Cathedral Treasury with its collection of medieval art, vestments and religious objects which are very interesting and the price of entrance is only €1. There have been archeological excavations under the cathedral which revealed the foundations of a baptistery from the 4th century as well as the remains of the Cathedral of St Thecla. You can easily recognise the baptismal font which is in the centre with apses radiating out from it. There are fragments of marble pavement, pieces of fresco, bits of mosaic and a few artefacts to see here. The entrance to this excavation is found inside the cathedral near the back and there is an admission fee. The Cathedral museum is found near the cathedral but it is presently closed for renovations. Check on the website below to see if it is open when you are planning to visit.
For more information about the Duomo and prices for the places to visit there visit the website at: http://www.duomomilano.it

Vittorio Emanuele Gallery

Vittorio Emanuele Gallery
This magnificent five-storey arcade covered with a glass and iron roof is the result of a competition held in 1860 by the local government to see who could come up with the best design for a redevelopment of the area between the Duomo and the Scala Opera House. The winner was a Bolognese architect, Guiseppe Mengoni who designed his arcade after the great shopping arcades found in Paris at that time. The arcade connects the Piazza del Duomo with the Piazza della Scala. It took from between 1865 until 1877 for it to be completed and at first the people of Milan hated the idea because historic buildings were destroyed to create it but after it was completed it became a favourite meeting place for many and this still continues today with locals and tourists. It is an impressive sight with two iron and glass covered walkways meeting at an octagonal central plaza beneath a 47 metre high by 36 metre wide glass dome. The walkways are decorated with statues on the walls and there is a mosaic floor. The entrance from the Pizza del Duomo has a monumental triumphal arch. In the arcade are several designer stores, cafes and restaurants including an upmarket McDonalds.

Arengario

Museo del Novecento
This is the new Civic Museum of Contemporary Art and here you will find the City Council’s collection of contemporary art made possible through donations of the people of Milan. This collection used to be housed in the Palazzo Reale but at the end of 2010 it moved to its present home in the Arengario found on the Piazza del Duomo. The museum houses a wonderful collection of modern art starting from the early 1900s to the early 1970s. Some of the highlights of the museum include works by the Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni and other mostly Italian artists though there are some paintings by Picasso. There is a huge staircase that leads up to an amazing room with works by Lucio Fontana. The highlight of this room is the ‘51 neon light spiral’ that is visible from the square outside the building. There are also glass walls that give you a stunning view of the Duomo Square.
For more information about this museum visit the website at http://www.museodelnovecento.org/information/opening-hours-and-tickets

Palazzo Reale

Palazzo Reale
This used to be the Royal Palace and the original building which stood here had been the home of the Sforza families and later, the residence of the Spanish and of the Austrian governors. The palace was renovated by the same architect who designed La Scala, Giuseppe Piermarini between 1771 and 1778 and this is the building that you see today. During WW2 a lot of the interior was bombed and the only room to survive from this time is the Sala delle Cariatidi which has been kept in its half demolished state as a sobering reminder of the destructive nature of war. This hall is often used for exhibitions that are set up in the palace, with a striking effect. There has been lots of restoration work taking place here to return the rest of the rooms to their former glory. A highlight from this renovation is a beautiful centrepiece of a miniature Roman hippodrome dating from 1804 and is made of marble, onyx, semiprecious stones and gilded bronze. Until late 2010 the Palazzo Reale hosted the Civic Contemporary Art Museum which has since moved to the Arengario. It is now an important cultural centre, home to expositions and exhibitions.
For more information about the palace visit the website at: http://www.paladinopalazzoreale.it (in Italian only)

Santo Stefano Maggiore

Santo Stefano Maggiore
This church was originally dedicated to St Zachary but in the 10th century this dedication changed to St Stephen. The original church found here was built in the early 5th century but this church burnt down in 1070 and was rebuilt in 1075 in the Romanesque style but it has undergone several reconstructions over time. It is also known as St Stephen Brolo named after the historic area it is found in. On December 26, 1476 it was the scene of the assassination of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza who came to the church for the celebration of its patron saint. It was also the baptism place of the artist Caravaggio. Several saints and bishops have been buried here as well.

