North-West of Piazza Scala lies the thick web of the Brera district, also known as the Art Citadel (“Cittadella dell’Arte”). The narrow pebbled streets and the old buildings remind us that Milano has not always been a modern industrial city.
Brera has always constituted a kind of workshop of Bohemian maverick art, with its studios and art galleries, today side by side with luxurious shops and fashionable cafés. Both day and night it is worth strolling along via Fiori Chiari, via Fiori Oscuri, via Ponte Vetero or via Mercato.
From Largo Formentini through via Madonnina it is possible to reach the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine from the 15th century, not far from the magnificent early Christian complex of San Simpliciano.
In via Brera, at the heart of this area, there is a 17th century Palace bearing the same name (“Palazzo Brera”), an old Jesuit school that houses since 1776 the Academy of Fine Arts (“Accademia delle Belle Arti”) where several well known artists have studied (such as the painter Lucio Fontana and the designer Piero Fornasetti) and taught (e.g., the sculptor Marino Marini). The Palazzo also houses the beautiful art collection and the ancient Library of the renowned Pinacoteca di Brera.
Further north is the area of Corso Garibaldi and Corso Como, one of the hot spots of the “Milano da bere” (“drink Milan”) and an important shopping crossroads.
The historical centre of Milan has a fairly regular and round shape, with compact grid of building and roads, typical of medieval cities. The centre is not particularly sizeable and a good part of it is a pedestrian area. Without a doubt the best solution is to visit it by feet.
The cathedral (“Duomo”) is magnificent and dates back to the beginning of the 14th century when French workers began its construction. The Duomo has unmistakable gothic shapes covered with white-pink marble from Candoglia and it overlooks a big square (”Piazza Duomo”) always crowded with tourists, peddlers and locals who walk across the square everyday to go to work.
The impressive cathedral counts 135 pinnacles and 3400 statues, and it is topped with the statue of “Madonnina” (little Virgin Mary), which is the symbol of the city itself.
Next to the Duomo is the imposing Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery (“Galleria”), a proper road covered with a glass and iron structure that connects the Duomo square with the La Scala square. The Galleria is also called Milan’s “salotto” (sitting room). It is cross-shaped (a longer gallery crossed by a shorter one) and at the crossing a large octagonal space opens, covered with a transparent glass dome, a true jewel of 19th century engineering.
The La Scala square is named after La Scala theatre, renown world-wide as “the” opera and music theatre. La Scala was built in the 18th century by architect Piermarini. It has recently been restored and refurbished by architect Mario Botta. Facing La Scala is Palazzo Marino, built in the 16th century by Galeazzo Alessi and currently housing the town hall.
Overlooking the Duomo square are also a side of the Archbishop’s See (“Palazzo dell’Arcivescovado”) and the ancient Doge’s Palace (“Palazzo Ducale”), currently called “Palazzo Reale” (Royal Palace), restored with a neo-classical touch by architect Piermarini (the same of La Scala). Opposite the Duomo Square are Via and Piazzetta dei Mercanti (Merchants’ street and square), with the “Palazzo della Ragione” (Reason’s Palace) dating 1228. This area constitutes the medieval heart of the city and the remnants of the Municipality period Not far from here are via Speronari and Spadari with their high-end food shops. The pedestrian via Dante, which offers numerous opportunities for shopping or having a snack, runs from the Cairoli square towards the Castle of the Sforza family (“Castello Sforzesco”).
Via Torino and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, both originating from Piazza Duomo but running in opposite directions, offer endless shopping opportunities and often witness a young crowd’s shopping frenzy.
Strolling along via Torino it is possible to admire the church of “Santa Maria presso san Satiro”, built in 1476 by architect Donato Bramante (with the exception of the facade which dates from the 19th century).
Walking along the pedestrian via Dante, the imposing embattled shape of the Sforzesco Castle becomes visible. The Castle was built at the edge of what was the city of Milano in the 14th century by the Visconti family (at the time Signori – rulers, of Milano) and was subsequently inherited by the Sforza family. It was thoroughly refurbished in the 19th century, when the Castle became the linchpin of the city’s expansion during the neo-classical period. The key constituents of this transformation were Foro Bonaparte (a semi-circular curtain of buildings which crowns the Castle) and the Sempione park (“Parco Sempione”, originating from Piazza d’Armi).
Passing the large fountain in front of the main entrance of the Castle and crossing its majestic courtyard (therefore walking towards nord-west) it is possible to reach the Sempione park. It is the largest park within Milano: worked out on paper and with a regular shape, it represents a haven of peace with water ponds, walkways and large patches of grass where on a sunny Sunday people meet to play soccer or percussion instruments.
