After parting with DaVinci's incredible masterpiece, we continued onwards to discover more of Milan.
Chiesa di San Maurizio Al Monastero Maggiore
This church was the biggest, oldest, and richest convent in all of Milan. It was here that the wealthiest families locked up their daughters if they were single and couldn’t find a rich husband. The nuns were not allowed in the main church area in which we entered, but were separated and kept in their own church behind the altar. This church is entirely painted in fresco; DaVinci’s influence is very clear, and it was painted by the best local artists of the times. The frescos were extremely well made and in perfect condition considering just how long they were created. This definitely falls into the category of “Best of Milan.”
Castle of Milan and the Arch of Peace
We then wandered through Milan and a bit of the Expo to reach the Sforza Castle, which was built in the 15th Century; it served as the political center of the city. It once housed royalty, then soldiers, and finally it was used as a weapons depot for some time. It wasn’t until the unification of Italy in 1861 that the castle was given from the military to the city of Milan. 5 FT Fun Fact: One of the Duke’s rooms was painted by Leonardo DaVinci himself.
Today, there is little left of the original castle and towers after the bombardment of World War II, however, it has been reconstructed for museum purposes. While we did not have time to go into the museums themselves, we walked through the giant inner-courtyard. It’s definitely worth checking out if time isn’t of the essence, because one of the museums has Michelangelo’s last Pieta – a statue of the Virgin Mary standing and hugging the dead body of Jesus.
We continued onwards with our “Best of Milan” tour, viewing Parco Sempione, one of Milan’s largest parks, and the Arc de Triomph, which screams mini-Paris. There is one long, wide road pointing in the direction of Paris, looking just like the Champs-Élysées. It has been renamed as the Arch of Peace — originally, the statue on top looked in the direction of Paris, but now it looks to Milan.
Brera District and La Scala Square
We spend a little bit of time wandering through Milan’s famous Brera District, and stopped for a short break. Narrow, cobblestone streets, cute eateries, and small buildings, this area of Milan is very reminiscent of Montmartre, France. The district was named after the Brera Art Academy because this area of Milan is where the poor artists and students used to live.
In the Brera Academy courtyard, one could see a bronze statue of Napoleon holding the Earth, with Nike, the Greek God of Victory, on top of it. Ironically, Napoleon rejected the statue because he didn’t like being considered more special than his fellow comrades.
We then went to La Scala Square and saw La Scala Opera House, built in 1778 by the Austrians. It was one of the first theaters built in Europe that was similar to a Greek Amphitheater; there was a stage with semicircular seats built up, looking down on the stage, which was an entirely new design. La Scala Opera House was bombed in World War II, like the rest of Milan — 80% of all of the buildings in the city were damaged or destroyed.
La Scala Square is also home to City Hall, and a thoroughly ugly statue of Leonardo DaVinci. The statue shows DaVinci looking old, surrounded by four younger boys said to be his former students, followers, and lovers.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
En route to the Duomo, our “Best of Milan” tour walked us through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls built between 1865 and 1877; this mall connects Piazza della Scala to Piazza del Duomo, and has a roof made of glass. Here, you can find the very first Prada shop. Walk out the Triumphal Arch right into the arms of the beautiful Duomo.
The word Duomo comes from Domus, which is Latin for “home” because the church is supposed to be a shelter for people who need both help and protection. The building itself is overwhelming at first look because it’s so pristine, so dominant, and just so intricate. When looking directly at the facade of the Duomo, you will see a balcony with two statues: one represents the New Testament and the other represents the Old Testament. 5 FT Fun Fact: If you combine the two statues, you will get the Statue of Liberty. What’s mind-boggling though is that these statues were constructed well before the Statue of Liberty was in existence!
While the Duomo began its first construction in 1386, it didn’t officially finish with construction until 1965, only fifty years ago! 5FT Fun Fact: It was built entirely on donations for several centuries, and those that made notable donations were awarded with a statue on the facade. The Duomo is made entirely of marble, which the early architects failed to acknowledge would erode easily. Due to this, the city of Milan is constantly needing to replace the walls and structure of the church.
The Walks of Italy “Best of Milan” Tour did not include entrance to the Duomo itself, however, it did include access to the rooftop, and the beautiful views that it offers. We were guided the whole way; Valleria pointed out numerous hidden statues and their meanings — faces and symbols that we never would have seen on our own. Did you know that one of the last remaining faces of Mussolini is on the Duomo, or that there are images of Boxers? There are over 2,000 statues, 96 gargoyles, and 135 spires on the roof of the Duomo alone, and so much to be discovered.
All in all, I had an absolutely fantastic time on Walks of Italy’s “Best of Milan” Tour. I think it’s a truly important and necessary tour to reserve if you a) have little time in the city b) are making a last-minute trip and cannot secure the Last Supper tickets or c) just want to learn a lot of history from an excellent tour guide. I’d worked with Walks of Turkey, Walks of Italy’s sister tour company in Istanbul, before reserving my spot on the “Best of Milan” Tour, so I had high expectations. Walks of Italy went above and beyond, and for that I am so grateful. Milan most definitely would not have been the same had I not joined the “Best of Milan” experience.
Like This Post? Pin It Please!
**Special thanks to Walks of Italy for kindly offering me a complimentary tour. As always, all opinions are my own.