A WALK BETWEEN STATUES AND NEEDLES...
Yes, on our tour around Europe we can climb towers, bell towers and viewpoints, but nothing can match the experience of a walk on the terrace of Milan Cathedral, here we go…Undoubtedly, when we approach this wonderful cathedral, its white marble façade will impress us, but if we look up and see the myriad of spears that decorate it, the temptation to be there will be irresistible and a visit is highly recommended.If we go to the right side, the one that overlooks Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery, we will find the entrance door, which after paying 7 euros will allow us to go up the stairs to the terrace.
If we choose the lift the price will be 13 euros, and its open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. For the brave it is advisable the stairs, 165 steps, very comfortable and done without difficulty.Once on the terrace, if we are lucky enough to do so on a clear day, we can admire the Alps and the Apennine Mountains, but the impressive majesty of the “Piazza del Duomo”(Cathedral Square), and the Vittorio Emanuel II Gallery will amaze us, but let´s not forget that the main reason for the visit is to appreciate the spiers, the flying buttresses and the towers from a privileged perspective.
A forest of needles and columns, 135, all crowned by a statue, rise up to the sky before our eyes. The tour will take us through different levels, the sides will take us over the naves passing under a ceiling of flying buttresses finished in 96 gargoyles. Continuing on to the upper level, we will then be above the central nave and the largest terrace where classical music concerts are held in summer and we can admire the highest spire of the cathedral, the Madonnina, made at the end of the XVII century. It was cast in copper and covered with 3,900 pieces of gold leaf.
Rising 108 metres above the level of the square, the 4 metres high statue of the Virgin, with her arms outstretched and her gaze raised to the sky, seems to ask for divine protection for the city.Just the thought that Milan Cathedral houses a greater number of statues than any other building in the world, 3,159 of which 2,245 are on its terrace, justifies this walk. And what’s more, throughout the tour we can take original photos with a unique perspective that we will never forget.
Getting there will not be difficult, we just have to go to Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo)…
IT IS CHRISTMAS ALL YEAR ROUND …
One thing that surely characterizes Italians is their food and that is why we have to talk in Milan about their varied gastronomy, which allows us to taste one of the delights of the Lombard region cuisine.IL PANETTONE...Today, this sweet that thanks to globalization has become known almost all over the world, is consumed outside Italy, especially at Christmas time, but in Milan it is not like that, we can find it all year round and it is very common to taste it, specially for breakfast, but let’s see what its origin is…
Legend has it that in the middle of the XV century, in the residence of the Milanese nobleman, Ludovico “The Moor”, where the Christmas lunch was being held, the chef was busy preparing so many dishes that he burned the dessert he was preparing in the oven.Trying to save the difficult situation, one of the cook’s assistant came up with the idea of preparing a cylindrical bread using the available ingredients: eggs, butter, some flour and nuts. Served to the guests, it was such a success that the recipe spread throughout the city, and bakeries began to prepare it daily.
The chef´s name was Toni and the inhabitants of Milan began to order “il pane di Toni”(Tony’s bread), which led to panettone.While this story has great charm, other historians date its origin to the XIX century, when the name panettone first appears in the Milanese popular vocabulary dictionary.In Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery, there are several pastry stores that make it all year round and there you can taste this dessert that, although it has its origins in Italy, it is in South America where, taken by two great families of pastry chefs, Motta and Alemagna, it is most produced and consumed.
Thus, Brazil is today one of the world’s largest producers of panettone, followed by Argentina, Peru and Mexico.
FROM ROME TO LA DOLCE VITA…
We said that Italians are characterized by their varied gastronomy, but we cannot forget their passion for fashion, and Milan is undoubtedly the capital of design and well dressing in Italy. There is surely no other city in Europe where you can see so many elegantly dressed people with a special style when walking through its streets.In ancient Rome, dress was essential to differentiate a Roman citizen from one who was not and marked his or her status and social condition. The toga, a tunic that covered the body down to the feet, was undoubtedly the most used garment.
Wool was the most common material for its manufacture, but it could also be made in linen or silk if the status and money allowed it. For women, its equivalent was the stola, and its use indicated that whoever wore it was married, completing her dress with a coif or a veil covering her head.From that time until today, Italy has had a long tradition in the production of high-quality fabrics, fine textiles, wool and leather.The origins of haute couture and fashion in Milan date back to the mid-XX century, when, helped by the rise of Italian cinema, the presence of Frederico Fellini and his “Dolce Vita”immortalized an Anita Ekberg in her black dress as the image of Italian fashion.
