Ancient & Modern Milan

The capital of fashion, design and finance, Milano seamlessly blends classical and modern esthetics.

Like a memory beckoning us, our first foray in Milano led us directly to its heart, the main square, the majestic Piazza del Duomo. We were immediately astonished by the crush of people visiting the square; the first large group we have experienced in nearly 2 years. The weekends teemed with people but the weekdays we found neither crowds nor line ups anywhere in the city.

Duomo di Milano

The awe inspiring, monumental Gothic Cathedral of Milano sits in the center of this grand piazza.

⬆️1819 painting – Cathedral of Milano – 2021 photo⬆️

Construction of this extraordinarily huge structure took nearly 6 centuries to complete – beginning in 1386 and completing in 1965. It is the 3rd largest church in the world. (St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City being the largest.) There are 135 spiers and countless statues that decorate the exterior of the Cathedral.

We booked an early morning, mid-week ticket, to enter this impressive Cathedral and we had the piazza virtually to ourselves between 8:00 and 9:00 that morning.

Entering inside the Cathedral into what has been described as the stone forest, visitors look miniscule next to the behemoth stone pillars rising 148 feet (45m) high. The Duomo has a capacity of 40,000 people. We took photos of Duomo paintings from the 1800’s and have presented them here next to photos of the Duomo we took in 2021.

⬆️1835 painting – Cathedral of Milano – 2021 photo⬆️
⬆️1874 painting – Cathedral of Milano – 2021 photo⬆️

Our ticket included an elevator ride up 230 feet (70 m) to the rooftop. The panoramic views of the city and the Alps, with their new dusting of snow were fantastic. Walking through and seeing up close the spires, pinnacles, sculptures, staircases, buttresses and oftentimes comical gargoyles was incredible.

Cathedral of Milano

In 1867, American writer Mark Twain visited Milan’s Cathedral and rooftop and he wrote: “What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! Away above, on the lofty roof, rank on rank of carved and fretted spires spring high in the air, and through their rich tracery one sees the sky beyond. They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s in Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.”

This was the 3rd time we have discovered a meridian line on the floor of an Italian church. The meridian line on the floor of the Duomo is an inlaid thin brass band, along with the 12 astrological signs of the zodiac. It was built in 1786 by astronomers from the Brera Observatory. The line crosses the width of the church but at the north end, the line continues nearly 10 feet (3 m) up the wall, because the floor was not wide enough. A hole in the roof near the south wall, each day at noon, casts sunlight on a different spot along the line. Depending on the time of year and the rotation of the earth, the sun will touch every part of the meridian line. It is quite amazing to witness.

Cathedral of Milano – meridian line

Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Across from the Cathedral in Piazza del Duomo is a large statue of the first King of the unified Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II.

Then on the left of the Duomo is the magnificent glass-roofed galleria called Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Opened in 1877, this gallery feels like an opulent hotel, but it is one the world’s oldest shopping malls and is decorated with ornate designs, frescos, artwork, marble floors and lined with luxury boutiques and elegant cafes. All the high-end local design shops can be found here.

⬆️1870 painting – Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – ⬆️2021 photo

Milano is one of the world’s four fashion capitals and the epicentre of Italian fashion, textiles and design. In addition to the Galleria, the Brera district and Fashion Quadrangle have large concentrations of designer brands and boutiques. We enjoyed walking past the small bohemian style shops in the Brera district.

Milano is home to the biggest names in fashion – Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Moschino, Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Salvatore Ferragamo, Valentino, Versace, to name a few. The city has more than 12,000 companies, 800 showrooms and 6,000 sales outlets of different fashion brands. The coveted Milan Fashion Week, held twice a year to show seasonal collections, was first held in the city more than 60 years ago, in 1958.

The photo at the top of the blog is a sculpture installed in 2000 called Needle, Thread and Knot by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

A Brief History

Medhelanon (modern Milano – english version, Milan) was founded by a chief of the Insubri Celtic tribe around 600 BCE. The Romans took the city in 222 BCE and when they divided the empire in half, Milano became the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Over the next millennium Milano faced many trials. For instance, the Visigoths besieged Milano in 402; Attila the Hun sacked and devastated the city in 452; the Ostrogoths conquered and destroyed Milano in 539, a Germanic tribe by the name of the Lombards conquered and ruled them in 569 and Charlemagne and his Germanic tribe the Franks, took the city in 774.

