Dis­cover the regal side of Mi­lan, from its spec­tac­u­lar cas­tle to its fas­ci­nat­ing mu­se­ums.

In­trigue, scan­dalous sto­ries, life and death strug­gles for power. Dur­ing the course of its long his­tory, Mi­lan has wit­nessed events that could ri­val any TV se­ries. How­ever stay calm; the only traces of its tur­bu­lent past are the beauty of its art and ar­chi­tec­ture.

Al­though ev­ery­one knows that Italy is a re­pub­lic, Mi­lan has never been the cap­i­tal. So you'd be jus­ti­fied in think­ing that there wouldn't be a sin­gle royal palace or a cas­tle. But you'd be wrong! Mi­lan has a Royal Palace, a Royal Villa and a mag­nif­i­cent cas­tle, known as ‘Castello Sforzesco'. The city boasts an an­cient his­tory, in­ter­twined with the mul­ti­fac­eted events that char­ac­ter­ized not only the his­tory of Mi­lan, but all of Italy. Italy was only uni­fied in 1861 and be­came a re­pub­lic in 1946. It is there­fore un­sur­pris­ing that Mi­lan's ur­ban lay­out, ar­chi­tec­ture and art still have sig­nif­i­cant signs of the suc­ces­sion of kings and queens, both na­tive and for­eign, who shaped its his­tory. PALAZZO REALE The Vis­conti fam­ily's rule over Mi­lan be­gan in 1277 when Ot­tone Vis­conti be­came its arch­bishop; a per­fect ex­am­ple of the in­ter­min­gling of re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal roles that char­ac­ter­ized much of Europe's his­tory. Ot­tone wanted to set­tle his fam­ily near the arch­bishop's palace, and com­mis­sioned an op­u­lent palace. Known to the Mi­lanese and vis­i­tors as ‘Palazzo Reale', this mag­nif­i­cent palace is still lo­cated in its orig­i­nal po­si­tion on the south­ern, right-hand side of the Duomo, fac­ing the cathe­dral. It is now a cul­tural hub that hosts block­buster ex­hi­bi­tions, and, in ad­di­tion to chang­ing its name sev­eral times over the past seven hun­dred years, the his­tory of the palace has been in­ter­wo­ven with that of Mi­lan and of the fam­i­lies who gov­erned the city. Em­pow­ered by the nom­i­na­tion in 1395 of Gian Galeazzo Vis­conti as ‘viceroy of the em­peror' of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire, the Vis­conti fam­ily ruled over Mi­lan for al­most the whole of the fol­low­ing cen­tury. Dur­ing the reign of the Vis­con­tis, the Royal Palace, now known as ‘Palazzo Reale', un­der­went a ma­jor ex­pan­sion, while the in­te­ri­ors were dec­o­rated by a promis­ing young Tus­can artist named Giotto. The beau­ti­ful red and white oc­tag­o­nal bell tower of San Got­tardo in Corte, con­sid­ered a ma­jor ar­chi­tec­tural feat at that time due to its mech­a­nism that en­abled the bells to be rung ev­ery hour, on the hour, is the only re­main­ing el­e­ment that bears wit­ness to its for­mer Gothic splen­dour. When Filippo Maria Vis­conti died in 1477 with­out a le­git­i­mate heir, Bianca Maria

Vis­conti's mar­riage to Francesco Sforza marked the be­gin­ning of a new dy­nasty. The Sforzas de­cided to move their res­i­dence to what is now called the ‘Castello Sforzesco'. The palace in Pi­azza del Duomo be­came the res­i­dence for loyal courtiers and im­por­tant vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing Leonardo da Vinci, who spent twenty years in the em­ploy of Lu­dovico Sforza, who was known as ‘Il Moro'. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, and some his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion, Leonardo watched the pro­gres­sion of the con­struc­tion of the Duomo from his win­dow, fever­ishly jot­ting down ideas that would in­spire his own work. It is said that he used the roof of Palazzo Reale to per­form some of his fa­mous fly­ing ex­per­i­ments. Fol­low­ing the down­fall of the Sforzas, the ‘Palazzo' be­came the seat of gov­ern­ment for all of the city's sub­se­quent rulers, in­clud­ing the Spa­niards in the 17th cen­tury, the Aus­tri­ans in the 18th cen­tury, the French in the 19th cen­tury and, fi­nally the royal fam­ily of the House of Savoy, up un­til the Uni­fi­ca­tion of Italy. Un­der the Haps­burgs, renowned Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Giuseppe Pier­marini ren­o­vated the Palace in Neo-clas­si­cal style. Dur­ing the Se­cond World War, it was se­verely dam­aged by the bomb­ings. To re­mind the pub­lic about the atroc­i­ties of war, vis­i­ble traces of the de­struc­tion that was wrought in sev­eral of its rooms were left for all to see. To­day, Palazzo Reale, with the ad­ja­cent Aren­gario, hous­ing the Museo del Nove­cento, is a ma­jor mu­seum fo­cal point, as well as a build­ing of sig­nif­i­cant ar­chi­tec­tural value. Mi­lan's city coun­cil also of­fers the lo­ca­tion as a venue for civil wed­ding

