Things to Do in Milan - page 2
While the Piazza del Duomo is the most important square in central Milan today, that title went to the Piazza Mercanti in the Middle Ages. The Piazza Mercanti, or Merchants Square, is in Milan's historic center, a short walk to the northwest of the Duomo. The square originally was much larger than it is today, once occupying part of present-day Via Mercanti. Some of the buildings on the square date from its heyday, including the 13th century Palazzo della Ragione (essentially Milan's city hall at the time) and the 14th century Loggia degli Osii (another administrative building).
In the center of the piazza is a 16th century well that was later fitted with two columns in the 18th century. It's covered and unused today There was a stone found nearby upon which merchants found guilty of cheating – or bankruptcy, depending on the story you read – were punished by public shaming, forced to stand on the stone with their pants down, before being sent to jail.
This peculiar Milan church has a fascinating history, beginning with the fact that it is decorated by 3,000 skulls, tibias, femurs, and other human bones. The bones are arranged in organized designs and are integrated in all the chapel walls and doors. The name of the church itself “alle Ossa” translates to “with bones,” which were supposedly imported from various cemeteries.
The church’s origins date back to the 12th century when a hospital and cemetery were built in front of its basilica. Though there was once a separate room built to house bones, the bones began to become part of the church itself. Though it looks ordinary from the exterior, it is one of the most unique chapels in the world. There are also beautiful 16th-century paintings, including the ceiling fresco Triumph of Souls and Flying Angels, and Baroque-style decorations lining the eerie walls.
Opening its doors in 2014, the striking Casa Milan is the brand-new headquarters of Milan’s leading football team, A.C. Milan, located just 10 minutes from the famous San Siro Stadium. Housed in a futuristic glass-fronted façade, embossed with the team’s red and black logo, the Casa Milan is the ultimate destination for AC Milan fans, home to a museum, a well-stocked souvenir shop and the Cucino Milanello restaurant.
The highlight for football enthusiasts is the Mondo Milan Museum, where interactive exhibitions and multi-media presentations take visitors on a journey through the triumphs and trials of the popular football club. The huge collection of memorabilia on display includes some rare and much-coveted items, and there’s also a Hall of Fame, Trophies Room and Ballon d'Or Winners Room to marvel over.
Milan is known for its opera, fashion, and banking – not its ruins. And yet the city has Roman ruins – including the Colonne di San Lorenzo. These well-preserved ruins all date from the 2nd century, when they were part of a Roman building (experts aren't sure whether it was a bath house or a temple). They were likely moved to their current location in the 5th century.
The 16 columns line one side of a piazza in front of the fifth-century Basilica di San Lorenzo, one of Milan's oldest churches. They were brought to the piazza when the church was complete.
Across the street from Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco of “The Last Supper” is the vineyard he was given by Milanese ruler, Ludovico Sforza, in 1495. The type of vines was identified during excavations in 2015, and the vineyard has been replanted with the same varietal Leonardo grew. The plot has been designed as it was in Leonardo’s time. The house behind which the vineyard sits was not Leonardo’s, but he tended the vineyard himself. Visitors to the vineyard first get to see the beautifully-renovated Renaissance villa, Casa degli Atellani, and then a walk through the picturesque gardens and vineyard. Tours of the house and vineyard are guided by a member of the staff, and every visitor receives an audio guide to help navigate through and learn about the seven distinct areas on the tour. For a special visit to this unique attraction, visitors can enjoy an evening tour with aperitivo in the vineyard or a combination ticket that includes “The Last Supper” fresco.
The word "palazzo" may make you think of an historic building, but in the case of the Palazzo Lombardia in Milan, it's a brand-new award-winning skyscraper.
The Palazzo Lombardia was completed in 2010, and serves as the headquarters for the government of the Lombardy region. For a little over a year, it reigned as the tallest building in all of Italy at 529 feet, until another skyscraper in Milan was completed in the fall of 2011. The design for the skyscraper won an architectural award in 2012. It's located in the Porta Nuova district north of Milan's city center, a newly-renovated business district.
