Milan is the largest city in Northern Italy. Once the stronghold of the powerful Visconti and Sforza dynasties, Milan today is home to some of Italy’s largest companies and one of the great fashion capitals of the world.
The Cathedral of Milan
Start your tour with the Duomo, or Cathedral (pictured above). Located at Piazza Duomo, a traffic-free square in the middle of Milan, work on this monumental church first started in 1387 and continued over five centuries. A rare example of Gothic architecture in Italy, the Cathedral features stained glass windows and statuary.
The outside of the structure features elaborate flying buttresses which support the roof and vaults of the building. There are an estimated 3, 200 statues decorating the vaults, spires and buttresses. The main entrance to the cathedral is adorned with very large bronze doors with carvings depicting the Edict of Constantine, the life of St. Ambrose, patron saint of Milan, the wars of Milan versus Frederick Barbarossa and the history of the Duomo itself.
Visitors enjoy the roof of the cathedral best of all. After paying a small entrance fee, you can go to the North East Corner of the Duomo and take an elevator ride to the roof. Here, you get an all around view of the city of Milan, and the Square in front of the Cathedral.
Right across the Duomo is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a 19th century shopping arcade that can very well have been the model for modern shopping malls. It was built in 1867 and named after the King of Italy at the time. Here you can go shopping under the glass ceiling, or just sit at a café to watch people go by. Interesting features of the Galleria include the floor and ceiling decorations. The floor is decorated with the symbols of the great cities of Italy — the bull of Turin, the wolf suckling the twin founders of Rome, the lily of Florence and the red cross of Milan. There is a Milanese tradition of making a wish as you spin around with your heel on the testicles of the bull.
The entrance to the Galleria from the Piazza Duomo is crowned by a triumphal arch which was added in 1877. From here you can walk down the covered street, which meets with another covered path at a cross-intersection under a glass dome. If you proceed straight ahead, you will come to the North entrance which leads you to the Piazza della Scala.
The painting on the wall survives the ravages of 500 eventful years
The Teatro alla Scala is located at the Piazza della Scala. Famed throughout the world as the stage for the first performance of many famous operas, the Theatre is current closed for major renovations and will re-open in 2004. However, you can visit the La Scala Museum, which is currently located in the Palazzo Busca overlooking Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie. The museum is dedicated to the history of the theatre and to music. Exhibits include costumes from famous performances held at the theatre and worn by Maria Callas and Rudolf Nureyev, sketches of stage scenery and sets, and a collection of antique musical instruments.
While the Mona Lisa may quite possibly be the most famous painting in Paris, yet another painting by Leonardo da Vinci probably holds that honour in the city of Milan. The Last Supper is painted on the wall of the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, near the La Scala Museum. After a 20 year restoration process, the painting has been open for public viewing since 1999. The painting, believed completed by 1499, depicts a wide range of emotions, and the disciples of Christ can be seen reacting in shock or in discussion amongst themselves, as Christ reveals that he knows that one of the Apostles will betray him.
Located in the refectory where monks dine, the painting has survived flaking of the plaster, dampness and a direct bomb hit during World War II. The restoration began in 1977, with trials to remove the dirt and grime from small portions of the wall to see if the original paint could be uncovered. You have to pass through a series of air-conditioned chambers which control the dust and humidity seeping into the refectory in order to protect the painting from further damage.
The Duomo is open 7 am to 7 pm daily, with a charge of € 7for riding the lift to the roof. The La Scala Theatre Museum is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm, with charges of € 5 Euros for individual admittance. The Santa Maria delle Grazie is open 8.15 am — 6.45 pm Tuesday to Sunday and is closed on Mondays and New Year’s Day. Admission is € 6.2 for full price tickets.