Milan’s Porta Nuova District

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Literally meaning new gate, the Porta Nuova district of Milan is the main business area in the city. This part of Milan was still farmland in the 19th century, only becoming truly popular after an urban regeneration project launched in 2004 to put a new face on the districts of Garibaldi, Isola, and Varesine.

It is a main hub for transport lines in Milan, having been the location of the first train stations in the city. The district now covers an area from the Porta Garibaldi train station to the Piazza della Repubblica and from Porta Nuova to the Palazzo Lombardia.

After 16 years of construction in an area rife with urban decay, the new Porta Nuova district is now a high-tech, affluent zone, converting Milan into the city with the highest GDP in Europe. This industrialization initiative resuscitated a declining part of the city by bringing in various international companies such as Alfa Romeo, Pirelli, and Techint, as well as other significant fashion manufacturers.

Some of Milan’s more modern tourist attractions can be found in this area as well as places loved by the Milanese locals too. These include the country’s tallest skyscraper: the Unicredit Tower and the city’s green lung: the Biblioteca degli Alberi public park.

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Piazza Gae Aulenti

On December 8, 2012, Milan stood still for a moment during the inauguration of the futuristic Piazza Gae Aulenti. Designed by the architect Cesar Pelli, this square has since been named one of the most beautiful in the world by the Landscape Institute. In the heart of the business district, connecting the newest additions to the historic center, the piazza aims to serve as a symbol of Milan as a city of innovation and modernity.

One of the liveliest places in Milan, the piazza offers visitors and locals an array of restaurants, clubs, bars, shops, and the city’s most prestigious events. The square comes to life after dark with a light spectacle on the fountain accompanied by music.

The ‘Egg’ installation is a permanent artwork by Alberto Garutti at the base of the Unicredit Tower. It consists of 23 brass tubes vertically aligned, extending four floors up, to allow passers-by to consider the voices and sounds of the city.

The square was created with an elevated circular structure, from which visitors can view many of the elements of the city skyline including the Garibaldi towers and get a sense of this fresh, pioneering metropolis.

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Bosco Verticale

One of the more curious sights in the Porta Nuova district is the Bosco Verticale or vertical forest. Admired greatly by tourists, these two towers were completed in 2014 as VIP residences with a difference. Covered with a total of 800 trees, 5000 bushes, and 15,000 smaller plants, the Bosco Verticale towers, of 80 and 112 meters, are examples of what designer Stefano Boeri refers to as Urban Forestry. The towers represent another innovative idea in the modern district working toward sustainable constructions for city centers.

The Bosco Verticale has won awards since its inauguration including the International Highrise Award in 2014 and two in 2015: the Best European Architecture Award and The Best Tall Building Worldwide from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats of Chicago. In 2019 the CTBUHC listed the Bosco Verticale in the top 50 most iconic skyscrapers in the world.

An extravagant natural oasis in the middle of a grey jungle, the Bosco Verticale is tended to by flying arboriculturists. These acrobatic gardeners keep the plants and trees in order and take care of the wildlife that has made the two towers their home.

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Palazzo Lombardia

At 161 meters tall, the Palazzo Lombardia is another of the high-rise icons of the city in the Porta Nuova district. Visitors can take a trip up to the 39th floor and gaze out on incredible views of Milan and the surrounding areas.

At the foot of this towering construction, visitors can find the Piazza Città di Lombardia, the largest covered square in Europe, where popular festivals and events takes place each year.

As one of the most recent buildings added to the area, it won awards for design, sustainability and innovation, being named the Best Skyscraper in Europe in 2012 from the prestigious Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in Chicago.

With so many reputable architectural and artistic marvels in the city, it is no surprise that Milan is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Europe.

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Read also: The Bridges of Verona.

Roman Milan

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Milan is a city that oozes history. Around every corner something can be discovered with thousands of years of stories to tell. Some of the city’s most famous attractions include Il Duomo and La Scala Theatre, but none go back quite as far as the Roman elements.