Today, Milan is part of a unified Italy – but centuries ago, it was the center of its own empire, and has a Royal Palace to prove it. Milan's Palazzo Reale sits to one side of the Piazza del Duomo, a U-shaped building with its own piazza in the center (called the Piazzetta Reale). The Dukes of Milan moved into the Royal Palace from the Castello Sforzesco in the early 16th century, though the building predates that move. Much of the exterior we see today dates from the 18th century.
Today, the Palazzo Reale houses a Palace Museum tracing the history of the building's use, the Great Museum of the Duomo of Milan, as well as regular exhibitions of contemporary art – including displays of work by Monet, Picasso, Klimt, Kandinsky, and more. The artwork on display changes on a regular basis, loaned from major museums worldwide.
More Things to Do in Milan
Milan is world-famous for its fashion industry, much of which is located in one small section of the city – including along the Via Manzoni. The Quadrilatero della Moda, or “fashion quarter,” sits northeast of the Duomo, with Via Manzoni serving as its northwestern border. Unlike some of the other streets in the quarter, Via Manzoni is not pedestrianized – it's a relatively major street leading from the Teatro della Scala almost to the Giardini Pubblici in the northeast of the city.
In addition to the shops on Via Manzoni – Armani Casa and Paul Smith among them – this street is also home to the Armani Hotel, the Grand Hotel et de Milan (where Verdi died in 1901), and the Museo Poldi Pezzoli (with a collection of artists from northern Italy, the Netherlands, and Flanders).
In Italian, the word "novecento" means "20th century,” and Milan's Museo del Novecento has an excellent collection of 20th century artwork. The museum opened in 2010 in the Arengario Palace on Piazza del Duomo in central Milan, combining two extensive collections of modern and contemporary art. The current collection includes a large number of Italian artists, as well as international ones. Some of the noted artists whose work you can see at the Museo del Novecento include Modigliani, Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Matisse.
The collection is displayed in chronological order, so you can watch art movements progress over time. The iconic painting by Pellizza da Volvedo of striking workers, "The Fourth Estate," is on display on the ground floor, which can be visited for free.
Porta Nuova is the name of a neighborhood in Milan, designed primarily for business use, but it's named after an historic monument in the area.
Located to the north of the city center, the Porta Nuova district had long been neglected by the city, until an urban renewal project began in 2009. The new skyline features several brand-new (and very modern) buildings, and the district also includes a big public park.
The name "Porta Nuova" means "new gate," and while the arched gate was built between 1810-1813, that is quite new when compared with the ancient Roman gates that were once the entry points in the city walls.
A visit to the historic Bagatti Valsecchi house museum in Milan is a step back in time to when every Italian palazzo was a private home. As a bonus, it also houses a nice art collection.
The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum is in the Montenapoleone area of central Milan, and was once the home of the Bagatti Valsecchi brothers – Fausto and Giuseppe. They died in the early 1900s, and the palazzo stayed in the family until 1974, when one of Giuseppe's sons sold the palazzo to the region of Lombardy for use as a museum to house the brothers' impressive collection of decorative arts and paintings. Among the items in the collection are furniture, tapestries, glassware, ivory, and ceramics. The paintings include works by Donatello and Bellini. The intention of the Bagatti Valsecchi Foundation was to create a reproduction of a 16th-century Italian nobleman's home, including period furnishings and décor.
The QC Terme company (founded by the Quadrio Curzio brothers) operates a chain of wellness spas in Italy, including QC Termemilano. Milan isn't known as a relaxing place, but right in the heart of the city QC Termemilano offers a place to escape the city. The day spa occupies a 19th-century former tram station, when the trams were led by horses. The QC Terme chain continues the belief that thermal baths offer unique therapy for ailments, and they are also a place for community to gather.
The facilities at QC Termemilano include saunas, whirlpools, steam baths, water massages, mud baths, and more. The healthy atmosphere extends to the buffet, which features fresh fruit, yogurt, and pastries. There's also an aperitivo buffet every day at 5:30pm.
Milan is a famous city of fashion, so it's no surprise that there is a neighborhood known as the fashion district, or the Quadrilatero della Moda.