On the west side of the park lie the impressive 20th century Palazzo della Triennale (Palace of the Three-Yearly Art Exhibition), which houses the Design Museum and the Branca Tower designed by architect Giò Ponti. North-west of the park, the Napoleonic Arc of Peace (“Arco della Pace”) points towards Paris. All around it are several chic bars, always crowded on a “movida” night. Along the north side of the park is the beautiful Civic Arena (“Arena Civica”), built by the Napoleonic administration during the neo-classical period.
Close to the Arena, via Piero della Francesca offers several shops, artisan workshops and cheap cafés and restaurants. East of the Arena is the Milanese Chinatown, which develops around via Paolo Sarpi and offers typical shops, old cafés and traditional “pizzeria”. Not far from here is the Monumental Cemetery (“Cimitero Monumentale”), quite a touristic destination due to its countless and precious sculptures and funarary architecture celebrating the glory of important Milanese families from the industrial borgeoise.
Since after the second world war the transformation of the area around Porta Garibaldi-Repubblica has been hotly debated. Currently several building sites span across the whole area between Corso Como and the Island (“Isola”) district (at the heart of which is the Porta Garibaldi train station) and will radically change its appearance/assetto urbanistico.
Corso Garibaldi and Corso Como are among the most important streets in Milano where to savour good shopping and the Milanese “movida”.
The Isola district is located North of the Porta Garibaldi train station. The railway bridge over the station’s tracks, though dismal, nevertheless offers extraordinary metropolitan views. Isola is a residential district with a strong identity arising from a mixture of Milanese people with various immigrants, artists, students and an ever growing number of young professionals. It’s worth a visit on a Saturday morning, when the street market of Piazzale Lagosta takes place. Isola is a vivid and cheap city fragment which offers several cafés and inexpensive eating houses (“trattoria”).
Via Borsieri, Via Porro Lambertenghi and Piazza Minniti are at the heart of this lively district.
East of here is the Central train Station (“Stazione Centrale”). It was build in the 30’s from an older lay out in Assyro-Babylonian style by architect Stacchini.
The southern area of Milan develops around one of the city’s most ancient axis – Corso di Porta Romana, which develops from the central Missori square into Piazza Medaglie d’Oro where rises the Roman Gate (“Porta Romana”) dating from the Spanish 17th century/ seicentesca spagnola.
The Corso runs south-east in the direction of the ancient via Emilia, the road which connected Milano and Roma. Around the middle part of Corso di Porta Romana, near the San Nazzaro square, is the beautiful complex of Filerete della Ca’ Granda dating the 15th century; the complex used to be a hospital and it currently houses the State University (“Università Statale”) of Milano. The area offers several cheap cafés where students meet for a coffee, a drink or a bite. Don’t miss out on the sweets of the Panarello patisserie from the Genoa tradition in the San Nazzaro square (where is also a church of the same name). Continuing towards south-east, on the left side of the Corso is the small via Orti (the street of the vegetable garden), the name of which reminds us that once upon a time this part of Milano used to be in the middle of the countryside. This tiny street presents several opportunities to stop for a drink or to eat outdoors.
Within this area is also headquartered the Bocconi University, the most prestigious Italian school of management and economic science. The Ravizza park stretches nearby, close to which are a number of building sites currently transforming old warehouses into modern offices and blocks of flats; of note are the tall residential towers by architect Fuksas.
The south area offers some of the best bars, nightclubs and live music venues of the city. However, for all the clubs and bars where to spend an evening (increasing in number around via Ripamonti and beyond) this area doesn’t have a specific centre/heart.
The Ticinese area takes its name from the avenue of the Ticinese Gate (“Corso di Porta Ticinese”), the street that originates from the Carrobbio at the end of via Torino, and runs south to the Porta Ticinese. Between Carrobbio and the beginning of the Corso you will walk past the San Lorenzo church and its Romanic columns (II century a.C.), likely to be a fragment of ancient Roman baths from the Imperial period.
The Corso runs along the wide and winding Parco delle Basiliche, which extends from the church of San Lorenzo to the curch of Sant’Eustorgio, the latter being one of the most important monuments in Romanesque-Gothic style of Milano.
The cloister of the Sant’Eustorgio church currently houses the Diocesan Museum (“Museo Diocesano”) and from inside the church it is possible to enter the wonderful Portinari chapel by Solari, dating from the 15th century.
This area is one of the centres of the “movida” in Milano, unmissable in the evenings and at night. It is a young area and it offers many shops and trendy cafés and bars. To the side of the Porta Ticinese is the Darsena – the large artificial basin which marks the beginning (or the end) of the navigable channels of Milano, called the Navigli. They have been traditionally the preferred destination of artists, musicians and poets who have given this area a characteristic Bohemian athmosphere surviving until the present day, even if the old wash houses and working-class buildings have been transformed into art studios and antiques shops, while the old barges moored along the canals turned into “dehors” of the clubs overlooking the Navigli.