Founded by Gauls in 590 BC Milan was then known as Medhelan. Some time later, the Romans came to know this ancient city as Mediolanum in Latin. Milan was then as it is today, a vibrant metropolis of political, religious and social life.

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Timeline of Mediolanum

It began as simply a Roman occupied area inhabited by Insubres, a fused population made up of Celts, Ligures, and Gauls. But shortly after it became one of the most important cities in the empire. It was conquered in 222 BC and incorporated as part of the region of Gallia Cisalpina.

Under the reign of Julius Cesar, from 100 BC – 44 BC, the city was made a municipal, which gave them a certain amount of autonomy under Roman ruling. Citizens were obliged to pay taxes and perform military service but were not given Roman citizenship and thus did not have the right to vote.

The status of Milan changed drastically when it became home to Maximian. As a friend to the superior Roman emperor Diocletian, who in 286 AD decided to split the empire into East and West, Maximian named Mediolanum capital of the West Roman Empire, which it remained until 402 AD.

In 306 AD, both Maximian and Diocletian renounced their respective positions of power. Mediolanum, modern-day Milan, then fell victim to a series of wars of succession to the throne.

Finally, in the 5th century AD, as the Roman empire was falling, Mediolanum was besieged first by the Visigoths and later the Huns.

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Roman Sites Still Standing in the City of Milan

In 390 AD, Decimo Magno Ausonio, the poet, wrote famously of the Roman city of Mediolanum that it was grand and noble and there were many sites to be seen. Several of these can still be visited today, nearly two millennia later. Exploring Milan gives tourists an opportunity to experience a true adventure through time.

San Lorenzo Basilica

The stunning Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore is one of the oldest churches, dating between the 4th and the 5th century AD. It is a Catholic church built with materials from other Roman constructions in the area and frequented by Emperors, most likely due to its proximity to the Imperial Palace and amphitheatre.

Over the centuries, the church suffered numerous disasters including fires and earthquakes that destroyed various of the origin elements. Some parts were rebuilt throughout the medieval era.

In front of the church, there are the remains of an earlier Roman construction from the 2nd/3rd century. Known as the Colonne di San Lorenzo, there are 16 Corinthian columns standing within what is now a park. It is believed that they were moved here when the Basilica di San Lorenzo was built from a previous pagan temple or public baths.

Via Brisa and the Palazzo Imperiale

Close to the bustling street of Corso Magenta, the quieter zone of Via Brisa hides a significant part of Milan’s past beneath what was until recently a decaying area used mainly for parking. Due to the World War 2 bombings in Milan, an area of Imperial Palace ruins was discovered under the street. In the post-war period, archaeologists began studying the structures that had survived. The excavation took place from 1951 to 1962.

Next to a refurbished medieval tower, there is now an area where visitors can take a look at the remains of the foundations of part of this once enormous aristocratic residence.

Built for Maximian during the city’s reign as capital of the West Roman Empire, the house included administrative, military, and political offices, private baths and lodgings, as well as a direct access to the Circo Romano. It took up a large portion of the city of Mediolanum.

Sant’Ambrogio Basilica

Another of the remarkable Roman churches still standing in modern Milan is the Sant’Ambrogio Basilica. Build by St. Ambrose, the archbishop of Milan, it is known as a church of martyrs due to the high number of persecuted Catholic converts who were buried here.

St. Ambrose was one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century AD who constructed several churches in the area to give a Christian mark to the city. It was transformed into a nucleus for religious life and ended up hosting two separate religious communities, Christian monks and Canons Regular.

This basilica was later restored in the 12th century in Romanesque style.

Other sites from Roman Mediolanum include the Roman walls, forum, amphitheatre and the remains of the Terme Erculee, public baths named after Maximian. Taking a Roman tour through Milan, it is clear to see that the city was a thriving hub of commerce, celebration and entertainment, similar to the Milan of today.

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Read also: Turin: The Road to Egypt.