As an initial step for its development, the National Chamber of Italian Fashion was created in 1958 to protect and promote talented young designers. This is how Milan became the heart of Italian “pret-a-porter” (ready-to-wear) in the 70s and 80s, with the arrival of names such as Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace.This would lead us to think that only by spending large amounts of money we could access these products, but the interesting thing in Milan is that we can find clothes and accessories for all tastes and prices and at certain times of the year interesting sales.But where to find this…The so called “fashion quadrangle” is famous, and as its name indicates, is an area delimited by four streets, Via Montenapoleone, Via Alessandro Manzoni, Via della Spiga and finally Via Sant´Andrea, very close to Piazza del Duomo, the historic centre of Milan and a good starting point for our visits to the city.
There you will find all the large stores of the most famous brands in Italy and in the fashion world, although the prices are not suitable for all budgets, but you can delight looking at the shop windows and also, why not, admire the parade of luxury cars that frequent the area.Starting from Piazza del Duomo, there are other streets with more affordable stores where you can find a wide variety of products and well-known brands, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II all the way to Piazza San Babila, Via Torino, one of the most interesting shopping streets in Milan for its variety of stores and good prices.
You cannot leave aside Via Dante, which also starts very near to the Duomo and reaches Piazza del Castello Sforzesco.If we want to get away a bit, walking approximately 2 kilometres, Corso Como is one of the most beautiful pedestrian streets in Milan where we can enjoy fashion at its best.
LET’S PLAY THE INDISCRETE PHONE...
We could choose many, Milan offers an infinite variety of wonderful places, but in order not to stay too far from our starting point, since it is located a few metres from the Duomo, we decided on “Piazza dei Mercanti” (Merchants Square).This wonderful square was in the Middle Ages, as its name indicates, a great commercial and administrative centre of the city. It is a perfect example of medieval architecture and proof of this are the palaces and buildings that surround it and that have survived until today thanks to the important conservation and restoration works to which they have been subjected.
The“Palazzo della Regione”(Palace of the Region) stands out, a typical medieval red brick building built in the XIII century that was the seat of the law courts and where the city market took place between its porticoes on the lower floor of the building.This gallery was known as the Loggia dei Mercanti and it hid a very particular and secret system of communication, among its columns and arches an acoustic phenomenon occurs that allows whispers to reach to the opposite side of the gallery perfectly audible. Tradition tells us that lovers, merchants and spies used this system to exchange messages; let´s try it, but let’s keep our secret safe…
The great arcades of the Osii Palace, decorated with statues of the city’s patrons and coats of arms that were occupied by judges and notaries and, from its balconies, public proclamations, weddings and sentences were made.Important is the Palazzo delle Scuole Palatine, the study centre of the city´s nobles during the Middle Ages, the Casa dei Panigarola, a magnificent Gothic building with its large arches where the ducal decrees where transcribed.We cannot forget the Palazzo del Giureconsulti, located on the outside of the square, it is the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and its clock on the tower marked the opening hours of the city´s stores for many centuries.Piazza dei Mercanti was from the beginning the centre of the commercial and justice life of the city, traders and merchants met there to sell and exchange their merchandise, notaries to certify sales and donations and it was also the place where justice was administered.
From one of the windows of the “Palazzo della Regione” always hung a rope reminding that it was ready to be used with the condemned who were in the nearby prison. The legend has it that where the well is now in the centre of the square, there was a cornerstone known as the “bankruptcy stone” where scammers or those who declared fraudulent bankruptcies were made to sit with their buttocks naked before sentencing them.Letting our imagination fly, we can still hear their screams and relive what happened in this square that was the nerve centre of Milan for many centuries.
This place will certainly be of no disappointment and a photo there will cheer you up at the end of your trip. You will bring home a part of the history of this city that is repeated in many markets in our country…
FOR FETISHERS AND READERS...
Talking about Milan is talking about art and its museums. Just by naming the Pinacoteca Brea, the Museum of Modern Art or the Archaeological Museum would be enough to be proud of having those wonders among the monuments of the city. But we have chosen a very special one, the Ambrosian Pinacoteca. It is named after Ambrosio, the patron saint of Milan, and is without doubt one of the best art galleries in the world.Its origins date back to the early XVII century when Cardinal Francisco Borromeo donated part of his art collection and created a study centre that includes the Ambrosian Library, the Drawing Academy and a large painting exhibition aimed at inspiring young artists who studied there.
Currently these institutions are located in a small palace built in 1928 attached to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.The Ambrosian Library has the privilege of having been the first library open to the public in 1609 to consult the books preserved there. At present it has 35,000 manuscripts and 750,000 volumes, among which the more than 1,000 pages of the Codex Atlanticus stand out, written by Leonardo Da Vinci, where you can see designs and plans of some of his famous inventions. Other manuscripts by Leonardo were looted during the Napoleonic occupation and are now in France.
