Milan

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Milan

Italy's second city, capital of Lombardy. 1,600,000 inhabitants. This is not Italy's most beautiful city but is a place which many groups are convinced they want to see. The Piazza del Duomo, dominated by the vast cathedral, is magnificent. The high-fashion shopping areas have their own splendid appeal. There are other world-class attractions, notably Leonardo's Last Supper and the Pinacoteca di Brera, so there is certainly more than enough to do and see to fill a day. Even so, the general impression is one of a city engaged much more in the business of making money than in other, more sensual pleasures. The metropolis sprawls; the traffic is horrible; many of the buildings are nothing more than banks and insurance offices from the 1950s and 60s; food can be outrageously expensive, and the pace of life is a little more frenetic than the tourist might hope for. Milan has grandiose splendour, but little charm. Generally, you will not have a guided tour.

"Milano lavora, Roma mangia."  Milan is the symbol of the economic development and prosperity of northern Italy. It produces 10% of Italy's GNP. It pays 25% of the nation's taxes. The per capita income here is 40% higher than the national average. The cost of living is similarly exorbitant. Nowadays it is very yuppy. It is the banking and financial centre of Italy. The Milan stock exchange handles approximately 90% to 95 % of Italy's transactions. It is also the home of Pirelli (look for the unmistakeable landmark skyscraper from the 1950s), Alfa Romeo, the Italian publishing and media industry (e.g., Corriere della Sera) and the important Italian silk industry.

"La Bella Figura"  Milan is the great international fashion capital. It is a very style conscious city. By a mile this is the world's biggest exporter of haute couture.The hub of the fashion world and the place where you are sure to see the beautiful people is the Via Monte Napoleone. The best time is October during Milan Fashion Week when all the supermodels and the fashion elite converge on the city for the world's premier fashion show. It is definitely worth taking a stroll up the Via Monte Napoleone (also the Brera district, Via Borgonuovo and the Corso Garibaldi) for a little window-shopping and people-watching. Some of the most famous names in fashion based in Milan include Versace, Armani, Cerrutti, Valentino, Prada, Gianfranco Ferre etc.

"Un'infiltrazione mafiosa"  Milan is certainly not immune to the corruption more normally associated with the south. There was a massive scandal in 1991 when seventy major politicians and businessmen were arrested for taking bribes and backhanders. Among the famous whose wholesome images were tainted were Donatella Versace, sister of Gianni and now boss of the Versace empire, and Silvio Berlusconi, now former prime minister, media magnate and owner of AC Milan.

A brief historical sketch  To the ancient Romans, Milan was Mediolanum ('middle of the plain').

312 AD  Edict of Milan: Emperor Constantine proclaims freedom of Christian worship within the Roman Empire. At this time Mediolanum was already a big city of 100,000 inhabitants. In the late C4 St. Ambrose (340-397), the great bishop of Milan and the city's patron saint, converts St. Augustine to Christianity.

539  The barbarian invasions after the fall of Rome, first by the Huns, then by the Goths and the Lombards. The city was destroyed.

Fast forward 600 years. By the Middle Ages Milan had become a typical Italian city-state. It was a big commercial and trading centre in the heart if the fertile Po valley and giving access to the great Alpine passes. It was almost permanently at war with its neighbours. In the 1170s, with the help of other Lombard cities, Milan threw off the 20 year yoke of Germn domination under the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa.

1277 to 1499  First under the great Visconti dynasty and then under the Sforza Dukes of Milan the city enjoys a huge increase in wealth and splendour, involving cultural patronage as well as economic expansion. In the late C15 Leonardo da Vinci was attracted to the city by Lodovico Sforza Il Moro.

From 1499 onwards Milan found itself subject to endless foreign domination. (In the C16 and C17 Milan inexplicably never got round to updating and modernising its medieval walls and fortifications. It was thus easy prey for the strong national armies better equipped for the age of gunpwder and siege warfare.) It fell first to the French and then to the Spanish who ruled the city until 1713. Then came the Austrians, and then Napoleon, who crowned himself King of Italy in front of the cathedral in 1905, before the Austrians returned at Napoleon's demise.

1859  The Battle of Magenta (15 miles west of Milan). The Austrians were defeated by Vittorio Emmanuele II (it's his equestrian statue in the Piazza del Duomo). This was one of the decisive moments in the Risorgimento, the struggle for independence and unification.

1870/71 to the present  The final unification of Italy. Milan and Lombardy were a part of this new political creation. Massive industrial and commercial growth quickly followed. The population mushroomed as the city absorbed a huge influx of migrant workers from the south. Milan suffered badly in WW II. It was bombed fifteen times. The subsequent rebuilding was followed by a further economic boom. This is the city that we know today.

Milan Sightseeing  You'll (probably) have no guided tour here so a formal sightseeing is out of the question. You can and should, however, give some information and recommendations as you take the group on an informal stroll. If you do nothing else, at least stand in the middle of the Piazza del Duomo and orientate people for free time. If you're coming by coach, once you've negotiated your way to the centre (good luck), park as close as you can to the Piazza del Duomo. No entrances are included.