Curious Symbols of Milan

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Every city has a few peculiar traditions, places of mystery, and conflicted legends. Milan, with such a long and turbulent history, is no exception. Some of the most famous symbols for the city have developed from troubling backgrounds and are very much open to interpretation.

In spite of the ambiguity or troubling backgrounds, these elements now represent the Milanese people and have become synonymous with the city itself as well as other regional organisations. Similar to il Duomo, it is common for people from Milan to feel a sense of pride towards these emblems of the city, although they may spark a puzzling feeling in visitors who learn their histories.

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Il Castello Sforzesco

The Sforza Castle, as it is known in English, was built originally by Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, in the 15th century upon the remains of an earlier fortification. It was at the time one of the largest citadels in Europe. The three large courts were decorated by various artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante.

The castle has a huge and supremely interesting historic significance for the city of Milan. It represented a symbol of foreign oppression due to the years of varying rulers that invaded the area. Throughout the centuries, the very same Milanese people have attacked, ransacked, and even tried to demolish it.

The Sforza Castle Timeline

When the castle was in the hands of the French, they used the Torre del Filarete (the Central Tower named after the architect) as a weapons storage facility. This unfortunately caused an explosion in 1521 provoking the first damages to the walls.

Later, Francesco II Sforza returned to be married in the castle in 1534 but is the last of the Sforza family to leave, thus giving way to its decline.

In 1706, Eugenio di Savoia conquered Milan and the castle fell into Austrian hands. It continues to deteriorate.

The castle was understocked in military equipment and the French were fast approaching. At this time, a group of pro-French Milanese citizens attacked the castle. Although unsuccessful in their attempt, the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria abandoned Milan and it was taken by the Napoleonic army. This once stately home was then employed to house around 4000 troops and many of the frescoed rooms were converted to stables.

Finally in 1893, after Italian unification, Luca Beltrami was commissioned by the city to restore the castle to its former glory under Sforza rule. The citizens actively participated in the reconstruction. The re-emergence of a renaissance, gothic-style Torre del Filarete, fragments of frescoes, terracotta windows, and a golden chapel helped to capture the heart of the Milanese, who had previously felt resentful of the castle’s role in the city’s persecution.

The castle and grounds became a cultural destination that breached the fractured hearts of the Milanese population. It now holds several museums and unique art collections that make it a beloved tourist attraction.

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Unique Castle Characteristics

There are several components of the castle that are of particular interest. When visiting the Castello Sforzesco, tourists should look out for these intriguing elements.

  • The carving of a woman combing or shaving her pubic hair: Now placed in one of the rooms of the castle, previously it was a mould on the Tosa door, currently known as the Porta Vittoria. Tosa, in regional dialect meant ‘girl’. It is suggested that this girl could be a prostitute who is combing out lice, as was common in medieval times. Shaving, however, was used as a punishment. Therefore, others believe that this girl could represent either Beatrice di Borgogna, the wife of hated Federico Barbarossa, who set fire to the city in 1162. Or possibly, Leobissa, the Empress of Constantinople, who refused to help the city rebuild after the fire.
  • The room of treasure and the Headless fresco: Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan from 1494 to 1499 used this room for his treasure. A fortune that funded his ambitious conquests in northern Italy. Inside this room there is a fresco thought to have been created by Bramantino in the Renaissance period, there is a body without a head in one of the images. It is believed to be Argo, a mythological giant who never slept and therefore guards the treasure.
  • Underground tunnel: A narrow secret underground passageway leads from the castle to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The entrance can be seen but it is blocked by a landslide of rocks which has never been removed. It was possibly used as an escape route, or some say as a path for Ludovico Sforza to go to mourn his wife, who died prematurely, in her tomb at the sanctuary.

If not to enjoy the architecture and beauty of the restored castle, these curiosities certainly make for an interesting visit. The Sforza castle is a significant landmark that allows tourists and locals alike to learn about a conflicting heritage.

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The Legend of the Biscione

The biscione di Milano is a key symbol of the city used to represent the Inter Milan team, Canale 5, il Comune, and even the Alfa Romeo automobile company. There are differences to each image but the base is the same and it has been employed for centuries after first being used by the Visconti family as a coat of arms.