San Bernardino alle Ossa

San Bernardino alle Ossa
This church is famous for the ossuary which is a small chapel found at the side of the church which is decorated with human skulls and bones. This room was built in 1210 to house bones when the church cemetery ran out of space. The church itself wasn’t built until 1269. Over time the original church has been rebuilt and the church you see today dates from the 18th century.

Traveller's Tip

You will find the sign for the ossuary just inside the church by the door.
  • Make sure you look at the rounded ceiling of the church with its multilayered frescoes. The frescoes are painted on the ceiling and in the corners giving it a 3D effect. The frescoes were painted by Sebastiano Ricci in 1695.
    Corso Vittorio Emanuele

    Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
    This large street connects Piazza Duomo to Piazza San Babila and is one of the main shopping streets in the centre of Milan. It has porticoes lined with shops, mainly clothing and accessory boutiques and during the day the street is traffic-free. Between Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Europa you will find the tiny old church of San Vito al Pasquirolo with the adjoining cultural centre. In the evening the Corso is a lively and crowded place with many of the bars and snack bars remaining open until late into the night and there are also lots of cinemas here. It is a great place to window shop and people watch.

    San Carlos Church

    San Carlos Church
    This is a Neo-Classic church of the Servite Order and is considered one of the finest examples of the style in Italy. It was built in the mid 19th century on the site of an earlier church.

    Piazza San Babila

    Piazza San Babila
    This square has always been a popular meeting place for the wealthy Milanese due to the theatres found here. A lot of the buildings around the square date from the Fascist 1930s. The large fountain in the middle of the square was built in 1997. On the square as well is the church dedicated to Saint Babila which was restored at the beginning of the 20th century but its origins can be traced back to the 5th century though little remains of the original church. This church was once considered the most important church in Milan after the Duomo and the Basilica di Sant Ambrogio and it is one of the main churches in the Romanesque Revival style.

    Quadrilatero della Moda
    Also known as the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ this is the fashion district of Milan and is enclosed by four streets — Via Montenapoleone; Via Manzoni; Via della Spiga and Corso Venezia. Milan is considered one of the most important fashion centres in Europe and in this area you will find the shops of many of the most famous designers such as Giorgio Armani, Nicola Trussardi, Gianni Versace, Enrico Coveri, Gucci Bonvicini and Dolce e Gabanna. The most popular shopping street is Via Montenapoleone with Via della Spiga a close second.

    Museo Bagatti Valsecchi

    Museo Bagatti Valsecchi
    This late 19th century Neo-Renaissance palace was built by the Bagatti Valsecchi brothers as a home for their family and their collections. It opened as a museum in 1994 and pays homage to the extraordinary tastes of its former owners. A prime example of this taste is shown in the fireplace in the drawing room. The main surround is 16th century Venetian, the frescoes in the middle are from Cremona and at the top is the Bagatti Valsecchi coat of arms. All the rooms are richly decorated with carved fireplaces, painted ceilings and heavy wall-hangings and paintings. Modern conveniences were incorporated into the house but were concealed such as the shower in the bathroom which is disguised in a niche, and the piano which is found within a cabinet. Nothing is labelled so that it retains its illusion that it is still a family home but there are information sheets in English in each room, and free English-language audio guides can be borrowed from the ticket desk.
    For more information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.museobagattivalsecchi.org/english/index.htm

    Museo Poldi Pezzoli
    This is a private museum that was established by Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli and opened to the public in 1881. The building itself is a good example of a late 19th century wealthy residence and both the exterior and interior are well preserved. Inside the museum is a treasure trove of Italian paintings; sculptures; watches; jewellery; glass; textiles; furniture and many other bits and pieces. There are paintings from Boticelli, Luini, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca and Pollailo among many others. At the moment the museum offers free audio guides (there may be a charge in the future).
    For more information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.museopoldipezzoli.it/en