14 cer­e­monies, so don't be sur­prised if you hap­pen to see a bride throw­ing her bou­quet be­tween a statue of Napoleon and a neon in­stal­la­tion by Fon­tana.

CASTELLO SFORZESCO The crenels and draw­bridges, for­ti­fied tow­ers and se­cret pas­sages, trea­sure rooms and winglets for canons of the Castello Sforzesco, will fire the imag­i­na­tion of vis­i­tors. The cas­tle is sit­u­ated one kilo­me­ter north­west of the Duomo, be­tween the Cathe­dral and the Tri­en­nale De­sign Mu­seum, and is a venue steeped in leg­end, anec­dotes and cu­riosi­ties. Its sil­hou­ette is a fa­mil­iar ev­ery­day sight, and the Mi­lanese come here to stroll through its ex­ten­sive gar­dens, known as Parco Sem­pi­one, one of the city's favourite green spa­ces. But it is the in­te­rior of the cas­tle that boasts ma­jor sur­prises. The build­ing, an in­ter­est­ing at­trac­tion in its own right, fea­tur­ing a suc­ces­sion of court­yards, por­ti­coes and tur­rets, houses an amaz­ing col­lec­tion of trea­sures in­clud­ing a room fres­coed by Leonardo da Vinci, a Pi­età sculpted by Michelan­gelo, a paint­ing by An­drea Man­tegna and a cy­cle of ta­pes­tries by Bra­mantino. A foun­tain known as the ‘Bagni Mis­te­riosi', the largest sculp­tural work cre­ated by 20th cen­tury artist Gior­gio De Chirico, dom­i­nates one of its court­yards. Par­tic­u­larly note­wor­thy among the art­works

in the mu­seum is an un­usual bas-re­lief known as ‘La Tusa' (the word for girl in Mi­lanese di­alect). The can­vas shows a young girl wear­ing or­nate gar­ments brazenly comb­ing her pu­bic hair. This ges­ture, gen­er­ally as­so­ci­ated with pros­ti­tutes, and in stark con­trast to her regal at­tire, has been in­ter­preted in dif­fer­ent ways. Ac­cord­ing to some, its pur­pose was to in­sult the wife of in­vader Fed­erico Bar­barossa, while ac­cord­ing to oth­ers, it was painted as a trib­ute to a pros­ti­tute who had dis­tin­guished her­self for heroic acts of pa­tri­o­tism. What we do know is that for a pe­riod of time, the paint­ing was dis­played in a highly vis­i­ble po­si­tion on the walls of the city, un­til it was de­clared in­de­cent and was re­moved by 16th cen­tury car­di­nal Carlo Bor­romeo, who was later sanc­ti­fied by the Catholic church. How­ever, the Mi­lanese did not de­stroy the paint­ing, pre­fer­ring in­stead to hide it in the cas­tle. From an ar­chi­tec­tural per­spec­tive, the so-called ‘Pon­ti­cella', or ‘lit­tle bridge' - an airy con­struc­tion, con­sist­ing of a por­tico and three rooms span­ning the moat, is one of Castello Sforzesco's most un­usual fea­tures. Com­mis­sioned by Lu­dovico il Moro, and be­lieved to have been de­signed by Bra­mante, ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion, fol­low­ing the pre­ma­ture death of his wife Beatrice d'Este in 1497, Lu­dovico took refuge in one of these rooms, which had been pre­pared for mourn­ing. Over the cen­turies, the per­sonal vi­cis­si­tudes of this dy­nasty cre­ated a can­vas in which love, lust, death and be­trayal fired the imag­i­na­tion of the pop­u­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, the hap­less Beatrice d'Este, who died in child­birth, is one of the fe­male ghosts who in­habit the cas­tle. Other spec­tres, who are be­lieved to haunt the cas­tle be­cause they can­not find peace, in­clude Bianca Maria Vis­conti Sforza – an able politi­cian and the link be­tween the two dy­nas­ties, thought to have been poi­soned by her own son; Bona di Savoia, the mother and re­gent of Gian Galeazzo Maria, de­feated by his­tory and the tragic death of her heir; Is­abella d'Arag­ona, a beau­ti­ful but un­happy bride, sus­pected of at­tempt­ing to poi­son her hus­band's fam­ily, as well as sev­eral other princesses, whose deaths are shrouded in mys­tery. How­ever, the most fright­en­ing pres­ence is that of the ‘veiled lady', who most be­lieve to be the ghost of Bianca Maria Sca­pardone, bet­ter known as the Count­ess of Chal­lant. Twice mar­ried and twice wid­owed, she was charged with im­moral be­hav­iour, ac­cused of hav­ing com­mis­sioned the mur­der of two lovers and sub­se­quently be­headed. In the 19th cen­tury, al­most three cen­turies af­ter the count­ess's death, sev­eral dis­turb­ing in­ci­dents were re­ported to have oc­curred in the vicin­ity of the cas­tle. These re­peated sight­ings were so sin­is­ter that the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties were called on to in­ter­vene. Nu­mer­ous men said that a beau­ti­ful veiled woman had ap­proached them. The woman led them into the thick of the park, to a mys­te­ri­ous villa that no-one had ever seen be­fore where, af­ter danc­ing wildly with them she asked them to ‘bed' down with her. Af­ter hav­ing sex with her, the lady al­lowed the men to re­move the veil from her face,

