Milano (Milan)

Milano (Milan)


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It is said that Milan was founded by Celtic tribes, who settled along the Po River in the 7th century BC. Roman legion marched into the region in 222 BC. They quickly defeated the locals and occupied the town, which was renamed Mediolanum (middle of the plain). The city prospered because of its key position on the trade routes linking Rome with the northwest of Europe. In 313 AD, Constantine I granted Christians freedom of worship. That edict was made in the city.

Mediolanum saw several centuries of chaos, as a result of barbarian invasions. In the 11th century a communez (town council) was formed and the city entered a period of rapid growth. Maybe because of that success, the city had bad relations with its neighbors.

Local conflicts erupted frequently and the Holy Roman emperor, Frederick I (Barbarossa), decided to exploit the situation. He attacked Milan in 1176. The surrounding towns, however, saw a common enemy and banded together as the Lega Lombarda. They defeated Frederick in 1176.

During the second half of the 13th century, important families started ruling Milan and they governed the city in succession. Some of the most important families included the Torrianis, the Viscontis and the Sforzas. Especially during the rule of the last two, Milan became rich and powerful.

The city came under Spanish rule in 1535 and was given to Austria in 1713, as agreed in the Treaty of Utrecht. The Austrian ruler was Maria Theresa. She left her legacy in the form of a shade of yellow that can still be found in the façades of La Scala and the Palazzo Real. In 1797, Napoleon made Milan the capital of his Cisalpine Republic. In 1802 the city became the capital of the Italian Republic and it hosted Napoleon's coronation as King of Italy three years later.

In 1814 Austria regained control over the city, but in 1859, troops under Victor Emmanuel II and Napoleon III defeated the Austrian forces at the Battle of Magenta. Milan was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy the following year. The city experienced a long period of peace, but in WWII, it was heavily bombed by the Allied forces. Milan was subsequently rebuilt and rapidly transformed into the industrial powerhouse it is today.

Milan is a busy metropolis and Italy's economic center. It is home to the country's most important stock markets and businesses. The city is very stylish and sophisticated and it is known throughout the world for its role as a leading fashion center.

Milan covers 1980 km² (765 sq miles), but most of its historical sites are concentrated in a relatively small area around the city center, between the duomo (cathedral) and the Castello Sforzesco. The square in front of the duomo is a good place to start exploring the city, as several historic sites are in its vicinity. The Metropolitana Milanesa (MM), Milan's underground has a stop at the duomo. The area immediately north of the duomo is the Brera. It is home to many posh galleries and fashionable shopping streets. Navigli to the south is another interesting district.

When to Go

Italy has a predominantly Mediterranean climate, but the winters in Milan are quite chilly and temperatures are often below freezing. The mountains to the north shield the city from extreme cold though. Summer is from May to September. It can be hot and sticky, especially in August, when most locals can be found at the coast to escape the temperatures, which usually rise well above 30°C (86°F).

There are numerous celebrations in Milan throughout the year. The most interesting event is probably the Festa della Nivola (Festival of the Nail), which takes place between 15 and 18 September at the duomo every year. During the festival, the archbishop of Milan takes to the air in his own private deus ex machina to recover a nail, stored near the cathedral ceiling. According to legend, it was one of the nails that were used to crucify Jesus. The week before Ash Wednesday, carnivale is held. It is a combination of Christian reverence and secular revelry. The Italian Grand Prix is always held at the Monza Autodrome, 31 km (15 miles) northeast of Milan.

Places to visit

Duomo

Milan's cathedral is situated on the Piazza del Duomo. Construction of the duomo began in 1386 and it is the world's fourth-largest church. The duomo was built in late-Gothic style and features countless spires and statuary, marble pinnacles and pillars and flying buttresses. Above the myriad vertices rises a gilded copper statue of the Madonna. The duomo has no bell tower.

The cathedral's most important feature is a nail that was purportedly used to crucify Jesus. Every year in September, the Archbishop of Milan retrieves the sacred nail from its perch high above the nave and presents it to an adoring and curious congregation. Next to the duomo is the Museo del Duomo, where you can learn more about the cathedral's six centuries of history. It also houses an interesting collection of art and artifacts.

Cenacolo Vinciano

Leonardo da Vinci painted his masterpiece of The Last Supper in an experimental mix of tempera and oil. The paint has been peeling from the walls since Leonardo painted it in 1498, so it has been restored numerous times, most recently in 1999.

The Cenacolo Vinciano, where the painting is located, is the refectory of the Convento di Santa Maria delle Grazie. If you want to visit it, you should book weeks in advance by phone. Be prepared to pay a hefty entrance fee for a short visit. Groups of 25 people are rushed through every 15 minutes.

