Milan, My First View of Italy

June 2015

Milan has a little bit of everything! It has history, it has industry, it has fashion and design, it has a national security exchange, it has the Gothic Duomo, it has two large soccer teams, it has Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and the list goes on.

Milan has a city population of 1.3 million, but the urban area adds an additional 5.3 million. It is the capital of the Lombardy area.

Milan has a cultural mix. It was conquered by the Romans and eventually became the capital of Western Roman Empire. France, Spain, and Austria each invaded and controlled the area at different times

Milan, like so many large European cities has an excellent metro system.  I used it to get to far ends of Milan, and for some night travel.

The Gothic Duomo at night. The largest church in Italy, and 5th largest in the world.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls.

After flying into the Milan Airport, it was about a 45 minute bus ride to the Central Station. It is massive.  Inside you have a large mall and a huge train station.  I guess it is something like Grand Central Station, but maybe more businesses.

Milano Centrale

After arriving, I set out to find the Four Points Sheraton.  It was only 7 or 8 blocks from the railway station, which was one of my reasons for staying there, plus I was able to use my SPG points.

My first morning out, my adventures took me out towards the CityLife District.


On my walk I found this high-rise. Unique, modern, and as you see, lots of plants.  I love it!

The CityLife District is a residential, commercial and business district still under construction.

CityLife, is close to the old city centre.  CityLife has roughly 1,300 apartments that will house 4,500 people.

Milan is working on extending Metro Line 5 out to this area for transportation.

Next I was off to the Porta Sempione or the Arco della Pace, one of the gates of Milan.

Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace) completed in 1838

This arch was originally to be a “Victory Arch” for Napoleon and his accomplishments, but was later restyled and crowned the Arch of Peace representing the end of time filled with bloody wars in Europe.

Sempione Park has the Arco della Pace at one end and the Sfroza Castle and gardens at the other end.


Sempione Park with the Arco della Pace in the background.



Sforza Castle

The Sempione Park is a beautiful park full of paths for joggers, walkers, and bicyclist.  There were large trees and plenty of shade with lots of green grass, ponds, and benches, a beautiful and peaceful park.

Sempione Park


Sempione Park


Sempione Park

There was a free park concert setting up for the evening, so I thought I would walk around, and hangout.

Summer Hypericum Flowers I believe.

As for most of the parks I have walked through on this trip, it was full of couples or groups having fun.  You will see romantic couples everywhere, both young and old.  You see very few people by themselves. As beautiful as the parks are, there can be a sadness associated to the souls who appear lost, homeless and alone.

As I was walking throughout the park, I came upon the Sforza Castle.


The front entrance to the Sforza Castle



Inside Sforza Castle


The original fortress was built in the 14th century, but was enlarged in the 15th century to be the residence of Francesco Sforza. The backside of the castle was the outer edges of Milan with nothing but a forest behind it in those days.


The castle is now a museum.



A fascinating piece that I ran into unexpectedly, was an unknown piece of work by Leonardo Da Vinci that was uncovered during the restoration process in the Sala delle Asse of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.


Continuing on through the museum there were numerous weapons and pieces of armor.



Here was an unusual little piece.  Kind of a devil.  A torso with clockwork mechanics, one that at one time had a moving head, eyes, and a tongue that would stick out, all while making an inarticulate sound.


At the Castle Sforza, you will also find the last work of Michelangelo, the Rondanini Pietà. He worked on this up to his death.


The Rondanini Pieta, a marble sculpture that Michelangelo worked on from the 1550’s to his dying days in 1564.

This piece of art was purchased by the museum in 1952.


The castle had a large moat around it. There were secret tunnels in the underground walls, some that went to other parts of the city once upon a time.


Came across this guy on my walk back to the concert.  Very pretty butterfly, but I couldn’t get him to show off his wings!


The concert started much later than I expected, as it didn’t start until 10:00 pm.  The band was two musicians rocking out.  I enjoyed their music.


After the concert, I headed back to the hotel. I was a good distance from the hotel, but as always, a very enjoyable walk.

Out and about the next day, I cut through the beautiful park, the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, the oldest city park.

Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli
Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli
Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli
Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli

Jurrasic Park III anyone? I never would have thought I would see him here!


This is the Antica Porta Nuova.

Antica Porta Nuova – On of two medieval gates that still exist in Milan. Built in 12th Century and restored in the 19th Century.

I found the Basilica di San Babila around the corner.

Basilica di San Babila – Dedicated to the saint Babylas of Antioch. The bell tower fell down in the 16th Century and was replaced in 1920.
Basilica di San Babila

Bell tower at San Gottardo in Corte or San Gottardo a Palazzo, built in the 1330’s.


I purchased a ticket to the Duomo, the Cathedral of Milan.

Cathedral of Milan (Duomo)



A view from the arches walkway.



Madonnina – Statue of the Virgin Mary atop the Milan Cathedral (Duomo), erected in 1762.


The ticket included the Museo del Duomo, entrance into the cathedral, the archeological dig area under the plaza in front of the Duomo, and access to the terraces on top of the Duomo, 244 steps up to the top, and I mean you actually walk on the roof.

The museo del Duomo had a model of the Duomo, and this beautiful sculpture of Magdalene Transported by Angel (1556-1560).


Guess what this is, you will never guess!


This is the Frame of the Madonna (1773).


The Duomo is quite beautiful.





In the Duomo you can enter the archeological dig museum under the plaza.


Believed to be a baptism offering area.



Old crypt


Last, the climb to the top, to the terraces. What an incredible view! You are walking on the eves, and the roof!


Looking down toward the square in front of the Duomo.



Nice view from the arches on the roof.