Another gem of the library is a manuscript by Virgil that belonged to Petrarch and is decorated with a miniature by Simone Martini.Walking through the 24 rooms of the Pinacoteca where the Cardinal Borromeo’s collection is displayed, works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio and other renowned painters will parade in front of us.It is worth noting the sample of copies of famous paintings that had didactic purposes, including a reproduction of Leonardo’s Last Supper and a cardboard of The School of Athens mural, by Raphael, which at almost eight metres long is the largest surviving mural dating from the Italian Renaissance.
A little secret.A lock of Lucrezia Borgia´s hair is kept in the art gallery, which became a fetishist relic much visited by poets and writers at the end of the XIX century…This visit will take us on a trip back in time where the smell of wood and old books will make it a pleasant memory that will last in our minds.Located less than 400 metres from Piazza del Duomo, it is very easy to get to it.
The Ambrosian Library is located in Piazza Pio XI, 2 and its timetable is: for the Pinacoteca from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and for the Library, from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the entrance fee is 15 euros.
AMONG HEROES AND GRAVES...
Although a visit to a cemetery is not usually part of a tourist´s normal plans, in the case of Milan we must make an exception, since its Monumental Cemetery is a true open-air museum in which we will find numerous tombs of great value. The idea of its construction dates back to the beginning of the XIX century, but it was only in 1866 and under the project of the architect Carlo Maciacchini that it was opened, bringing together several cemeteries scattered around the city.In its 250,000 square metres of surface, it houses many Italian sculptures, obelisks, Greek temples and a small-scale reproduction of Trajan´s Column, the original of which is in Rome.
That is why it is worth dedicating part of our time to admire these works made from the second half of the XIX century to the present day and which is considered the largest monument of funerary art in the world after the pyramids of Egypt.Entering through the main door we will find a large building made of marble and brick. It was initially thought to be a church, but in 1870 it was transformed into a great tomb, today known as the Temple of Fame, which houses the tombs of some of the most important Italian and Milanese characters, in highlight the one of the great Milanese novelist Alessandro Manzoni.
We will also find the Ossuary, the tomb of Mozart´s last son, that of the musician and composer Giuseppe Verdi, the Nobel Prize for Literature Quasimodo Salvatore and racing driver Alberto Ascari.For sure, Bruni family’s tombs will call for our attention for its originality and its spectacular pyramid, or the Campari family’s ones, which sculptures recreate the Last Supper.Don’t forget to visit the Israelite section and the section dedicated to illustrious non-Catholic figures.
It is a visit that should be carried out calmly, letting yourself be carried away by curiosity, you will find famous people and surprising sculptures.
The opening hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday and you can easily reach Piazza del Cimitero Monumentale in less than half an hour if you leave from Piazza del Duomo by trams number 12 and 14.
Dare to live it?
THE SECRETS OF THE DUOMO…
We have surely heard a lot about the history of its construction and the amazing details that make the Duomo of Milan the fifth largest church in the Christian world.Let us recall some curiosities about this wonderful Gothic monument, begun to be built at the end of the XIV century, consecrated in 1418, but not officially finished until 1965. Almost six hundred years of construction to see it as it stands in front of us today.
Pink marble from the quarries of Lake Maggiore was used for its construction, and to transport it to Milan navigable canals were built, which can still be seen today in the city.The Duomo occupies a surface area of almost 10,000 square metres that houses the largest number of statues than any other church in the world, 3,400 that decorate its interior and its façade. One of them, known as “Legge Nuova”or “New Law”, owes its fame among the Milanese for thinking that it was on a trip to the city, upon seeing it, Frederic Bartholdi was inspired to design the Statue of Liberty.
The façade and the final works on the naves were completed thanks to the vanity of Napoleon Bonaparte who wanted a lavish setting for his coronation as King of Italy held on May 26, 1805, an act for which he symbolically wore the iron crown of the Lombard Kings.Its organ, built in 1938, is the largest in Italy and the second largest in the world by number of pipes, it has 138, and is considered to have an exquisite purity of sound.But there is without doubt one detail that few people talk about and we cannot let itgo unmentioned…
THE CRUCIFIXION NAIL...
Legend tells us that Saint Ambrose, patron saint of Milan, passing in front of a blacksmith´s shop, observed how in vain he tried to straighten a small piece of iron. As he approached, he saw with amazement that it was a nail, approximately 25 centimetres long, which Elena, Roman Empress and Saint of the Church, had recognized as one of those used for the crucifixion of Christ and which she brought with her upon her return from a trip to the Holy Land in the early IV century.If you look carefully over the apse of the cathedral, you will see a point marked by a red bulb, where the nail was originally placed.