    Casa Manzoni

    Casa Manzoni
    This house which is found next to the Palazzo Belgiojoso is where the famous Italian author Alessandro Manzoni lived from 1814 until his death in 1873. While he lived here Manzoni received many important visitors, including Garibaldi, Verdi and author Tommaso Grossi, amongst others. The interior of the house with its furnishings and spectacular library is well-preserved. The exterior facade on the side that faces the square is a fine example of graffito plasterwork with terracotta elements and dates from 1864. It is now the home of the National Centre for Manzoni Studies. There is a large library with over 40,000 books, including the complete works of Manzoni himself. It is open from Tuesday to Friday from 9am to 12pm and from 2pm to 4pm and admission is free.
    For more information about Casa Manzoni visit the website at http://www.villa-manzoni.it/eng/villa-manzoni-storia/villa-manzoni-storia.asp

    Palazzo Belgiojoso

    Palazzo Belgiojoso
    Palazzo Belgiojoso was built for the Belgiojoso family by Giuseppe Piermarini who was the same architect who designed the Scala Opera House. It is considered to be one of the best examples of Neo-Classical architecture in Milan. A highlight of its interior is the huge staircase decorated with traditional chalice vases. Admission is free but you will need to phone about a guided tour on +390272524301.

    Casa degli Omenoni

    Casa degli Omenoni
    This is the former home of the sculptor Leone Leoni who lived and worked here between 1562 and 1566. It gets its name from the eight sculpted supports in the form of men found on its facade. In former times the house contained many notable works of art but these have now gone elsewhere. The interior of the house has undergone numerous renovations and only the facade remains from the original house. The house has had several owners over time including a music-publishing company, the Facist party and a theatre amongst others. It isn’t open to the public but its exterior is worth seeing.

    Santa Maria della Scala in San Fedele

    Santa Maria della Scala in San Fedele
    This is a Jesuit church dedicated to St Fidelis who was the patron saint of Como. It was built by Tibaldi and is considered one of his finest designs. The interior of the church consists of a single nave with tall granite columns. There are some notable artworks such as a Pietà by Simone Peterzano and in the first chapel on the right is Vision of St Ignatius by Giovanni Battista Crespi. A statue of Alessandro Manzoni stands in front of the church.

    Traveller's Tip

    The single nave of the church allowed the priest to keep his eye on the whole congregation.
    Piazza della Scala

    Piazza della Scala
    This square was built in the 19th century in front of the La Scala opera house which gives it its name. In the middle of the square is the statue of Leonardo da Vinci who lived and worked in Milan for many years. The statue was erected in 1872 and was sculpted by Pietro Magni. At the foot of the pedestal are four of Leonardo’s favourite students. Reliefs on the pedestal depict those areas that Leonardo was famous for such as painting, sculpting, engineering and architecture.

    La Scala Opera House

    La Scala Opera House
    La Scala which this opera house is known as was built at the end of the 18th century on the orders of Empress Marie Teresa who was also the Duchess of Milan. It was built on the site of the former church of Santa Maria della Scala which was pulled down. This opera house was destroyed during WW2 and had to be reconstructed after the war. The facade which is rather plain shows a three-bay carriage entrance topped by a Neo-Classical front with pilasters and a central pediment. The interior however is very luxurious with the foyer decorated with columns and large mirrors. The auditorium is famous the world over for its wonderful acoustics and it has a seating capacity of around 2,000. Note the wonderful chandelier that has 365 lamps. There is a theatre museum on the premises which was founded in 1913. The museum depicts the history of La Scala with displays such as posters, artwork, instruments, original musical scores amongst other theatrical memorabilia.
    For more information about La Scala visit the website at: http://www.teatroallascala.org/en/index.html

    San Giuseppe Church

    San Giuseppe Church
    This church was built between 1607 and 1630 and it represents the first pure Baroque style building in Milan which broke away from the Mannerism style of the time. The main decoration of the facade are niches containing 19th century statues. It is found in the street to the left of La Scala.

