“Milan, darling. Milan.” — Edna Mode – “The Incredibles”
Our first stop on our recent Italy trip was the city of Milan. Renowned for its sense of fashion, there is a lot to see and explore, even for a “jeans-and-sweatshirt” guy like me. Since our time was limited, we hired a local tour guide to give us a personal tour around the city.
I recommend you consider a local guide, especially if you are pressed for time. A guide provides you with great insight and information, can navigate the maze of streets in ancient cities like Milan faster than any visitor, and of course, act as an interpreter if you don’t speak the language. A great side benefit is they can often move you to the front of any queues when visiting museums and crowded attractions.
Our tour guide Emmanuelle, led us to the physical and spiritual heart of the city, Piazza del Duomo, the city’s central square. Dominated by the city’s cathedral, the Doumo di Milano, this busy square is lined by shops and restaurants, as well as the famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, an upscale shopping area popular with tourists.
Our first stop in the Piazza del Doumo was the Milan Cathedral, or Doumo di Milano. This stunningly beautiful edifice, an excellent example of early Gothic architecture, is adorned on the outside by hundreds of statues of historical and biblical figures. Started in 1386 and built over a span of 600 years; over time the Gothic architecture gave way to a more Renaissance style. This combination of styles, lengthy building time, and the weight of amazingly high main spire of the cathedral, gives this doumo unique characteristics not found in other cathedrals. For example, to support the weight of the spire, the nave has four side-aisles instead of the typical two. These extra aisles increase the interior space in the Doumo, making the Milan Cathedral is 3rd largest in the world, and the largest cathedral on Italian soil. (St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is part of the Vatican). Resting at the top of the Doumo’s tall spire is the cathedral’s most famous statue, the “La Madonnina”, a gilded copper statue of the Virgin Mary, and revered by Milanos as the symbol of the city.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Across the street from the Doumo di Milano is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a covered shopping area filled with high-end shopping, coffee bars and restaurants. All the fashionable stores one would expect in Milan can be found here, including Prada, Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. In terms of European timelines, the Galleria is not old, being built sometime in the 1860s. The floors of the Galleria include distinctive mosaics of Milanese family coat-of-arms, including the famous Bull of Turin. Legend has it if a person spins around three times on the testicles of the bull, it is good luck. No wonder the bull looks upset.
Dragging my wife from the Galleria, the next place we visited was La Scala Opera House. Although our tour guide encouraged us to explore the interior, knowing our time was limited, my wife and I wanted to explore the city. So our guide took us to the neighborhood district of Brera. This “quarter” of Milan is home for many artists of the city and home to the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and the Brera Art Gallery. Art stores and street art dot the neighborhood. This, along with the friendly sidewalk cafes and coffee shops, gives Brera an eclectic bohemian ambiance that evoke its artistic history as the home of Leonardo da Vinci.
Leaving Brera, we finished our tour of the city at the Castello Sforzesco. This fortress was built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan. Still in excellent condition, this huge complex is home to many of the city’s museums and artwork. Michelangelo’s last sculpture, the unfinished “Rondanini Pieta”, can be found here. The area teemed with Milanese citizens enjoying the park-like atmosphere and gorgeous weather. As a history buff, I was a little underwhelmed by the castle’s fortifications and historical impact, but I enjoyed the irony of citizens having a family picnic in a place built for war.
Milan feels like a city trying to define its identity as a modern fashion and industrial area, yet remain true to its artistic heritage of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. New skyscrapers and modern buildings dominate the skyline, yet the city’s heartbeat remains in the “old town” around Piazza del Doumo. Milan requires more than the one day we visited to truly understand it We’ll be back.
Photos of the Day
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