Every year Milan attracts more than 7 million visitors. It’s true, many of them go to the city during the coolest events, such as fashion weeks and the famous Furniture and Design show, many others, however, reach Milan to visit the many wonders that houses.
Here we will introduce to you the city landmarks and their history: by visiting them, you will have the opportunity to take a thousand years journey at the discovery of the history of our beautiful Milan.
Duomo di Milano
The Duomo is unquestionably the emblem of the city of Milan. An imposing, wonderful and romantic cathedral, admired every year by hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world.
The history of the Duomo is seven centuries long, of which we can only highlight the most important events.
The first stone was laid upon initiative of the Archbishop of the Diocese of Milan and of Gian Galeazzo Visconti in 1386, over the ruins of two emblematic sites of the city: the ancient Temple of Minerva and the Church of Santa Tecla. Visconti decided to use Candoglia marble and give the building a late Gothic look, so that the cathedral would keep up with European trends and become a symbol of the greatness of Milan.
The next three centuries were marked by delays and deferrals of the work: in these years, there was a succession of site managers from Italy, France, and England, and were discussed and set up many projects on the facade never completed.
The other important dates in the history of the Duomo are 1765, when the splendid Main Spire was completed, and the famous Madonnina (which overlooks the city from a height of 108 metres) was erected, and 1813 when, by order of Napoleon, work on the façade was completed.
Looking at the Duomo, you will certainly notice the fantastic statues (over 2500) that can be seen on it, built over the centuries, and representing martyrs, saints, biblical figures, and prominent people.
The history of the Duomo does not end at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but continues to this day: during the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, many restoration works were necessary due to structural problems of the building that still continue today: in fact, it is rare to be able to admire the Cathedral without the scaffolding necessary for restoration work.
The Cathedral hosts the fantastic Museo del Duomo, that houses the material related to the history of its construction. Also, if you want to feel strong emotions, you can climb to the terrace from where you can see the whole city from above.
How to get there MM1-MM3 Duomo’s stop
A few steps from the Duomo, stands the beautiful Palazzo Reale of Milan: for centuries the city government seat, then the residence of the Italian royal family, and now home to major shows and exhibitions.
The Palazzo Reale was built during the communal age, in the 13th century, to be the Duchy of Milan government seat. Despite its central role in the political life of the time, the Palazzo Reale was not the residence of the “Signori” of Milan, who still resided at the Castello Sforzesco: only in the sixteenth century, after the fall of the Sforza family and the French invasion, the court was moved to the Palazzo Reale.
During the Spanish rule (1535-1717), the expansion works and the construction of the most important rooms of representation of the Palace were started, and also, some most important artists of the time restored the pictorial decoration of the noble apartments.
In 1717, following the end of a bloody war, Milan fell under Austrian rule: in this period, the construction of the Teatro Ducale was started inside the Palace, and some of the most beautiful and important rooms were rebuilt. The works of Piermarini (1772-1778) gave the Palace its “Neoclassical” appearance.
In 1861, after the Regno d’Italia was unified, the Palazzo Reale became the property of the Italian ruling family, the Savoia. However, their stays at the Palazzo were not very frequent.
In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, the Palazzo suffered serious damage after an English bombing: this made necessary important restoration works.
Today the Palazzo Reale is one of Milan’s cultural centres, hosting many successful exhibitions. From 2013, it also houses a wing of the Duomo Museum.
How to get there MM1-MM3 Duomo’s stop
Teatro alla Scala
The Teatro alla Scala, or simply “La Scala”, is the most important opera house in Milan, and one of the most prestigious in the world. For more than 200 years, it has been home to the best international opera and classical music artists and has one of the most famous and important dance companies in the world.
The Neoclassical style Theatre was built in 1776-1778 by the Empress of Austria Maria Theresa. The project was entrusted to one of the most important architects of the time: Giuseppe Piermarini.
The inauguration took place on August 3rd, 1778 with the staging of the opera “L’Europa Riconosciuta” by the Italian musician Antonio Salieri, famous for his rivalry with Mozart.
In the 19th century, La Scala staged works by the most famous Italian composers, such as Giuseppe Verdi, who staged the premiere of Aida, and Gaetano Donizetti. During this period, La Scala became an emblem of Milan and of the European culture.
In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, La Scala was seriously damaged by English bombing. The damage was very serious and required major renovation work that was completed in 1946, La Scala began to flourish again and become what it is still today: one of the most beautiful and important theatres in the world.
At La Scala you can visit the Museo Teatrale, where you can relive the history of the Theatre through musical instruments, musical scores, and memorabilia of all kinds.
How to get there MM1 – Duomo’s stop, tram 1 – Piazza della Scala’s stop
The Castello Sforzesco, after the Duomo, is the most important landmark of the city of Milan: a magical place, spectacular and rich in history.
It was built in 1360, over the ashes of an ancient fortification, by the then Signore di Milano, Francesco Sforza: its function was to defend the city from possible enemy attacks.
However, it was the successors of Francesco Sforza, the Visconti family, who expanded the castle and permanently established their court there.
The castle was destroyed in 1447 and rebuilt by Francesco I Sforza in 1450. In 1452, the Signori di Milano entrusted the construction project and the decoration of the famous tower of the castle to Filarete, a famous architect and sculptor of Florentine origins. The imposing tower was heavily damaged by fire in 1521 and was rebuilt only at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In 1494, Ludovico Il Moro came to power. Under his rule, the castle became the seat of one of the most sumptuous courts in Europe. Being an art lover, Ludovico called to work for him artists of the calibre of Leonardo da Vinci, who frescoed some rooms, and Bramante.
Under Spanish rule, in the sixteenth century, the court was moved to the Palazzo Reale and the castle became the seat of Spanish military troops. In that period began great works of fortification of the building and the Castello Sforzesco became one of the largest strongholds in Europe.
During the dominion of Napoleon, at the end of the 18th century, the castle maintained its military designation: it was used as a lodging for the French troops and was partly demolished at the beginning of the 19th century.
Even the Castle was heavily damaged by the English bombing of World War II and it was necessary to carry out important restoration works.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the municipality entrusted the task of “restructuring” the partly demolished castle to the architect Beltrami, who made it as it can be admired today.
Today the castle hosts a beautiful museum and houses the “Pietà Rondanini”, a marble sculpture attributed to the genius of Michelangelo Buonarroti.
How to get there MM1 – Cairoli’s stop
Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio
The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is one of the oldest religious buildings in the city, and is located in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, a short walk from Cadorna station, and from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. It is considered the most important church in Milan after the Duomo.
It was built between 379 and 386 at the behest of the Archbishop of Milan in a symbolic place, where the Christian martyrs killed during the Roman persecutions were buried. After San Ambrogio’s death in 397, he was buried there and later became the city’s patron saint.
The Basilica assumed its present appearance between 1088 and 1099, when it was partially rebuilt in Romanesque style on the initiative of Archbishop Anselmo. During the following century, the second bell tower was raised.
It was also the scene of an important event of the municipal era: in 1258 was stipulated in the basilica the “Peace of St. Ambrose”, which ended the internal struggles of the Municipality of Milan.
During Napoleon’s time, the Basilica became a military hospital, but it became a religious place again after the advent of the Austrians.
The Basilica preserves the fantastic “Treasure of Saint Ambrose”, made up of jewellery, fabrics, tapestries, and paintings: a piece of history of this emblem of the city of Milan.
How to get there MM2 – Sant’Ambrogio’s stop
If you haven’t had the chance to visit the landmarks of Milan yet, take a look at our In-language Experiences: you’ll learn Italian while immersed in the history and beauty of our fantastic city!