Home of Italy's stock exchange, an industrial powerhouse and the internationally accepted arbiter of taste in fashion and design, Milan is a seething metropolis. At times it can seem brash and soulless but beneath the veneer is a serious sense of history and place. Art collections old and new, unparalleled shopping, one of Europe's biggest trade-fair complexes, sparkling nightlife, the prestige of opera at La Scala, the mark of Leonardo da Vinci's genius, an addiction to calcio (football), and endless opportunities to eat the best of Lombard and Italian food make Milan much more than the puritanically work-obsessed city it is often portrayed as.
Held by the Visconti and the Sforza families who ruled Milan from 1277 to 1447 and from 1450 to 1535, the Castello Sforzesco was built in 1368 and rebuilt in 1450. The 70-meter Torre de Filarete is a 1905 reproduction of the original gate-tower. The Castello houses the Musei del Castello Sforzesco, a series of museums, one of which features sculpture. The collection includes Michelangelo's last masterpiece, brought in 1953 from the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome. Other museums feature a collection of decorative art, prehistoric and Egyptian antiquities, a collection of musical history, and an armory of weapons and medieval armor. The picture gallery includes paintings by Bellini, Correggio, Mantegna, Bergognone, Foppa, Lotto, Tintoretto, and Antonello da Messina.
Opera at Teatro alla Scala:
Considered the most prestigious opera house in the world, La Scala has rung with the music of all the great operatic composers and singers, and its audiences. The theater seats 2,800 people and is the most demanding in Italy.
Il Duomo Cathedral:
The massive Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, which the Milanese call ‘Il Duomo’ is among the world's largest and most magnificent churches, the ultimate example of the Flamboyant Gothic style. The roof is topped by 135 delicately carved stone pinnacles and the exterior is decorated with 2,245 marble statues. The dim interior, in striking contrast to the brilliant and richly patterned exterior, makes a powerful impression with its 52 gigantic pillars. The stained-glass windows in the nave are the largest in the world. Highlights include the seven-branched bronze candelabrum by Nicholas of Verdun (c. 1200) in the north transept, the 16th-century tomb of Gian Giacomo Medici, and the jeweled gold reliquary of San Carlo Borromeo in the octagonal Borromeo Chapel.
Pinacoteca di Brera:
The Renaissance Palazzo di Brera was originally a Jesuit college, but since 1776 has been the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts). Along with a library and observatory, it contains the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of Italy's finest art museums. Much of the art was acquired as churches closed or were demolished, and the museum is especially strong in paintings by northern Italian masters.
Museo Bagatti Valsecchi:
Several things make this an especially interesting place to visit. Two brothers in the 19th century spent their lives collecting furnishings and decorative arts to make the interior of their Renaissance palazzo look as it might have appeared originally. Not only will you see a home of that era in a livable state - as opposed to just rooms of display cases and walls of paintings, but you can also follow their collecting process through the excellent English signage.
Civica Galleria d'Arte Moderna (Modern Art Gallery):
Napoleon's residence when he occupied Milan, this palace facing the Giardini Pubblici was new when Napoleon commandeered it. Today, it retains its original stucco work and decorative details inside, which adds to its interest as a showcase for Milan's extensive collection of modern art. The emphasis is on Italian art, from 19th century Romanticism to post-impressionists, but the collections are far broader, with works by Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Rouault, Modigliani, Dufy, and Vuillard.
Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology:
Housed in a former Olivetan monastery, the museum illustrates the history of science and technology from the work of early scientists into modern times. Of particular interest is the Leonardo da Vinci Gallery with working models of many of his inventions and machinery, created from da Vinci's drawings. In the physics exhibits are apparatus used by Galileo, Newton, and Volta, and there are sections relating to optics, acoustics, telegraphy, transport, shipping, railroads, flying, metallurgy, motor vehicles, timekeeping, and timber. In all, more than 15,000 technical and scientific objects represent the history of Italian science, technology, and industry.
An elegant old patrician house is the setting for this art museum with paintings by Botticelli, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca, Guardí, and other artists, as well jewelry, silver, bronzes, porcelains, Etruscan pottery, armor, and weapons. Textiles in the museum include Flemish and Persian carpets, tapestries, a large collection of hand-worked lace and a very rare embroidery designed by Botticelli.
Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper:
Milan's most famous mural, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is hidden away on a wall of the refectory adjoining the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie. Depicting Christ and his disciples at the dramatic moment when Christ reveals he is aware of his betrayal, it is a masterful psychological study and one of the world's most iconic images.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II:
One of the world's oldest shopping malls, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is housed within a four-story double arcade in central Milan. It is named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It is often nicknamed as il salotto di Milano (Milan's drawing room), due to its numerous shops and importance as a common Milanese meeting and dining place.
Milan Fashion Week:
A clothing trade show, established in 1958, held semi-annually in Milan is part of the global ‘Big Four fashion weeks’, the others being Paris Fashion Week, London Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week.
Risotto alla Milanese, a specialty of Milan, made with beef stock, beef bone marrow, lard (instead of butter) and cheese, flavored and colored with saffron