Milan has grown throughout its 2,700 year history of trade, conquest, occupation and conflict to become the Italian city with the most international outlook. It leads the country as economic capital, and it leads the world in certain fields such as fashion and design, but the brilliance of its private enterprise contrasts with the inefficiency of its public institutions (a problem common to all Italy and not just to Milan). Of the city’s founding fathers there remains just a legend, of a Celtic ruler named Belloveso who crossed the Alps and invaded the forested and fertile plains of the Po valley. Some say in about 720 B.C., others about 350 B.C. The legend refers to the story of Belloveso who turned to an oracle for information on when and where to found the city. The reply was that the city should be founded on the place where a boar only half-covered with fur would be found. Notwithstanding this unusual prediction, Belloveso set his men to search and finally found the animal in a clearing near a spring. This location was what is now Piazza Mercanti. The city was founded there and named “Medio-lanuto”, half-furred, after the boar. The name then became “Mediolanum” in Latin and thence “Milano”. Other more sober historians say that the name Milan derives simply from “Mittland”, town in the centre of the country.
General information
The most important city of northern Italy, capital of the province and of the Lombard region, Milan stands at the center of the Padana Plain between the pre-Alps and the Po, and between the Adda and the Ticino rivers. A financial and economic capital as well as major political and cultural center, it is the second most populous city in Italy, with 1,371,000 inhabitants. Milan is a hub of European industry, with its concentration of major Italian companies. It holds the lead in volume of commercial activity. With its favorable geographic location, Milan is a communications center of great importance. Extending out from the city are train lines and national and international highways. It is a central point for the Italian superhighway system, leading to Venice, Bologna-Rome-Naples, Genoa and Turin.
The ancient Mediolanum, as it has been called by the Romans since the third century B.C. (a name of Celtic origin meaning "in the middle of the plains"), rose up around 400 B.C., the work of the Insubri Galles.
The Romans, led by Gneo Scipio, conquered it in 222 B.C. From the fourth to the fifth century it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire, and thanks especially to Saint Ambrose, it became one of the most active centers of the new Christian world. Around the year 1000 it was already the most heavily populated city of Italy and became the most active center of the Padana Plain because of its manufacturing of wool, silk, metals and armaments. The period between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries coincides with the consolidation of the free Commune, subsequently defeated by Frederick Barbarossa, who wanted to re-establish imperial dominion. From the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries the city came under the Signoria of the Visconti and then of the Sforza, to finally become capital of the Dukedom of Milan. At the end of the fifteenth century Louis XII, king of France, took over the Dukedom. The French in 1535 gave way to the Spanish, who governed until the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1707 Austrian control began. With the exception of the Napoleonic interlude, the Austrians ruled until the celebrated "Five Days of Milan" (1848), a revolutionary independence movement that chased them out permanently.
During the Second World War Milan was one of the cities most heavily hit by aerial bombardment. Damages to historical monuments were especially serious; some were partially destroyed forever, but most were later restored.
Since 1946 the recovery of industrial, economic and commercial activity has occurred rapidly, so that once more Milan has become the center of Italy's productive and economic life.
Milan has a tipical continental Europe climate, with its rigid winters and hot summers. In spring and autumn the rain changes with beautiful sunny days.
Location and directions
By Plane
Linate and Malpensa airports are the two that manage the intense international and domestic traffic converging on the Ambrosian city.
By Train
A hub for Europe's major railway lines, Milan offers train travelers direct connections with the rest of Italy and with Europe's most important cities: from the central station in Piazza Duca d'Aosta, Intercity and Eurostar trains leave daily. Other smaller stations are: Porta Garibaldi, Milan North, Porta Genova and Porta Vittoria.
Public Transport
It is convenient and comfortable to use public transportation in Milan. Trams, buses, trolleys and three subway lines bring together even the remotest parts of the city. Prices for underground and aboveground transportation are the same. Tickets are sold at newstands, bars, tobacco shops and automatic vending stations. Tickets cannot be obtained on board. The underground opens at 6.00/6.30 a.m and closes at 0.30 a.m; after there are some surface lines in place of the metro until 1.30 am; However other means of transport run till 2.00 pm. Tourist passes exist at a price of 3 Euro for 24 hours and 5,50 Euro for 48 hours. These types of tickets are sold at the newstands inside the subway stations.
By Taxi
Milan's taxis are white. They park in special areas with telephones (the numbers are found in the phone book under the word "taxi"). When you get into the taxi, the fixed rate starts running; a supplement is due on public holidays, at night and for luggage.
Places of interest
Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore
The most important testimonial to paleochristian art in Milan, it was built in the fourth century with materials taken from Roman buildings. At the end of the sixteenth century the central part was rebuilt. It is on a central plan with four squared towers and three chapels. At the front are 16 columns from the Imperial period, perhaps formerly part of a temple that was rebuilt in front of the church to form a quadruple-corniced doorway. Inside, of particular interest is the chapel of Saint Aquilino from the fourth century, which still has its original shape.
Basilica of Saint Ambrose
Together with the Duomo it is the most famous sacred building in Milan. The original basilica dates to the time of Saint Ambrose (386), was rebuilt and enlarged in the eighth and ninth centuries, and assumed its romanesque appearance between the eleventh and twelvth centuries. The facade is imposing, with two loggias, one above the other. The sides are flanked by two bell towers: the one on the right, called "dei Monaci," is from the ninth century; the one of the left, called "dei Canonici," with its lesene (fake pillars protruding from the walls) and arches, is from the twelfth century. The interior, with three naves, holds precious works of art. From the left nave one arrives at the Canonical Doorway, that part of the basilica built by Bramante in 1492.
