My lazy blog on Florence and Milan did not do Florence justice, but I doubt there’s anything I could say about that historic city that hasn’t been written better elsewhere. Milan, however, is a curious place; it’s not all good, but it’s not all bad, and I feel I can mention a few things about it that could be of interest to potential holidaymakers.
It doesn’t have the grace or romance of Rome or Florence, but it has some decent attractions which could make it appealing to people planning a visit – especially Brits given the cheap airfares available between London and Milan Malpensa Airport.
So, what’s good?
The National Museum of Science & Technology (Museo Nazionale Scienzia e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci)
I lost count of how many hours we spent here. As if a huge section on space exploration is not enough for one floor, the first floor also houses an excellent exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci, with real-life models of many of his sketched inventions, as well as information on his studies into plants and the human anatomy.
The Cathedral (Duomo)
We’ve seen a lot of cathedrals on our trip so far, and it’s often difficult to muster up that much excitement about them, but Milan’s Duomo really is a sight to behold. The largest cathedral in Italy, its construction took almost 600 years, with the changing architectural styles in different parts of the building reflecting this. When building began in 1386, the style was the French-influenced Rayonnant Gothic, but subsequent architects added elements of classic and neo-gothic style. The interior is interesting enough, and, notably, the entrance is free.
Originally a fortress constructed under the rule of Milan’s first duke – Galeazzo Il Visconti – between 1358 and 1368, the castle is now home to a number of museums which are more than adequate to fill an afternoon’s sightseeing, but its history is interesting enough and provides an insight into the history of Milan as a whole. The fortress-cum-palatial residence, which had been expanded by Gian Galeazzo and Filippo Maria, was destroyed after the couple died without an heir and the city was taken over by the Golden Ambrosian Republic. The military leader Francesco Sforza helped this fledgling government defend against Venice but then defected and took power for himself, declaring himself the duke of Milan. He rebuilt the castle to include a 70m high central tower (Torre del Filarete) for which he hired architect and sculptor Filarete.
The castle saw further improvement under Ludovico Sforza, who hired Leonardo de Vinci and Donato Bramante to fresco a number of the rooms. Between the early 16th century until the country’s unification in the 19th century, the city found itself under foreign rule and during this time the castle was used primarily as a barracks. However, thanks to architect Luca Beltrami’s ideas and work, the castle (by this time in a state of disrepair and considered for demolition) was saved and renovated. It was opened to the public in 1900 although repairs continued until 1905; today it houses the Egyptian Museum and Ancient Art Museum, among others. Even better, the museums are free to visit on Tuesday afternoons.
What’s not so fun?
Seriously. I have traumatic memories of having to use the hole-in-the-ground ‘toilets’ in France as a kid, and I thought such events were behind me. Surely, one would think, in the refined and classy city of Milan, the financial and business centre of Italy, you would not expect to wander into a café’s toilets and find yourself looking at a pit in the floor. But you will. And it is grim.
It took us a while to resign ourselves to the fact that Italy is simply not as cheap as Andalucía, Spain. But when we were charged 10 euros for four coffees in a café in the centre of the city (which we’d gone into mostly for the privilege of using the pit toilet), we were particularly unimpressed. For the sake of fairness, though, I should point out that in most places outside of the centre, you can get a cappuccino for a price which is only just slightly more expensive than most towns in the country. There are a bunch of museums in the city which I should think would easily entertain you for a few days, but entrance fees are often pretty steep.
The areas outside of the centre
It is probably true of many large cities, but the dull, dirty and seemingly lifeless outskirts of Milan mean that when you stay outside of the centre – which you will have to unless you have a lot of money to spend (see the point above) – you will be left feeling rather uninspired.
Hopefully this gives a picture of the good and bad of Italy’s most fashionable city, Milan. Thanks for reading!