The legend states that in 1100, during the second crusade, Ottone Visconti drove an army of Milanese soldiers to the siege of Jerusalem. He faced a fierce saracen called Voluce. Voluce carried the symbol of a snake eating a man when he fought. Having killed him, Ottone took the symbol and his adversary’s weapon back to Milan, where he decided to adopt the symbol for himself. Throughout the years, the man in the snake’s mouth was replaced first with a saracen, then a baby. The latter is supposed to indicate the good nature of the Visconti family.

There are variations of this story and even other legends to tell the tale of the Biscione, but it is clear that it is a powerful symbol for Milan and if you keep your eyes open, you can find it all over the city.

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Read also: Church of the Gran Madre di Dio.

Visit Bohemian Brera

Brera is a picturesque neighbourhood in Milan where the laid-back, artistic style mixes with classic Italian history. It is impossible not to be charmed by the small artisan workshops in a labyrinth of streets dotted with well conserved period Milanese houses and buildings.

It is a fascinating paradox that allows this elegant quarter of one of the most sophisticated tourist destinations in the world to take its name from the word ‘braida’, meaning an uncultivated field of grass, similar to the term ‘broad’ in English.

Despite its humble beginnings, Brera is now hugely popular among tourists and locals alike as an area brimming with life, especially at night. The streets are filled with bars, restaurants, and shops that make Brera an idyllic place to explore at a leisurely pace.

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Palazzo Brera

At the heart of Brera, we find the Palazzo Brera. Housed in what was once an Humiliati monastery and then a Jesuit college, it is a lively cultural hub, home to several highly regarded establishments. These institutions include the prestigious Accademia di Belle Arti (Fine Art Academy), the Pinacoteca (Brera Art Gallery), the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense (Braidense National Library), the Istituto Lombardo Accademia di Scienze e Lettere, the Osservatorio Astronomico (Brera Observatory), and the Orto Botanico (botanical gardens).

This dynamic centre of culture is a grand palace, it became a state property in 1776 and it was the home of these many cultural, scientific and artistic institutions.

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Pinacoteca

One of the main attractions of Brera in Milan is the Pinacoteca. This is the name given to the Brera Art Gallery, one of Italy’s most important public art galleries with collections from Italian masters dating back to the Middle Age. Thanks in part to the Napoleonic-era movements of many European works of art, the Pinacoteca evolved to make Milan a cultural capital in Italy.

Beginning the collection with Raphael’s Sposalizio (Marriage of the Virgin), the gallery now houses over 500 paintings and sculptures by the likes of Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Mantegna, Veronese, Rubens, van Dyck, and many more. Taking a peaceful stroll through the Pinacoteca allows visitors to admire the impressive masterpieces of renowned painters and artists throughout history.

No visit to the Pinacoteca would be complete without a meander through the glorious courtyard. Standing tall in the middle is a bronze statue of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker. It is a cast of the original marble structure by Antonio Canova which is currently housed in the home of the Duke of Wellington in London.

This piece was created by Francesco Righetti and his son in Rome in 1811 after being commissioned by Eugène de Beauharnais, the Viceroy of Italy. They used bronze from the cannons of Castel Sant’Angelo to produce the cast replica. The base, which was initially temporary, was replaced in 1864, with one made of granite and Carrara marble with bronze decorations. This statue marks a pivotal era in Italian history and is such a masterful work of art that it demands the attention of any who gaze upon it.

Curiously, Napoleon was not a fan of the original as he had wanted a statue to demonstrate his skills as a powerful strategist. Whereas Canova, in silent protest some say, produced the piece with a more artistic flair.

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Montmartre in Milan

Often referred to as Milan’s Montmartre, Brera is a romantic, bohemian district just next to the centre of the city. It is overflowing with bistro bars and beloved boutiques. With a reputation for being the artist’s quarter, it comes as no shock that Brera is also full of quaint art galleries.

