MILAN is an Italian city like no other. It’s foggy in winter, muggy and mosquito-ridden in summer, and is closer in outlook, as well as distance, to London than to Palermo. This is no city of peeling palazzi, cobbled piazzas and la dolce vita, but one where consumerism and the work ethic rule the lives of its well-dressed citizens. Many visitors pass straight through, and if it’s summer and you’re keen for sun and sea this might well be the best thing you can do; the weather, in July and August especially, can be off-putting humid. But at any other time of year it’s worth giving Milan more of a chance. It’s a historic city, with a spectacular cathedral and enough ancient churches and galleries to keep you busy for a week, but there are also bars and cafés to relax in, and the contemporary aspects of the place represent the leading edge of Italy’s fashion and design industry.
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and is the capital of the Lombardy region. The city proper has a population of about 1.35 million, while its urban area is the 5th largest in the EU and the largest in Italy with an estimated population of about 5.2 million. It hosts the Italian Stock Exchange and the headquarters of the largest national banks and companies. Meanwhile, as Milanese banks dominated Italy’s financial sphere, the city became the country’s leading financial centre. Thanks to its important museums, theatres and landmarks (including the Milan Cathedral, the fourth largest cathedral in the world, and Santa Maria delle Grazie, decorated with paintings by Leonardo daVinci, a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Milan attracts more than two million annual visitors. Milan is also well known for several international events and fairs, including Milan Fashion Week, and Milan Furniture Fair, which the largest of its kind in the world, and will host the 2015 Universal Exposition. The 2010 official announcement of Milan hosting Expo 2015 has brightened prospects for the city’s future, with several new plans of regeneration and the planned construction of numerous futuristic structures
In the 1980s, as several fashion firms based in the city became internationally successful (such as Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Valentino, and Prada); Milan has become one of the world’s fashion capitals. The city saw also a marked rise in international tourism, notably from America and Japan, while the stock exchange increased its market capitalization more than five-fold. Milan is also regarded as one of the fashion capitals of the world, along with New York City, Paris and London. Milan is synonymous with the Italian prêt-à-porter industry, as many of the most famous Italian fashion brands. Numerous international fashion labels also operate shops in Milan. Furthermore, the city hosts the Milan Fashion Week twice a year, one of the most important events in the international fashion system. Milan’s main upscale fashion district, quadrilatero della mod, is home to the city’s most prestigious shopping streets (Via Monte Napoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Manzoni and Corso Venezia), not to mention Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, world’s oldest shopping mall.
The city is also an important manufacturing centre, especially for the automotive industry, with companies such as Alfa Romeo and Pirelli having a significant presence in the city. Other important products made in Milan include chemicals, machinery, pharmaceuticals and plastics.
There are only few remains of the ancient Roman colony, notably the well-preserved Colonne di San Lorenzo. Saint Ambrose, as bishop of Milan, had a strong influence on the layout of the city, reshaping the centre (although the cathedral and baptistery built in Roman times are now lost) and building the great basilicas at the city gates: Sant’Ambrogio, Aan Nazaro in Brolo, SanSimpliciano Sant’Eusorgio, which still stand, refurbished over the centuries, as some of the finest and most important churches in Milan. Milan’s Cathedral, built between 1386 and 1577, is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the most important example of Gothic architecture in Italy. The gilt bronze statue of the Virgin Mary, placed in 1774 on the highest pinnacle of the Duomo, soon became one of the most enduring symbols of Milan.
Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, was responsible for the significant renovations carried out in Milan during the 18th century. This profound urban and artistic renewal included the establishment of Teatro alla Scala, inaugurated in 1778 and today is one of the world’s most famous opera houses, and the renovation of the Royal Palace. The late 1700s Palazzo Belgioioso and Royal Villa of Milan are often regarded among the best examples of Neoclassical architecture in Lombardy. The massive Arch of Peace, situated at the bottom of Corso Sempione, is often compared to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In the second half of the 19th century, Milan quickly became the main industrial center in of the new Italian nation, drawing inspiration from the great European capitals. The great Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, is a covered passage with a glass and cast iron roof, inspired by the Burlington Arcade in London. Another late 19th century eclectic monument in the city is the Cimitero Monumentale graveyard, built in a Neo-Romanesque style between 1863 and 1866.
The tumultuous period of early 20th century brought several, radical innovations in Milanese architecture. Art Nouveau, is recognizable in Palazzo Castiglioni, built between 1901 and 1904. Other remarkable examples include Hotel Corso and Berri-Meregalli house; the latter built in a traditional Milanese Art Nouveau style combined with elements of neo-Romanesque and Gothic revival architecture, regarded as one of the last such types of architecture in the city. A new, more eclectic form of architecture can be seen in buildings such as Castello Cova, built the 1910s in a distinctly neo-medieval style, evoking the architectural trends of the past. An important example of Art Deco, which blended such styles with Fascist architecture, is the massive Central railway station inaugurated in 1931.
