Milan was founded in 222 BC by the Romans, who conquered a Celtic settlement which previously occupied its site. They named the new town Mediolanum, meaning “amidst the plain,” which refers to its location in the flatland of Lombardy. Throughout the Middle Ages, it flourished as a major stop on trade routes across the Alps. In the 15th Century, it became the residence of the noble House of Sforza.
The history of this diverse city is primarily a history of artistic development in various fields, especially visual arts and music. This is reflected by the diverse topography of the contemporary city, dotted with spectacular landmarks testifying to the greatness of the minds which formed them. This exceptional urban organism incorporating churches, cathedrals, luxurious residences and palaces holds countless treasures awaiting the patient explorer.
The Duomo of Milan is the third-largest cathedral in the world, home of the world’s biggest collection of marble statues, among them the famous golden statue of Madonna, la Madunina (Little Madonna), located on the top of the cathedral’s spire, the shimmering symbol of Milan visible from nearly anywhere in the city centre. The Dominican Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie holds the famous mural ‘Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci, and in Santa Maria presso San Satiro visitors can admire one of the first ever trompe-l'œil, believed to have been created by Bramante. The beautiful Renaissance Castello Sforzesco holds works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Andrea Mantegna.
In the 19th Century, Milan became a world capital of lyric operas. While staying in the city, Mozart wrote three operas. Soon after its opening in 1778, the Teatro alla Scala became of one of the most prominent opera stages on the planet, hosting the premieres of works by Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi. The lives and careers of these artists are commemorated by temporary and permanent exhibitions regularly organised in locations related to the lives of the composers.
Today, Milan continues to be home to important artists creating in the contemporary age. It’s a particular favourite for major fashion designers, which determines its position as the world capital of haute couture. The city boasts five schools of higher education specialised in design. Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and many others have their flagship shops and studios somewhere along the endlessly running shopping avenues in the centre of the city, such as legendary via Montenapoleone. The elaborately adorned Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II at the Piazza Duomo is believed to be the oldest shopping mall in the world.
Milan is also a rapidly developing industrial centre, best known for its silk production and as the seat of the auto company Alfa Romeo. It’s also the second most important transportation hub in the country after Rome, featuring three international airports with connections to destinations all around the world. As the major railway hub for northern Italy, it’s very easily reached by train from neighbouring countries.
As the capital of Lombardy, Milan is the best spot in which to sample the region’s exceptional culinary delights. Famous local products include salame milanese and gorgonzola cheese. Restaurants and trattorias around the city serve cotoletta alla milanese, a veal fillet fried in breadcrumbs, which some believe to be closely related to the Austrian wiener schnitzel.
Other traditional dishes include ossobuco (a marrow-bone stew with tomato and lemon sauce), risotto alla milanese (an extraordinary risotto with ossobuco, white wine and saffron), cassoeula (a stew of pork ribs, sausage, Savoy cabbage and tomato sauce), brasato (a meat stew with potatoes and wine), and busecca (a stew of tripe, beans and tomato sauce). Treats for special occasions include round tortelli cookies and flat chiacchiere, both prepared for Carnival, traditional Easter colomba (glazed and dove-shaped), cinnamon pane dei morti, literally meaning ‘bread of the dead’ and served on All Saints’ Day, and finally, the Christmas pannetone.
Milan is the base for two internationally famous football teams, AC Milan and Inter Milan; in season, fans shouldn’t miss a chance to see them play. Other exciting entertainment options include annual traditional celebrations such as the December Festival of Sant’Ambrogio with a lovely Christmas Market, the Carnival Ambrosiano during which people wear traditional costumes, Corteo dei Re Magi on Epiphany Day, and the stunningly colourful April Fair of Flowers.
Regardless of whether you’re in Milan for just one day or several weeks, you’ll quickly discover that it’s a place where the vibrant heartbeat of rapidly evolving European culture never fails to make itself heard every day and every night. Don't hesitate - book a Milan hotel and join the fun!