Castello Sforzesco

The imposing Castello Sforzesco is at the northeastern section of the Via Dante, which intersects the Piazza del Duomo. The Castillo Sforzesco was originally a military fortress, but it was completely remodeled by Francesco Sforza. The new and improved defenses were designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

There are several museums in the castle, where you can see a large amount of antiquities, including sculptures, one of which is Michelangelo's Pietá Rondanini. There are paintings by Bellini, Tiepolo, Mantegna, Correggio, Titian and Van Dyck. Of special interest is the museum's collection of Egyptian artifacts. The Parco Sempione, behind the castle, covers 47 hectares (116 acres) and includes many places to stroll. The park also includes a somewhat dilapidated arena that was inaugurated by Napoleon.

Teatro alla Scala

The Teatro alla Scala rises above the Piazza della Scala. On the piazza (square) you can also see a monument dedicated to da Vinci. The Teatro alla Scala is commonly known as La Scala. It was opened in 1778 and heavily damaged by Allied bombs during WWII. In 1946 it reopened under the baton of famed composer Arturo Toscanini, who had returned to Milan after he had been the director of the New York Philharmonic for eight years. Next to La Scala is the Museo Teatrale alla Scala, where you can see such curiosities as Verdi's death mask, including the maestro's facial hairs.

Around Milan

Pavia

Pavia is a cultural center that boasts the interesting Castello Visconti.

Lago Maggiore

Lago Maggiore (Great Lake), is one of the series of stunning blue lakes that can be found in the region where the Lombard plains rise into the Alps. It is 65 km northwest of Milan.

Parco Nazionale della Incicioni Rupestre

The Parco Nazionale della Incicioni Rupestre actually consists of three national parks. It is north of Milan along the Valle Camonica.

Other activities

There are many gyms in Milan, where many of the city's workers do their workouts and where tourists are welcome too. Another popular way to stay fit is bicycling, but you should be careful with the traffic.

Not far from Milan are several lakes that offer boating, water skiing and swimming possibilities during the summer. In winter the surrounding mountains are excellent for skiing and snowboarding.

Transportation

Milan has always been at the crossroads for travel between Europe and the Italian peninsula, so a wide variety of transportation is available. Almost all international flights are handles by the Malpensa airport, 50 km northwest of Milan, while most domestic and some European flights go through Linate airport, which is some 7 km east of the city center. Both airports have excellent connections with the city center.

Milan's public transportation system is efficient. The city has four underground lines and there are trams and buses. Tickets can be bought from Metropolitana Milanesa (MM) stations, bus stations and some newspaper stands. The bus system is confusing and not easy to negotiate. There are several bus stations scattered across the city, so you have to find out from which one your bus is leaving. If you go to places around Milan, it is possible, you have to change and part of the trip is made on buses from different companies. Tickets have to be bought from each company separately. Free maps of the public transport system are sometimes available from ATM offices at the Duomo metro station and Stazione Central.

Trains connect Milan with all parts of Italy, as well as numerous destinations throughout Europe. There are three major railway stations in Milan. The largest is Stazione Central. It is not too far from the city center. Also in the center of town is Milano Nord, while Porte Garibaldi is a little further out.

Many motorways in northern Italy converge at Milan's ring road, which is known as the Tangenziale Est and Tangenziale Ovest. Traffic on the roads leading to Milan can be extremely busy, especially on the notorious A4 west to Torino. Driving in Milan itself is a nightmare, as it is almost impossible to find a parking place. Often the parking limit is 2 hours and illegally parked cars are either fines or towed away. On top of that, most streets in central Milan are one-way and often it is not possible to drive straight to your destination. The best thing is to leave your car at an outlying MM station and use public transportation in the city center.

Taxis usually don't stop when you try to hail them. You should get one from a taxi rank, or call for one.

Accommodation and food

Milan has a wide variety of shopping possibilities and there are countless theatres and cinemas. On the Piazza del Duomo you will find one of the world's most fantastic shopping malls, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It is filled with cafés and boutiques, but prices are quite high. Nightclubbing in the city is absolutely fantastic and the restaurants are excellent. Immigrants dish up exotic cuisines to the delight of denizens and visitors alike. The local Lombard, Sicilian and Tuscan dishes are widely available too.

There are numerous hotels, hostels, dormitories and camp sites in and around Milan. The city is 480 km northwest of Rome.

Italy operates on a 24-hour clock. Milan's telephone area code is 02 and it is an intrinsic part of the number, so it must be used at all times.


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Miscellaneous Information

Latitude:    45 28 N
Longitude: 9 12 E
Elevation:  n/a

Population: 3,000,000
Cost-of-living compared to Washington D.C.: 149%

Hours from UTC: 2
Daylight savings time: Late March through late October

City phone code: 02
Country phone code: 39

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