Every last Sunday of the month an antiques street market takes place on the Naviglio Grande, with numerous stalls crowding the streets around it. It’s worth noting that goods undergo strict quality controls (hours from 9 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.; for information 02 89409971).
South-east of the Navigli, past the pedestrian bridge covered with graffiti of Porta Genova, lies the area of via Tortona, a former working-class district of banister houses and factories, currently full of shops, “ateliers” and design studios. A must see are the Armani theatre, designed by architect Tadao Ando, and the Pomodoro foundation, utmost example of recovering industrial architecture/ recupero di archeologia industriale. During the annual Furniture Show (“Salone del Mobile”) held in April the area of via Tortona houses several show rooms and offers events and parties till the early hours.
This area, also informally known as “Montenapo”, is where the most famous fashion designers in the world crowd in and show off.
It is one of the best known shopping areas ever and has a “magical” athmosphere. Stroll along the side streets of the golden square between via Montenapoleone, via Sant’Andrea, via della Spiga and via Borgonuovo and you will come across superb haute couture shops as well as the show rooms of some of the best design brands, another pride of the “made in Italy”.
Corso Venezia, which originates from the San Babila square, runs North-East from the city centre alongside the beautiful Public Gardens. This area boasts imposing residential architecture with buildings in liberty and neo-classical style, as well as prestigious museums and art galleries including (to name a few): The Natural Science Museum and the Planetarium (both within the Public Gardens), the Museum of Modern Art (showing paintings and sculptures from the 19th century), and the Pavilion of Contemporary Art or PAC (“Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea”) located in via Palestro.
Corso Venezia ends with the Porta Venezia, a neo-classical gate overlooking the square bearing the same name.
Beyond the gate but in the same direction of Corso Venezia runs Corso Buenos Aires, a rather modern street over one kilometre long. Corso Buenos Aires is the backbone of the city’s development according to the regulatory plans developed between the 19th and 20th centuries and it is a commercial street par excellence. The area around the Lima square is also becoming well known with its elegant streets, ethnic restaurants and fashionable bars.
The San Babila district, as it currently appears, arises from important transformations of Milano dating between the fascist era, before the second world war, and the post-war reconstruction of the 50’s and 60’s. Its westernmost part, with a regular grid of roads and wide tree-lined avenues, arose from the piani urbanistici/town-planning projects of the period between the 19th and 20th centuries that drove the city expansion at the time.
Well-know showrooms of interior design are to be found around the Fascist San Babila square, in particular: Via Durini, Corso Monforte and Porta Vittoria. Not far from here is another example of Fascist architecture, the impressive Courthouse (“Palazzo di Giustizia”). Behind the palace rise the complexes of Rotonda Besana, of Umanitaria and of Santa Maria della Pace.
At the end of Corso di Porta Vittoria, towards east, opens Cinque Giornate square with its monument in memory of the five days of battles in 1848 to free Milan from the Austrians. North-east of the square, around Piazza Tricolore and Piazza Risorgimento, one can find elegant streets denoting a simple yet wealthy neighbourhood, dotted with interesting shops, cafés and restaurants.
Closer to Giardini Pubblici, there are magnificent buildings, some of the most extraordinary examples of early 20th century architecture. Near via Mozart and via Serbelloni are Villa Necchi Campiglio, by P.Portaluppi and the Sola-Busca house, with sculptures by Adolfo Wildt.
The Magenta area, named after the Magenta avenue (Corso Magenta), is part of the compact city area that characterizes the centre of Milan. Corso Magenta is the main axis running east-west from the city centre towards Magenta-Novara, in the direction of Turin. Near the magnificent curch of Santa Maria delle Grazie, with its dome cladding by Bramante, is Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (“Ultima Cena”). A few hundred metres away it is possible to admire the Sant’Ambrogio Basilica, prototype of Lombard Romanesque architecture: an absolute must see.
Behind the Basilica, the curch’s own cloisters mark the original core of the Catholic University of Sacred Heart (“Universita’ Cattolica del Sacro Cuore”).
The district around Corso Magenta, especially north of the avenue, includes some of most beautiful residential buildings in Milano.
In the Cadorna square, facing the train station bearing the same name, is a sculpture by Claes Oldenburg titled “needle, thread and knot”, which highlights Milan’s desire to be not only an industrial, but also an artistic city.
The area extending from here to the Cordusio square is the traditional financial headquarter, with several bars packed with young bankers.
South and west of the Corso the cafés and clubs become more informal and especially targeted to students of the Università Cattolica.
Continuing west of Corso Magenta, past Piazzale Baracca, it is possible to reach Corso Vercelli, more modern and frantic, which represents (together with Corso Buenos Aires), one of the key shopping areas of Milano: several cafés, deli shops and high-end shops make it quite lively and pleasant. In the nearby via Marghera, besides interesting clothes shops, are excellent ice cream shops, where it is possible to taste authentic, award-winning Italian “gelato”.