By the 11th century Milano was able to form its own independent government and the city began to prosper as a center of trade. In the mid-13th century the Visconti family won the city and ruled it for the next 200 years. When the last Duke of Visconti died without a male heir in 1450, the House of Sforza, became the next Duke of Milan and turned Milan into one of the leading cities of the Italian Renaissance. French, Spain and Austria would take turns ruling Milan for the next 300 years. In 1859 Milano was incorporated into the Kingdom of Sardinia, (House of Savoy) and in 1861 most of the regions finally joined together and became the Kingdom of Italy.

House of Visconti Coat of Arms

The biscione is a large serpent or dragon seen in the act of eating a human (usually thought to be the enemy). The coat of arms once belonged to the House of Visconti and the historic emblem has become a symbol of the city, often used as a marketing tool by Milanese based companies.

Museo Poldi Pezzoli

Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli (1822–1879) was a private collector who donated his collection when he died and the Poldi Pezzoli Art Museum opened in 1881.

There is a large collection of ceramics, glassworks, jewelry, embroidery and more, but it was the outstanding number and variety of timepieces that we loved. Pictured below is an ivory sundial called the “Navicula de Venetiis” from Venice. It is signed by Oronce Fine and dated 1524. See our link at the bottom for a beautiful and interesting timepiece collection.

Ivory Sundial – Museo Poldi Pezzoli

Northern Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists from the 13th to 17th century make up the majority of the paintings in the museum.

We discovered dozens of new Italian artists as well as a handful of new Flemish artists that will take us time to become familiar with their individual styles.

Portrait of a Young Lady, c. 1470

Santa Maria delle Grazie

Leonardo da Vinci’s original painting of the Last Supper, painted in 1495-98, was painted directly on the wall of the refectory of the convent in Santa Maria delle Grazie. It has been restored numerous times over the centuries and with the current health restrictions we were not able to get tickets to view it.

However in Torino’s Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, there is an exact replica of The Last Supper painted by Luigi Gagna in 1835. The painter, Gagna, specialized in copying classical works and his reproduction of the Last Supper has been referred to as the greatest copy in existence.

Gagna’s replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper fresco

San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore

This church was consecrated in 1518 and was once attached to an important female convent of the Benedictines in the city, the Monastero Maggiore. The convent side is now the Civic Archaeological Museum and the church for 9 months of the year, offers one service a week in Greek. It is also often used as a concert hall.

The most precious and valued artwork of the church are the lovely frescoes from the 16th century that cover the walls. We especially enjoyed seeing the rare painting of Noah’s Ark.

Fresco of Noah’s Ark

Parco Sempione

We have mentioned before that we often spend our time visiting parks on Sundays. Sempione Park is a 95 acre city park and gardens, established in 1888. It is located in the historic center so we passed through it almost daily. We found a myriad of paths, bike trails, sculptures and fountains and the tree canopy is dense enough to offer a pleasant hiatus from the bustling city.

Pass through the gorgeous Arco di Pace (Arch of Peace) and you will enter the gardens.

Arch of Peace – Sempione Park

The Peace Arch landmark was built in 1806-1859 with 2 small and one large – 46 feet (14m) high arch as well as 4 fluted gigantic Corinthian columns. On top are bronze statues that glowed in the setting sun of this photo.

Starbucks Reserve Milano

It may be the Starbucks Roastery in Milano that best represents our concept of ‘Ancient & Modern’.

Activist Jane Jacobs wrote: “New Ideas Must Use Old Buildings”. Taken literally, one of Milano’s iconic buildings, the former post office, built in 1901, has the only Starbucks Roastery in Europe as its tenant. Opened in 2018, the luxury cafe is extremely popular and adds a touch of modernity to the city. Pastries, pizza and pasta are made fresh on site.

Starbucks Reserve Milano

Milano not only celebrates its rich heritage but it is also a dynamic and progressive trendsetter.

Saluti from these Milanese,

Edoardo + Guilia (Ted + Julia)

View our Church of St. Maurice in Major Monastery photo album here

View our Milan Cathedral – Exterior photo album here

View our Milan Cathedral – Interior photo album here

View our Poldi Pezzoli Museum – Timepieces photo album here

View our Poldi Pezzoli Museum photo album here

View our Sempione Park photo album here

View our Starbucks Reserve photo album here

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