On the Roof

Milan is famous for many things, but Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting was one of the top sights for me; furthermore, the story of how it came to be, and how it has survived was particularly interesting. It is not easy to get a ticket to it at the last second, and they are not cheap.  Most online tickets were sold out until the middle of August. I managed to get a ticket to the Last Supper and the Best of Milan. I normally did not pay for tours due to the cost, but I had no choice this time. I was fortunate to find a ticket through Milan Museum and Tuscany Tours.

I arrived at the Duomo at 10:10 am. There was some confusion as there was multiple groups, but it was all worked out. I must say, my tour guide (Christopher) was the best tour guide I had in the four months I spent in Europe.  Extremely knowledgeable, and passionate about Milan. While he walked us through many sites providing great stories and details, like Giuseppe Mengoni, the architect of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, falling from the roof of the galleria, to his death the night before the grand opening. Accident, suicide, or murder, no one knows to this day.


Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, opened in 1877.



Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, built between 1865 and 1877.


The story goes, if you spin around three times with the heel of your shoe on the testicles of the bull from Turin coat of arms, you will have good luck.
Statue of Leonardo Da Vinci

My guide’s passion for the Last Supper was the icing on the cake. As the story goes, we are extremely lucky to still have this masterpiece. You have to understand that the painting was almost destroyed by bombings in WWII. Somehow the walls around it didn’t survive, and it did. Furthermore, it had to withstand the wrath of Mother Nature for a year or two, until the building could be repaired. Other obstacles consisted of the heat from the kitchen, which was on the opposite side of the painting’s wall, plus the 80 to 90 friars eating in the same hall/room each day. There was even a time when the room was used as a horse stable for the French during Napoleon’s’ reign.

Santa Maria della Grazie


Santa Maria della Grazie


It is thought and often said that Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Last Supper using the Fresco art style, but that is not true according to our guide and other sources. Fresco art style is the art of painting on wet plaster so the paint dries with the plaster.  The Last Supper was painted over a course of 4 years. Da Vinci was not hired directly as a painter.  His resume had experience in canals and architecture, weapons creator, artist, amongst other things. Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, already had several artist on the payroll; therefore, Da Vinci worked on the canals, and spent two days a week, working on the painting.

Looking at the painting, there is a lot to see, and a lot to interpret.  You have the twelve apostles grouped into four sets of three, symbolism of the Trinity. Da Vinci used the hands as well as the faces to emphasize the apostle’s expressions as Jesus was saying one of them would betray him.  Eleven of the apostles are bright and said to be in the light, whereas Judas is in the shadow a symbol of guilt.

Picture of a Picture of the Last Supper. They do not let you take pictures in the chamber.

A funny story to go along with the finishing of the Last Supper is that the friars were getting tired of having Leonardo Da Vinci interrupting their meetings, so they approached the Duke to speed up the process of painting the Last Supper.  Da Vinci in no way appreciated being told how to do his work, as an artist and genius, he worked at his own pace.  His revenge was to delete the face of Judas, painting in the face of the lead friar who had complained to the Duke, pushing Da Vinci to finish as quickly as possible.

There have been numerous restorations.  The most recent started in 1979 and ended in 1999, and basically removed all the old restoration painting, and preserving everything possible.

On a sad note, look at the copy of the Last Supper that I posted.  As you will see, the friary decided to enlarge the door to the kitchen, chopping off part of the bottom-half of the painting, where Jesus feet were.  All to get their food faster?

Anyway, if you come to Milan, go to the Last Supper, and don’t forget, it is a hard ticket to purchase so plan ahead.

On our walk to the Santa Maria delle Grazie, we stopped at the Castle Sforza.


Entering from the front gate.



If you look close, you will see holes in the castle walls. It is my understanding that these holes were where boards stuck out for a  scafolds effect while building the castle walls.

The tour ended at the Last Supper. On my walk back I swung out to go to the Basilica of Sant’ Ambrogio.  Unfortunately it was closed.

I stopped in at the church of the San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore.


San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore – The Monastero Maggiore, the oldest, the largest, and most important female convent in the Benedictines of the city.

It had its own version of the last supper.



My next stop was the Archaelolgical Museum of Milan. More ruins and artifacts.  I really love seeing items from the 1st century and earlier.


Mosaic Pavements of Herculean Baths – 4th Century A.D. to 3rd Century A.D.  A non heated floor, probably the changing room.


The Parabiago Plate – Discovered in 1907 – Estimated to be from the late 4th Century A.D.



Remaining walls of a patrician dwelling built sometime around the 1st Century A.D.  This structure was found just outside the Republican city walls.




By the end of the 3rd Century A.D., these walls encircled the Late Roman city.



This is a 24 sided tower which was connected and part of the city walls built at the end of the 3rd Century. It is the only one that can still be visited. Later the tower was transformed into the Chapel of the Benedictine Monastery of San Maurizio


That night I went back down to the Duomo area to go to the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum.


Madonnina at night! The museum with the Da Vinci exhibit was just across the square from the Cathedral of Milan (Duomo).


You couldn’t take pictures, but I can tell you it was quite extrodinary! Seeing his studies, detailed notes, it just showed his true devotion to intricacy. His paintings give a 3D look. It is more like you are looking at a sculpture. If you look at the Last Supper, there are examples.

In the old days, Milan had canals intersecting all through it as a means of transportation.  Most are gone, but I did manage to go out to one of the edges of town to see the Alzaia Naviglio Grande, and the Alzaia Naviglio Pavese.


Alzaia Naviglio Grande Canal



Alzaia Naviglio Pavese Canal

Milan was the start of many ventures in Italy.  On to Florence!


June 2015


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