A few years ago, I flew to Milan to speak at a literary conference in nearby Lugano, Switzerland. Though I only had one day in this bustling Italian metropolis, I remember it vividly and fondly. Milan is the second largest city in Italy, with a population of around 1.3 million Milanese (the term used for inhabitants of Milan).
Since I am a devoted fan of contemporary European aesthetics, I knew I had to make a “pilgrimage” to this design “mecca” at some point in my travels. In addition, I was intrigued by Milan’s unique architectural blending of gothic, renaissance, new classical and modern styles. My expectations were high, and Milan did not disappoint.
My first stop was at La Scala opera house, located at the end of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Scala Square. You’ll know you’re there by the large monument that was erected to honor Leonardo da Vinci. La Scala was built in 1778 by architect Giuseppe Piermanni on the former site of the church Santa Maria della Scala. Once one of the most celebrated opera houses in the world, it has hosted the debuts of many of Italy’s most famous musicians and composers, including Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, and Arturo Toscanini.
The next stop was Castello Sforzesco, a world famous Milanese castle with a history as diverse as the city in which it is resides. It was originally built in the 14th century and was modified by the Sforza family in 1450. Following the unification of Italy in the 19th century, the castle was transformed for military use by the city of Milan. During the bombardment of Milan during World War II (1943), the castle was badly damaged. It was reconstructed in the 1950s with the intention of turning it into a museum. Today, some of Italy’s finest artistic treasures are housed here.
No trip to Milan would be complete without a stop by the Duomo di Milano, Milan’s cathedral. This imposing Gothic structure took nearly five centuries to complete and is now one of the largest churches in the world. I recommend taking a trip up to the roof itself, where you can gaze upon the multiple spires and statuettes, including the famous gilded bronze Madonna on the highest point.
I also recommend making the Duomo your last stop of the afternoon, since there are many bars near the Duomo Square that serve the fantastic aperitivo spreads described by Mattie Bamman. In addition, there are many shops and boutiques selling contemporary Italian clothing and accoutrements, books, modern home products, and, of course, tourist souvenirs.
If you’re still hungry after your aperitivo, I suggest dining at the renowned Savini, located near La Scala, whose chefs serve up some of the best Italian cuisine in the city as customers bask in the restaurant’s stylish ambiance. Their ossobuco a la milanese (braised veal shanks) are not to be missed.
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com