re­veal­ing a blood­cur­dling, empty-eyed skull. Fol­low­ing the fall of the Sforzas, the cas­tle ceased to be a pala­tial res­i­dence and was used as an army bar­racks. At the end of the 19th cen­tury, when the idea of de­mol­ish­ing the cas­tle - the sym­bol of nu­mer­ous for­eign do­min­ions – was planned, the Mi­lanese re­belled and ap­pealed to the au­thor­i­ties to re­in­state it. Fol­low­ing in-depth ren­o­va­tions, Castello Sforzesco and its beau­ti­ful park be­came a her­itage site of the city.

VILLA REALE Fi­nally, you can visit Villa Reale, be­hind the Pub­lic Gar­dens. The head­quar­ters of Mi­lan's pres­ti­gious Gallery of Mod­ern Art (GAM) since 1921, the villa was built in the spring of 1790 as the res­i­dence of diplomat Lu­dovico Bar­biano di Bel­gio­joso. Spread over three floors, this el­e­gant build­ing is flanked by two side wings form­ing a large court of hon­our. Fol­low­ing the ar­rival of the French in Mi­lan in 1796, the gov­ern­ment of the Cisalpine Re­pub­lic req­ui­si­tioned the villa. It was orig­i­nally com­man­deered for Napoleon's mother – who never lived there – and sub­se­quently in­hab­ited by Gioachino Mu­rat, and later by viceroy Eu­ge­nio di Beauhar­nais. Work on the villa was con­ducted by sev­eral lead­ing ar­chi­tects and artists of the era, who cre­ated a so­phis­ti­cated, ul­tra-mod­ern nu­cleus, which, fol­low­ing its trans­for­ma­tion in the 20th cen­tury, be­came an ideal back­drop for im­por­tant works of art. The typ­i­cally Ro­manesque-style gar­den is also worth a visit, but, here too, there is a sur­prise. Adults can only en­ter the gar­dens when ac­com­pa­nied by a child; a role re­ver­sal that has now be­come a tra­di­tion of which the Mi­lanese are proud. If you want to stroll along the pic­turesque, tree-lined paths of Villa Reale, or ad­mire its small, lily-covered lake, you should be a par­ent. Af­ter all, ev­ery­one knows that as far as the Ital­ians are con­cerned ev­ery mother is a queen.

Ten years af­ter the bomb­ings of 1943, the Sala delle Cari­a­tidi hosted a his­toric event: Pablo Pi­casso asked the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of New York to tem­po­rar­ily re­lo­cate ‘Guer­nica', a sym­bolic paint­ing de­pict­ing the ‘hor­rors of war', to the Mi­lanese...

Castello Sforzesco

Palazzo Reale, Sala delle Cari­a­tidi (be­fore 1943)

San Got­tardo in Corte church Palazzo Pa­rigi Spa

Villa Reale

Over­look­ing the In­dro Mon­tanelli pub­lic gar­dens, Mi­lan's Villa Reale is a prime ex­am­ple of Mi­lanese Neo-clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture.

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