We arrived in Milan in the late afternoon so by the time we figured out the bus system and found our apartment, there wasn’t much time for sightseeing. Our apartment was beautiful… twice the size of the one in Paris and air-conditioned. That was great since it was well over 25 degrees. We found a pizza restaurant just around the corner and had a wonderful meal. The linguini al mare was superb. So was the nebbiolo wine.
The next morning, we were up early to catch the subway downtown for our guided tour with “Walks of Italy”. The sky was blue and it promised to be a warm day. We met our guide, Christina, at the Stella Maria della Gracie church and began the tour with Leonardo Davinci’s “The Last Supper”. Over 500 years old, it has deteriorated significantly in color and detail but still evokes much emotion at the point when Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him. We learned many interesting things about the scene… such as, Jesus and Judas are both reaching for the same piece of bread signifying good vs. evil. It took Leonardo 4 years to complete the fresco starting in 1495 (much longer than normal) because he was so busy with several other projects. Also, DaVinci offen signed his work by painting a knot tied into a cloth somewhere in the piese. In The Last Supper, look at the table cloth in the lower right corner. Over the centuries, this fresco has survived many atrocities such as a humid and hot environment, monks cutting a new door through Jesus’ feet, and the bombings of WWII which destroyed most of this monestary.
Moving on, we toured Chiesa di San Maurizio with its amazing frescoes that cover every square inch of the interior. This church was run by nuns in the 1500’s at a time when nuns were not allowed to interact with the public so the church has two parts… the front public church and the rear section just for the nuns. Also during this period (1500’s), women in general were not depicted in religious art. In this church, however, there are frescoes of martyred women who were killed in the most gruesome ways; brest amputation, teeth extraction, eye gouging and crushing…pause for dramatic effect!
Next we toured Castle Sforza, originating in the 14th century by the Visconti family and taken over and expanded in the 15th century by the Sforza family. These were the 2 most powerful families in all of Italy back then. The castle is immense, all brick and surrounded by a moat (now drained and inhabited by cats instead of alligators). The political history associated with this site is fascinating. Napoleon occupied it for a time when he conquered Italy and he built another Arc de Triomphe aligning the Milan Cathedral, the castle and Paris through the arc. Folks today call it the Arc of Peace.
Leaving the castle, we strolled along busy pedestrian only streets toward Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the fabulous and famous glass roofed shopping mall, with stores like Louis Vuitton, Prada and Versace. Milan truly is the fashion capital of Italy. The Galleria opened in 1877 and was revolitionary in its day for being covered. Today all moderm shopping malls are descents of this one. The marble mosaic floors are just as beautiful as the ceiling.
Exiting the west wing of the mall, we entered Piazza del Duomo to see the breathtaking Milan Duomo, 3rd largest in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome and Seville Cathedral in Spain). Started in 1386 and completediscuss in 1965, it took 500 years to complete !!! Constructed entirely inside and out of white Italian marble, it is beyond stunning. The roof boasts 3000 statues of real people, gargoyles, angels and panoramic views of Milan. It was hot up there at noon so we didn’t stay too long. Inside the cathedral is much cooler. And oh my goodness, the stained glass windows are the tallest I have ever seen. Some of them 80 feet! They are so high and so far away, you cannot really get up close and personal with them, but still astounding just for their sheer size. The statuary, the floors, the religious manuscripts, the crypts, the immenseness of it all… so fascinating.
Back to the air conditioning of the apparent to chill for the afternoon and enjoy a glass of wine while editing photos and discussing what we had seen that day…and we barely scratched the surface. Milan is a city we could definitely see ourselves returning to one day.
Next morning up early again and to the train station to catch the train to Venice. The Milan train station is worth mentioning for it’s grandiose size and decorative ceilings and floors with marble mosaic inlay. Really lovely.