Sforzesco Castle
The castle was Milan's most important secular Renaissance building. The building began in 1450, upon a preceding construction dating from the fourteenth century. Francesco Sforza wanted it to be his royal domain. It Was enlarged and decorated under Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Ludovico The Moor. Between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Spanish transformed it into a veritable fortress. Later fallen into abandon, it was restored by Luca Beltrami. The complex houses the Castle Museums, which include collections of sculptures, paintings, applied arts, prints, and the historical archive of the commune. Among the artwork worth mentioning are the "Pietà Rondanini", Michelangelo last sulpture; and the following paintings: the "Madonna and the Saints" by Mantegna, a polyptych by Benedetto Bembo, "Madonna with Child" by Giovanni Bellini, the "Pietà" by Bergognone, the "Portrait of a Man" by Correggio and the "Soranzo Portrait" by Tintoretto. Behind the castle extends a beautiful English park, within which one finds the Civic Arena, the Civic Aquarium, the Peace Arch and the modern Art Palace.
"Cenacolo" of Leonardo da Vinci ("The Last Supper")
On the back wall of the refectory in the ex-convent of the Dominicans, one can admire one of the most famous frescoes in the world. Leonardo painted it for Ludovico the Moor between 1495 and 1497. It represents the last supper of Jesus at the moment in which he announces that he is about to be betrayed by one of his apostoles.
Church of San Nazaro Maggiore
This church was originally built in the time of Saint Ambrose (386), who gathered there the reliquaries of San Nazaro. Most of the cruciform structure is from the fourth century, but the apse and the tiburium (surrounding the dome) are from the eleventh century. In front of the church is the Trivulzio Chapel, built by Bramantino between 1512 and 1550.
Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
This is one of the most beautiful churches of the Renaissance. It was built between 1466 and 1490 in Gothic-Lombard style by G. Solari and then modified by Bramante, who planned the apsidal part in the form of a large cube with three angles,as well as the polygonal gallery around the base of the dome) . The interior, with three naves, owes its fascination above all to the Renaissance altar of Bramante, surmounted by a white cupola formed by four grandious arches and made even more precious by its decorative engravings. From the altar one passes to the little chapel, also by Bramante, surrounded by a small porch.
Church of Sant' Eustorgio
The church was built in the eleventh century on the site of an ancient basilica, and was later rebuilt, except for the apse, around 1190. The side chapels and the splendid Portinari Chapel, an architectural jewel with Tuscan outlines from the early Renaissance, date to the fifteenth century. Near the apse is the bell tower, built between 1297 and 1309. The interior, with three naves, contains frescoes from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as well as various funeral monuments.
The Cathedral is the principal religious monument in the city and the largest Gothic building in Italy. It stands in Piazza del Duomo covering an area of 11,500 square metres, and is 158 metres long, 93 metres wide and surmounted by innumerable spires, the highest of which is 109 metres. Its construction was begun in 1386, during the rule of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, and work continued up to the 19th century. In its vast interior, divided into five naves, you will see the tombs of Ariberto of Intimiano, the Archbishop of Milan who created the famous "Carroccio", and of Gian Giacomo Medici, by Leone Leoni (1563). The Cathedral's valuable collection of pieces in ivory, silver and gold is in a room beside the crypt. You can climb up to the roof terrace, in the forest of spires, from where you will have a wide panoramic view of the city. You should also visit the adjacent musuem wich has twenty one rooms with exhibits illustrating the origins of the Cathedral and important periods in its history.
Antonio Mazzotta Foundation
The Antonio Mazzotta Foundation was opened to the public in 1994 in a large exposition space recovered during the reconstruction of a silk warehouse from the nineteenth century (Foro Bonaparte, 50). The Foundation is the museum headquarters for the Mazzotta Collection, consisting primarily of works on paper by great masters beginning with the Secessionist period. Klee, Klimt, Schiele and Grozs are among the authors represented.
Gallery of Modern Art
In the Civic Gallery of Modern Art, located in the Villa Reale of the via Palestro, the development of nineteenth-century art is documented, from Milanese neoclassicism to the Italian Romantic movement, the realistic program of the "schools" (Piedmont, Lombard, the Tuscan Macchiaioli, Posillipo), the French Impressionist influence in Italy, Realism and Divisionism. The exhibition rooms of the villa have been decorated with paintings, sculptures, furniture, and candelabra consistent with the atmosphere, thus exemplifying the refined Lombard style of decoration from the Neoclassical Age to the Romantic Age.
Museum of Contemporary Art
The CIMAC (Civic Museum of Contemporary Art), inaugurated in 1984, occupies the second-floor rooms of the Palazzo Reale.On exposition are works of Boccioni and of Futurism; of Modigliani, Gino Rossi, Severini; of artists belonging in varying degrees to the twentieth century or to the period falling between the two wars (Carrà, Martini, Sironi, Funi, Rosai, Tosi, Campigli, Guidi, Morandi, De Pisis). Also documented are aspects of the twentieth-century reaction.
Ambrosiana Art Gallery
The Ambrosian Gallery, together with a library rich in precious manuscripts, is located in the palace constructed by order of Cardinal Borromeo (that of the Promessi Sposi) in 1609. Here one finds paintings, scuptures and objects, especially from the Lombard and Venetian schools of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, and a collection of drawings. Among the most important works: "Madonna with Child" by Botticelli, "The Music" by Leonardo.
Brera Art Gallery
The Brera Palace, housing the Gallery, is composed primarily of works of the Lombard and Venetian schools of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries.
Via Monte Napoleone
Opened up primarily during the nineteenth century, this is the most luxurious road in the city, with neoclassical palaces and beautiful Milanese shops lining it on either side.
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