What does come as a pleasant surprise, however, is the large number of antique stores around. For a collector, Brera is paradise. Seek out top quality, vintage clothes, shoes, jewelry, and antiques as you tour this trendy corner of Milan. Visitors can also browse the bohemian street markets, stop for an evening aperitivo, and even have their fortunes told in the atmospheric streets of Brera.

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Read also: Parco del Valentino.

Typical food in Milan

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During your stay in Milan off-course you have to try one of the typical food dishes the Milanese kitchen has on offer. Especially after a bike tour through Milan you might be hungry and looking for a decent lunch or meal. But what are the dishes you should absolutely try when staying in the capital of Lombardy? And what are the best restaurants in Milan where one can eat these dishes? You can all find it in this article. Hope you’re not too hungry!

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Typical products and dishes from Milan: the history of an agricultural city

There are many typical products and dishes that found its origin in and around Milan. But before we arrive here, you have to get abetter insight into the history of the city. The city originates around 600bC, when the Celts arrived in this area of Italy expanding their territories. Many rulers followed, and each of them left a sign in the history and development of the city. We do still notice this in the Milanese food-traditions and on the menu of many restaurants in Milan.

For many centuries it was agriculture that was the main income for many Milanese. Amongst others thanks to the inventions that Leonardo da Vinci did in Milan.

The commercialisation of agriculture in Milan

The most important agricultural progress took place between the 12th and 17th centuries. First agriculture was managed by religious orders. The basilica that had been constructed in the so called ‘Corpi Santi’, the area outside the city walls, often were surrounded by agricultural land. The Milanese farmers had the right to let the staple graze in exchange for a small fee.

Understanding how to manage the presence of water, important for irrigation and fortransport of the products and thus opportunities for trade, has been crucial for the economic development of Milan. From that moment on, agriculture became really an industry, focusing on production for the market. One of the reasons Milan soon became a prosperous citywith monuments you will see during your bike tour through Milan.

The Visconti and Sforza family profited from the advanced Milanese agriculture. From the 15th century onwards, with the start of the Rinascimento in Milan (or when Francesco Sforza and his descendants took over) Milan became known as a cheese producing area, thanks to the perfect conditions for cows to reproduce themselves. It was in this epoca that the Cistercian monks invented a now world-known cheese called grana padano.

Grana padano, a world famous cheese invented in Milan

Because of the high amounts of milk produced, the monks needed to find a solution to conserve it for transport and trade. The monks of Chiaravalle decided to cook the milk for a long time, adding some rennet and salting the end product. Then a hard and rough cheese was made, named grana by the locals, thereby referring to the compact consistency dotted with the small white grains. Padano was added to indicate the exact origin (the Po Plains, or Pianura Padana) of this type of cheese. Now it is world-known with over 500.000 cheeses or more than 16 million chilos produced in 2019!

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Da Vinci, the Duomo and risotto

It was Ludovico il Moro that has left the most impact on the agriculture future in Milan. Just before the end of the 15th Century, he invited Leonardo da Vinci to come and work for the Milanese court. He was responsible amongst others for the design of the water infrastructure in and around Milan. Think of the design of the canal network and improvement of the irrigation system. In the same period the cultivation of risotto was introduced in the landscape of North-Italy. After a slow start, in which it could only be afforded by the rich, it is now one of the most-popular dishes on the menus of Milanese restaurants.

Only a few centuries later the risotto alla milanese was invented. A romantic legend narrates that one of the alumni painting the glass-stained windows of the Duomo added saffron to all the colours, in order to make them more bright. In fact, when visiting Duomo you will notice the bright colours of these windows. Hewas so extreme in his actions that he was even nick-named Zafferano, the Italian name for saffron. When Zafferano also decided to lighten-up the risotto that was served during the wedding party of his master’s daughter, risotto alla milanesewas a fact. Continue reading to find the best restaurants in Milan for risotto alla milanese.

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Did you know that saffron is also called ‘red gold’? The price of one gram of the dried stems of this particular crocus flower is similar to the cost of one gram of 24 caratgold. That’s why!

