If I can only use one word to describe Milan, “extravagance” is the most appropriate word. From the exquisite Duomo to the opulent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, extravagance shapes life in this Italy’s metropolis.
Flanked by the Alps and the Po Valley, Milan was founded by Celtic tribes in the 7th century BC. Since then, the area has been continuously inhabited thanks to its flat terrain and close proximity to the lakes. Until the 16th century, Milan was governed by Italian dynasties, including the Torrianis, Visconti, and finally, the Sforzas.
After that, the city fell under Spanish rule in 1525 and Austrian rule in 1713. Today, Milan is Italy’s second-largest city and the economic backbone of the country as it houses various industries and the nation’s stock exchange. It is also a global capital of fashion and design alongside Paris, London, and New York.
1. Milan Cathedral
There is hardly anything in Milan that is more extravagant than the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral). Like a diamond tiara, the Gothic cathedral with all its spires and 3400 statues is the focal point of attraction. Though having a white appearance, the marvelous structure at the heart of Milan is actually made of pink marble from Candoglia and it took nearly 600 years to complete.
In the beginning, the project was considered unfeasible because there was no way to transport vast quantities of marble to the city center. Canals had to be dug and new technologies were invented to perform a never-before-attempted task. Therefore, Milan Duomo presents not only extravagance but also reflects the creativity and ambition of this city.
2. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
For any shopaholic, Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II might be equal to St.Peter’s Dome in Rome. Together with the Duomo, it is the city’s icon and an essential part of any trip to Milan. Constructed in the early 19th century, the Galleria is one of the oldest shopping arcades in the world (beginning with the Saint-Hubert Gallery in Brussels, the Passazh in Saint Petersburg, and the Galleria Umberto I in Naples). However, it has surpassed its predecessors in terms of scale and opulence.
Walking into the Galleria is stepping into the world of high fashion. From Milan’s iconic brand Prada to Versace’s latest gem, you will undoubtedly be struck by their extravagant boutiques. The Galleria is also home to several historic stores, cáfe, and restaurants, such as the bookstore Bocca, the Biffi Càffee, and the Savini restaurants.
3. Sforzesco Castle
Though not as extravagant as the aforementioned attractions, the Sforzesco Castle is still a sight to behold. Originally built as a fortification in the 14th century, the castle features massive gates, high walls, and three impressive watchtowers. The main gate leads to an expansive courtyard that is embraced by beautiful loggias.
Throughout its history, the castle underwent several renovations. The first one dates back to the 15th century when the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, transformed it into a magnificent residence. Hence, the name Sforzesco. Years later, under the domination of the Spanish, the castle switched back to its former role as a fortress. The Spanish even enlarged it, turning the structure into one of Europe’s largest citadels at the time. These days, the castle becomes an art museum and a landmark in Milan.
Tips for visiting Milan
- Both Duomo and Galleria are located exactly in the city center. Easily accessible by Metro 1 and 3 – Station: Duomo.
- A visit to the Duomo costs only 2€ (including the admission to the Crypt) but it might take some time as the queue is long. However, the line moves relatively fast.
- The lift to the cathedral’s terrace costs 13€. The ticket office is on the right of Duomo’s main entrance. You can also reach the terrace on foot. Admission price: 9€.