The nail is located inside a cross-shaped reliquary, which in turn is inside an urn shaped as a cloud, hence its name, La Nivola, a dialect form of the word “nuvola”, cloud in Italian.Every year, on the Saturday closest to September 14, the day of the exaltation of the Cross, the Archbishop of Milan is raised together with five prelates up to 40 metres high in a wooden basket in the shape of a cloud built at the end of the XVI century and decorated with canvases, cloths and angels to retrieve the nail.The Holy Nail, after being exhibited on the central altar until the first Monday after vespers, is carried in procession throughout the city.
Later, it is returned again to its place of origin.One more secret of this wonderful church that never ceases to amaze us and that will thrill us with its beauty and majesty…
HISTORY ON RAILS...
Walking through the streets of Milan will take you to places full of history and charm. But the experience of a tram ride will transport you back in time in a city that has managed to keep its traditions and the fact that it still maintains even its transport system, the tram, is proof of it.The origin of this means of transportation dates back to 1807 in Wales, where for the first time, goods were transported on rails in a horse-drawn carriage, but soon after it was also adapted to transport passengers.When the steam engine was introduced, it replaced horses, but it was not very well accepted due to the large emission of smoke it produced.
It was not until the end of the XIX century that Werner von Siemens in Berlin adapted an electric motor that was undoubtedly the best form of tram traction and that is still in use today.The city has 18 active tram lines that are numbered from 1 to 33, covering a route of 120 kilometres and is the most important in Italy. They operate until after midnight and re-run the vast majority of its neighbourhoods, they are the best way for the Milanese to get around the city.Tramways began circulating in the city in 1876.
At the time they were drawn by horses and unlike other European cities, Milan never abandoned this very practical and non-polluting means of transport.Trams from different periods are in service. There are very modern trams as well as the oldest and most classic ones, known as the 1500 Series and their wagons were manufactured between 1928 and 1930. These are the model also used in the cities of Lisbon, Porto and San Francisco. This city bought from Milan precisely trams of this series which are the ones that are still used today.
Why not take advantage of them…Although this transport is used by the Milanese to travel to work, they do so early in the morning, therefore later it is very comfortable to use it to enjoy its charm.The lines that make a more interesting route from the tourist point of view are line 19 which connects Piazza del Duomo with Castello Sforzesco, line 1 takes us on its route through the Brera neighbourhood and the fashion quadrangle, passing through Arco della Pace, Sempione Park and also Castello Sforzesco. Lastly, line 2 runs through a large part of the historic centre.We can ask for a plan of the tram network to choose the one that is close to our interest.
Their timetable is very wide, from 5 in the morning until 2.30 at night and to access it you use the same ticket that is used for the subway or the bus.The experience of traveling by tram in Milan with its metallic sound and its lethargic step will leave us with a beautiful memory of our stay in this magical city…
IL ARTE DEL DOLCE FAR NIENTE...
We have already walked on the terrace of the Duomo, seen beautiful squares and the purchases are done, so what’s next?Well, a well-deserved rest and enjoy the “dolce far niente”, a typical Italian expression that encourages us to a “sweet do nothing” in one of the most emblematic places in Milan, its wonderful gallery that the Milanese call “the living room of Milan” and is dedicated to the first King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II.This gigantic building was made in the second half of the XIX century and its body is made up of two large perpendicular arcades covered by a large glass and iron vault that lets sunlight enter, enveloping the environment in a colourful atmosphere that is difficult to match.Its centre is decorated with the Savoy family coats of arms, the reigning house of unified Italy, and the figure of a bull, emblem of the city of Turin.
This bull became famous for the long-standing tradition among passers-by to step on its private parts with the heel turning three times without taking it out and making a wish at the same time without telling anyone, so it would be fulfilled, and that is why a holehas been made in the floor from so much stepping on it. If you do it and make a wish you will be able to return to Milan…The decoration is completed by the she-wolf of Rome, the lily of Florence and the red cross, symbol of Milan.
The decoration is concluded by a large mosaic on the vault representing four continents, Asia, America, Africa and Europe.Since its inauguration in 1867, some of the most luxurious stores in Milan have been established in the gallery and several cafes and restaurants were opened, including the oldest in the city. It is on the terrace of one of them where we can make a break and enjoy our free time, either enjoying a cappuccino, a Campari or the traditional Spritz, a mixture of white wine and sparkling water.It is without doubt, one of the most beautiful places in Milan.Its importance for the Milanese is demonstrated by the fact that it was the first building in the city to be illuminated when electric light arrived in Milan at the end of the XIX century.
Until then it had been lit by gas lamps.Financed by the city government, economically the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery can be considered “the goose that lays the golden eggs”. Considering that the square metre rental of the premises is quoted at almost 2,000 euros per square metre, it raised 36 million euros in 2019 for the Milan coffers.
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