Polenta, popular by the poor

In the same period another type of cereal was introduced to the Milanese. Christopher Colombus brought many souvenirs from his travels, amongst which mais. This led to the discovery of polenta, a cheap but satisfying dish made of mais flower. At the times especially loved by the poor because of its low price. After a period of neglect, lately the polenta became popular again and can now be found on the menu of many Milanese restaurants. Continue reading for some suggestions where you can eat polenta in Milan.

Polenta is served often with ossobuco or with the famous cotoletta Milanese. Similar to the Austrian schnitzel, but made with veal instead of beef or pork and usually served with the bone.

Panettone, a typical sweet bread from Milan

Another legend tells us about the invention of the panettone. This is a sweet bread, traditionally filled with candied fruits and raisins. However, nowadays it is available in many versions. Like there are many stories that explain its invention. The most interesting one narrates that panettone was made by chance. We are in the end of the 15th century, when Ludovico il Moro ruled Milan. Il Moro invited friends and alleys for his Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, probably being tired of all the preparations, the chef forgot that he placed the dessert in the oven and by the time he remembered this, it was ready to be thrown away. His assistant, Toni, remained calm and decided to see what was still available in the dispenser. He put together flour, butter (a much used product in the traditional Milanese kitchen because of the high production of milk), candied fruit and raisins. It turned out to be a success amongst the guests of the Duke and he was asked the name of this delicacy.Dealing with a newly invented product he improvised it as ‘Pan de Toni’, Milanese for Toni’s bread. Later this became panettone.

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Where to eat in Milan: the best places to eat typical Milanese dishes

After the bike tour through Milan you might just be hungry and want to sit-down and enjoy a decent meal. Below a few suggestions for places where the typical Milanese dishes you’ve just read about are on the menu.

Cantina della Vetra, a stones’ throw away of the end of your bike tour through Milan

Typical Italian restaurant with Lombardian kitchen, next to the Basilica di San Lorenzo and only a few minutes walk from the end of the bike tour. They are open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. Also they have a lovely terrace to enjoy your meal in the open. Cantina della Vetra has an extensive selection of (Italian) wines.

Cantina della Vetra
Via Pio IV 3, corner Piazza Vetra
Mo -Su from noon to midnight
http://www.cantinadellavetra.it/it/

Luca Andrea Navigli, typical Milanese food at the Navigli

If you like to spend some hours in the popular Navigli area, we suggest Luca Andrea Navigli. Here they serve, amongst others, the typicalrisotto alla milaneseand the ossobuco di vitello. By the way, if you arrive early, this is also a perfect place to have an aperitivo with a view on the Navigli.

Luca Andrea Navigli
Via Alzaia Naviglio Grande, 34
Mo -Su from 7am to 2am
https://www.lucaeandreanavigli.it/luca-e-andrea-bar/#menu

L’antica Trattoria della Pesa

When youare in the Porta Garibaldi area, you might try to find a seat at L’antica Trattoria della Pesa. This is the place where once the Milanese farmers delivered their goods, put them on the balance (pesa means balance) and paid the taxes over their wares. Before heading back to their farms, they would have a plate of risotto, now still one of the most popular proposals on the menu.

L’antica Trattoria della Pesa
Viale Pasubio, 10
Mo -Sa lunch and dinner. Closed on Sunday
http://www.anticatrattoriadellapesa.com/

Taberna San Tomaso, typical Milanese food in the centre of the city

Between Brera, Castello and Duomo is an unknown area of Milan with small and winding streets. In the Via San Tomaso sits the Taberna San Tomaso. During mid-day a simple place with self-service, perfect for a quick lunch at an honest price. For dinner however the restaurants goes up a level and becomes a decent restaurant where they serve dishes of the Lombardian kitchen. Intimate place with a good choice of wines.