Il Duomo  This is an enormous late Gothic cathedral, one of the largest in the world. It was begun in 1386 under Gian Galeazo Visconti and consecrated in 1577 by St. Charles Borromeo. The glorious facade was finished in 1813 and the cathedral was only finally completed in 1958. It is constantly being cleaned or restored. The vast interior is divided into five aisles by a forest of columns. It can hold a congregation of 40,000 people. There is a lot of good stained glass. The oldest is C15 and C16 (the first six windows on the right). The pièce de résistance, however, and the focus of your visit is outside. The roof is absolutely breathtaking. You should try to persuade the group to go up. It doesn't cost much. There is a lift or 158 steps. It's cheaper to walk. The ascent is from outside the north transept. You are rewarded with a view of the entire city. On a clear day even the Alps are visible 50 miles away. (Such days are rare in Milan: it is among Europe's worst polluted cities , with 1.5 million cars to 1.6 million inhabitants.) Walk along the spine of the nave roof to the dome and the central spire known as La Madonnina, 350 ft high. It is the largest among the cathedral's 135 pinnacles decorated with over over 2,000 statues, not to mention the flamboyant flying buttresses etc. (Incidentally, in July 1997 Gianni Versace's funeral was held here in the cathedral. Princess Diana, Elton John, Sting, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista were among the mourners.)

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele  This is the famously beautiful late C19 shopping arcade, recently restored. It contains some shops, cafes and restaurants (even a MacDonalds's nowadays). The architect Mengoni fell off the top in 1878 and died the day before the grand opening. Walk through it to the Piazza della Scala. In the centre of the this square is a monument to Leonardo da Vinci surrounded by some of his pupils.The very ordinary-looking building in front is...

Il Teatro alla Scala  This is undoubtedly the most famous opera house in the world. It was built in 1778. It has premiered works by all the great composers of Italian opera, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini etc. (Giuseppe Verdi lived and died in Milan.) At the beginning of this century the director of music was the great Arturo Toscanini. The diva Maria Callas is another of the great names associated with La Scala. The current director of music is Ricardo Muti. The building may look like nothing from the outside but the interior is spectacular. If anybody wishes to see they can look in at the auditorium through the museum (entrance charge). Otherwise, from here, you can continue up Via Verdi and Via Brera 10 minutes' walk if you wish to see...

La Pinacoteca di Brera  This is one of Italy's finest art galleries, housed in a C17 palace. It specialises in the paintings of the northern Italian renaissance. Among others it contains works by Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Correggio, Mantegna, Caravaggio, Piero della Francesca, Rubens, Rembrandt etc. (Even if you don't visit you can at least take a look in the courtyard at the statue of Napoleon half-naked.)

Santa Maria delle Grazie 'Cenacolo Vinciano' or Leonardo's Last Supper. This other 'must' in Milan is on the other side of the town centre. Before you make plans to see it you need to check with the Tourist Information for the times and conditions of entry. It is just about within reasonable walking distance of the Duomo. Otherwise use the coach or Milan's excellent public transport system.

This great painting, perhaps the single most famous product of the Italian renaissance, is situated in the refectory of the adjoining monastery. It survived intact while the monastery was devastated during WW II. The damp wall has caused it serious damage in the past but it has recently been spectacularly restored. It was painted by Leonardo between 1495 and 97 on egg tempera (not a fresco, as is sometimes thought). Its dimensions are 30ft by 14 ft. Leonardo spent seventeen years in Milan under the enlightened patronage of the Sforza Duke Lodovico Il Moro. During that period this was his masterpiece. Everything radiated out from Christ's right eye. The narrative stress is on the drama and tension of the moment when Christ announces his betrayal and the reactions of the disciples, each displaying his own individual psychology.

Other sights:

Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology  This is just a short walk from Santa Maria delle Grazie. Its highlight is the collection of models in the Galleria Leonardesca. This is the twin to the museum in the Clos-Lucé in Amboise where Leonardo spent his last years under the patronage of François I. It contains models made by IBM including a helicopter mechanism, a parachute plane, a submarine, a swing bridge and an armoured car, all based on drawings by the artist. There is a video on Leonardo's life and work. If the group is interested in science this place is a fantastic attraction.

Castello Sforzesco  This massive fortress was built by Francesco Sforza c.1450 on the site of the former Visconti castle. It houses an important art collection but is really more impressive from the outside than from within.

Via Monte Napoleone  For window shopping only. A joy.

Some more famous Milanese:
Dario Fo, 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature (Can't Pay, Won't Pay; Accidental Death of an Anarchist)
Luchino Visconti, director of Death in Venice among other works
Bettino Craxi, former Italian prime minister, currently a refugee from Italian justice in Tunisia, escaping investigation on corruption charges
Umberto Eco, author of Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose

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