The largest parks in the central area of Milan are Semitone Park, at the north-western edge, and Montebello Gardens, situated northeast of the city. English-style Semitone Park, built in 1890, contains a Napoleonic Arena, the Milan City Aquarium, a steel lattice panoramic tower, an art exhibition centre, a Japanese garden and a public library. The Montebello gardens, created in the 18th century, hosts the Natural History Museum of Milan and a planetarium. Slightly away from the city centre, heading east, Foramina Park is characterized by a large pond and a few preserved shacks which are reminiscent of the area’s agricultural past.
Milan is home to many cultural institutions, museums and art galleries that account for about a tenth of the national total of visitors and receipts. The Pinacoteca di Brera is one of Milan’s most important art galleries. It contains one of the foremost collections of Italian painting, including masterpieces such as the Brera Madonna by Piero della Francesca. The Castello Sforzesco hosts numerous art collections and exhibitions, especially statues, ancient arms and furniture, as well as the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, with an art collection including Michelangelo’s last sculpture, the Rondaini Pieta, Andrea Mantegna’s Trivulzio Madonna and Leonardo daVinci’s Codex Trivulzianus. The Castello complex also includes The Museum of Ancient Art, The Furniture Museum, The Museum of Musical Instruments and the Applied Arts Collection, The Egyptian and Prehistoric sections of the Archaeological Museum and the Achille Bertarelli Print Collection. Milan is also a major nation-wide and international centre of the performing arts, most notably opera. Milan hosts LaScala opera-house, considered one of the most prestigious opera-houses in the world and throughout history has hosted the premieres of numerous operas, such as Nabucco by Verdi in 1842, LaGioconda by Ponchielli, Madama Butterfly by Puccini in 1904, Turandot by Puccini in 1926, and most recently Teneke, by Fabio Vacchi in 2007. Other major theatres in Milan include the Teatro degli Arcimboldi, Teatro Dal Verme, Teatro Lirico and formerly the Teatro Regio Ducal. The city also has a renowned symphony orchestra and musical conservatory, and has been, throughout history, a major centre for musical composition: numerous famous composers and musicians such as Giuseppe Caimo, Simon Boyleau, Hoste da Reggio, Verdi, Guilio Gatti-Casazza, Paolo Cherici and Alice Edun are or were from, or have called Milan their home.
Like most cities in Italy, Milan and its surrounding area has its own regional cuisine, which, as it is typical for Lombard cuisines, uses more frequently rice than pasta, and features almost no tomato. Milanese cuisine includes cotoletta alla milanese, a breaded veal (pork and turkey can be used) cutlet pan-fried in butter (similar to Viennese “Wienerschnitzel” which probably derives from the Milanese speciality). Other typical dishes are cassoeula (stewed pork rib chops and sausage with Savory cabbage), ossobuco (stewed veal shank with gremolata sauce), risotto alla milanese (with saffron and beef marrow), busecca (stewed tripe with beans), and brasato (stewed beef or pork with wine and potatoes). Season-related pastries include chiacchiere (flat fritters dusted with sugar) and tortelli (fried spherical cookies) for Carnival, colomba (glazed cake shaped as a dove) for Easter, pane dei morti (“Dead’s’ Day bread”, cookies aromatized with cinnamon) for All Soul’s Day and Panettone for Christmas. The salame Milano, a salami with a very fine grain, is widespread throughout Italy. The best known Milanese cheese is gorgonzola from the nearby town of Gorgonzola, although today the major gorgonzola producers operate in Piedmont. In homage to a unique cuisine, Milan has several world-renowned restaurants and cafés. Most of the more refined and upper-class restaurants are found in the historic centre, while the more traditional and popular ones are mainly located in the Brera and Navigli districts. Today, there is also a Nobu Japanese restaurant in Milan, which is located in Armani World in Via Manzoni and is regarded as being one of the trendiest restaurants in the city. One of the city’s chicest cafés or pasticcerie is the Caffe Cova, an ancient Milanese coffeehouse founded in 1817 near the Teatro alla Scala, which has also opened franchises in Hong Kong. The Biffi Caffè and the Zucca in Galleria are also famous and historical “Caffès” situated in Milan. Other restaurants in Milan include La Briciola, the Marino alla Scala and the Chandelier. Today, there are some new boutique-cafés, such as the Just Cavalli Café, owned by the luxury fashion goods brand Roberto Cavalli.