As in other fashion districts the world over, Milan's Quadrilatero della Moda is home not only to high-end boutiques and designer flagship stores, but also the headquarters of some of Italy's top design houses. Shops you can visit in this area include Versace, Armani, Gucci, Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana, Zegna, Diesel, Prada and Sisley, among many others (including plenty of international fashion brands).
In addition to the ample shopping opportunities, you'll also find many restaurants, chic cafes and luxury hotels in the fashion district. Some of the designers have their own restaurants and hotels in their shopping centers. Several of the streets are pedestrian-only, to make window shopping even easier.
The Leonardo3 Museum is an interactive exhibit representing the multi-disciplinary skills of one of Italy's greatest sons – Leonardo da Vinci. The temporary Leonardo3 exhibit consists of more than 200 interactive machines and models based on Leonardo's designs. A highlight of the exhibit is a digitized version of the entire Codex Atlanticus, more than 1,100 sheets of Leonardo's designs, writing, and drawings.
Among the models on display in the exhibit – some of which have never been built before – is The Flying Machine of Milan, including Leonardo's illuminated drawings for it. Also on display are his original designs for the huge bronze horse that stands in San Siro – it wasn't completed during Leonardo's lifetime.
Taking up the second floor of the 18th century Villa Reale is GAM - Milan’s impressive Gallery of Modern Art.
Napoleon once used this lovely villa as his summer home, and it now hosts several cultural institutions. After you’ve strolled through the grounds and admired the architecture, update your impression with art from the 19th century onwards.
Neoclassical artworks rub shoulders with Surrealist installations and works by Picasso, Modigliani, Kandinsky and varied Impressionists, Futurists and Vorticists. The most contemporary works are displayed next door at PAC.
One of the most famous attractions in Milan, the thing that nearly everyone wants to see even on a short visit, is Leonardo da Vinci's “The Last Supper” fresco in the Santa Maria della Grazie church. That's not the only thing to see in that church, however. You can also visit the beautiful Bramante sacristy, designed by the Italian architect Donato Bramante in the late 15th century.
The Duke of Milan hired two of the best artists of the time to work on expanding and beautifying the existing Santa Maria della Grazie convent. Leonardo da Vinci was asked to paint a fresco on the wall of the refectory, while Donato Bramante was asked to build a new sacristy. Bramante's sacristy was built a short distance from the church, and the architect connected the two with a pretty cloister.
The Bramante sacristy is a long, rectangular room with a small chapel-like space at one end.
Lying on the western flank of thin, wispy Lake Maggiore, Stresa is an elegant resort backed by the Alpine foothills of Monte Mottarone and beloved of travellers for the grandiose hotels spread along its tree-lined promenade. Summer sees lidos bordering the lake and visitor-thronged craft markets on Thursday afternoons; come the balmy evenings the cobbled streets of the town are equally packed with locals and tourists alike enjoying a passeggiata (nightly stroll) before they settle down to dine al fresco in leafy Piazza Cadorna.
Once the hang out of literary stars Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway, the jewels in Stresa’s crown are undoubtedly the three miniature Isole Borromee (Borromean Islands) just minutes away across Lake Maggiore by ferry. Owned by the all-powerful Borromeo clan since the 12th century, today they exist in a Baroque time warp; while Isola Bella and Isola Madre both boast extraordinary 17th-century palazzi.
The lakes of northern Italy are popular tourist destinations, but some are more well-known than others. Lake Orta, for instance, is much less visited than its famous neighbor, Lake Maggiore. Orta is significantly smaller than Lake Maggiore and slightly further from Milan, so it's not surprising that most tourists head for others in the area. Many Milanese, however, spend their lakeside vacations at Lake Orta specifically because it's less crowded.
One of the picturesque charms of Lake Orta is the sweet little island at its center. Isola San Giulio is home to a basilica, a monastery, and not much else. Around Lake Orta there are towns with smaller hotels, but this isn't the tourist-centered experience of Lake Maggiore or Lake Como. Come to Lake Orta to really get away.
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