What do a cathedral, a shopping mall, arias, castles and cats have in common? No, they're not not part of Dan Brown's next novel (well, OK maybe they are). They are things that we saw in Milano today. Because we only had one day left to explore Milano, we decided to do a walking tour that included some of the must-see sights. We took the Metro from Conciliazione Station to the Duomo Station at the Piazza del Duomo.
In Piazza del Duomo sits the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral), a beautiful grand Gothic cathedral, and the seat of the Archbishop of Milan. Although construction of the present-day Duomo was initiated in 1386, it represents a re-construction of an earlier basilica at the site that was built in the 5th century and later destroyed by fire in 1075. The Duomo underwent almost five centuries of construction to its completion in 1805, ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte, then King of Italy. It is regarded amongst the ten largest churches in the world. Atop the spire stands a statue of the Madonna. The size of the structure is overwhelming (it fits 40,000 people) and easily dwarfs the equally impressive Piazza. While its square footage is smaller than that of St. Peter's in Rome, the Duomo of Milan is imposing because of the numerous spires that rise up from its walls and roof line. The interior is just as overwhelming in size as is the exterior. We visited the crypt underneath the main altar that holds the incorrupt body of St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan and Cardinal.
We continued into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a very early version of the indoor shopping mall, with some very exclusive stores (Prada, Louis Vuitton, Gucci ), restaurants, coffee houses and, of course a McDonald’s. I had to hold Lesly back at the Prada store (luckily many of the stores were closed at the time). Near the entrance to the mall is Zucca, a café where Giuseppe Verdi and Arturo Toscanini used to sit and drink their caffè after performances at the nearby La Scala opera house. Founded in 1867, Zucca is steeped in history and culture and we had to stop in for caffè. Since coming to Italy, we’ve gotten accustomed to a "slam and go", ordering a caffè at the bar (counter), “slamming” it down, and continuing on our way. It is great way to get a quick fix of coffee while we’re out. But, at Zucca we stood at the rich wood inlay bar (where some of the world's greatest artists and musicians stood) taking short sips, taking our time, and taking in the ambiance of the place. And, it was a good cup of coffee.
The Galleria’s arcade connects the Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala. The latter is the square in front of the famed La Scala opera theater. We did not go into La Scala for a look, but we did see posters of coming events of the opera season – many of the classics were being performed including Carmen, Rigoletto, Don Giovanni and Barber of Seville. Placido Domingo was to direct Operalia, the 2010 World Opera Competition May 2, the day we would be traveling to Torino (Just as well - I forgot to pack my tux and Lesly her tiara).
ext on our list of Milanese sights was the Castello Sforzesco. From the Duomo we hopped on to the Metro and went to the Largo- Cairoli stop on Via Dante. The castle site originally was a fortress built in 1360. The Castello Sforzesco is named after Francesco Sforza, a condottiero
(mercenary) and later Duke of Milan, who began construction of the Castello in 1459. The Castello has had a busy past several centuries, serving as a castle under numerous military campaigns and withstanding destruction and restorations. After the unification of Italy in the 19th century it was turned over to the city of Milan. It currently houses numerous libraries, art galleries, and museums, including the civic museum, Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, Museum of Ancient Art, Museum of Musical Instruments and Applied Arts, Furniture Museum, and Archeological Museum. Castello Sforzesco is an essential historical and cultural stop during a tour of Milanese sights. The castle itself is spectacular, featuring towers, a moat and courtyards. Seems the Castello is also home to many stray cats that have taken over the moat. Although signs beg visitors not to feed the cats, they (the cats, not visitors) look pretty healthy and well taken care of. A walk through the Castello grounds leads you to the Parco Sempione, a great place to walk (or jog) gardens, paths and enjoy a gelato.