    Brera

    Brera
    The Brera district is found just north of the area around the Duomo. This is one of the most exclusive and fashionable places to live in Milan and is vaguely reminiscent of Paris with its artists, open-air coffee shops and elegant boutiques. The pretty streets are often narrow and lined with nice apartment buildings that have boutiques and shops on the ground floor. There are many churches found in this neighbourhood with similar architectural styles and it is also home to the Palazzo Brera at number 28 Corso Como which houses the Pinacoteca Brera which is one of Milan’s best art museums. In this museum you will find paintings from artists such as Caravaggio, Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese amongst others from the 13th to the 20th centuries. The collection isn’t huge but is of great quality. The building itself was begun in 1651 for the Jesuits who wanted somewhere to house their college, astronomical observatory and garden. In 1776 the building was given to the Accademia di Belle Arti. Today there are 38 rooms arranged in a circuit chronologically. There are two glass art restoration rooms to view. There is a garden behind the Piacoteca which is open from April to June, 9am until 12pm and then 3pm until 5pm from Monday to Friday. The rest of the year it is open from 9am until 12pm. It is a lovely place to spend some time with its aromatic herbs as well as a variety of other plants.
    For more information about the Pinacoteca visit the website at: http://www.brera.beniculturali.it (in Italian only)

    Traveller's Tip

    Make sure you visit the northwestern corner of the garden behind the Pinacoteca where you will find Europe’s oldest ginkgo biloba tree which came from China in the 1700s and is around 30 metres tall.
    Santa Maria del Carmine

    Santa Maria del Carmine
    This church is found in the Brera neighbourhood. The original church dates from the 15th century but it has been renovated many times. The interior is beautiful with many sculptures, art works and a wooden choir dating from between the 15th to the 17th centuries. In the choir are plaster models that were used by the artists working on the Duomo in the 19th century.
    For more information about the church visit the website at: http://www.chiesadelcarmine.it/EN/the_church.htm

    Castello Sforzesc

    Castello Sforzesco
    This castle is an important monument and has long served as a symbol of power for local and foreign rulers of Milan. It was built as a fortress between 1358 and 1368 with a simple layout of four walls each 180 metres long and a square tower at each corner. Over time it was extended and converted into a palace but this was burnt to the ground in the mid 15th century. The castle was rebuilt a few years after this with a 70 metre tall central tower called the Torre del Filarete with large round towers either side of it at the corners. Over time this structure was improved and expanded but for some time it was used for many different purposes and neglected until it became a centre of culture in the early 19th century after extensive renovation. Today it is home to impressive architecture as well as seven different, distinct museums. The museums include the archaeological museum with its prehistoric and Egyptian artefacts and is found in the basement near the Ducal courtyard. On the ground floor is a varied collection of ancient art and the highlight in this museum is the 4th century sarcophagus and an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo called Pietà Rondanini. The first floor has the furniture gallery and the art gallery. On the first and second floor of the Rocchetta house is the museum of musical instruments and the collection of applied arts including gold and silver objects as well as some beautiful tapestries. Castello Sforzescis a place that you could easily spend at least a morning or afternoon in depending on your interests and the castle is free to wander around but the museums do charge admission.
    For more information about the castle visit the website at: http://www.milanocastello.it/ing/home.html

    Traveller's Tip

    If you are planning to spend some time at the castle and in the museums it is probably a good idea to read up on the history of the castle beforehand and possibly taking the virtual tour which you can find on the website. A lot of the signs in the museums aren’t in English and it would make your visit more worthwhile if you knew what you were looking at.