Taberna San Tomaso
Via San Tomaso 5
Mo -Sa noon to 3pm and 7pm -10pm
Sa 7pm -10 pm

Article by Inge de Boer. Inge graduated as an architect. When she moved to Milan in 2012 she decided to dedicate her working life to what her greates interest: the city and the role of food in the cities. Inge collaborates with Bike the City in different occasions and shares her passion for Milan with our clients. Also she writes for different online magazine about life in Milan and the best bars and restaurants in Milan.

More info on our bike tour in Milan.

Read also: Heart of Verona: Piazza delle Erbe.

Luxury Entertainment in Milan: the Teatro alla Scala and the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery

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Looking for a destination with red-carpet treatment? Milan is the place to go. Famous for being an haute couture capital, Milan makes its visitors feel prosperous and fashionable as they roam the city.

The first location on your list of glamorous Milan spots should be the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery. This is the name given to the oldest shopping mall in the world. Whether you plan on spending some hard-earned cash on your travels or even if luxury brands are a bit out of your price range, visiting the enchanting Gallery offers anyone the chance to feel like royalty.

Another of the prime Milanese attractions that exudes class and sophistication is the Teatro alla Scala. The story behind the theatre is full of interesting facts and details. Get to know these elegant Milan sites and reveal the financial metropolis’s hidden glamorous past.

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Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery in all its Splendour

The Gallery, as it is often referred to, is one of the world’s first shopping centres, built in a lavish and ornate style, with a glass and iron domed ceiling, similar to that of London’s Crystal Palace. It opened up a connection between the two main squares in Milan from Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala.

The first brick was laid by Vittorio Emanuele II himself in 1865. This most prestigious of buildings opened in the nineteenth century to become a beacon of modern life. Filled with restaurants, bars, and luxury shops, the art of going shopping and having “l’aperitivo” became a part of the wealthy Milanese lifestyle.

Giuseppe Mengoni was the architect and engineer charged with designing and constructing the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to see the gallery open its doors to the public as he tragically died in 1877. There are varying theories surrounding his death, including natural causes and suicide, as his body was found below scaffolding the day before the inauguration.

The luxuriously decorated gallery includes elaborate mosaic flooring, a monumental archway, 4 areas just below the main dome depicting the continents America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.

One of the more curious facts about the decor of this bourgeoise shopping arcade is the tradition that has become highly popular among tourists and locals alike. Le balle del toro states that if a person spins around three times with their heel on the testicles of the design of the bull from the Turin coat of arms, it will bring them good luck. Unfortunately, this peculiar folklore is now causing damage to the mosaic, so it is best simply to enjoy the gallery for its majesty and indulge in the extravagant atmosphere.

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Mysteries and Magnificence at the Teatro alla Scala

The world-renowned Teatro alla Scala in Milan has a long and intriguing past. The story begins in 1776 when Maria Theresa of Austria, the ruling monarch of the time, ordered a new theatre be built to replace the Milanese theatre that tragically burnt down. A fourteenth century church with the name of Santa Maria alla Scala was torn down in order for the new theatre to be erected in its place. The name of the church, and later the theatre, was taken from a famous patron, a descendent of the powerful Verona dynasty family, Beatrice Regina della Scala.

The theatre was built in just two years and opened with a showing of L’Europa Riconosciuta by Antonio Salieri on August 3, 1778. The theatre quickly became a temple of culture and leisure for the noble classes, who would frequent the theatre in search of all kinds of activities. In addition to the opera season, which would begin every year on December 7, the day of the patron saint of Milan, Sant’Ambrogio (St. Ambrose), the theatre-goers would often engage in gioco d’azzardo (gambling) before and after the plays. The seats for lower classes were mobile and therefore could be moved to make room for these extra activities. Thus, noble visitors would often eat, dance, and even do business inside the Scala Theatre.

La Scala, as it is often called, has been home to many of the world’s best operas including Othello, Nabucco, and Madame Butterfly. Giuseppe Verdi was, at one point, the most successful of artists to be played and he amassed a very popular audience in Milan with the triumph of his work Nabucco.

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Nowadays, the impressive Scala Theatre is used solely for productions and tourist visits of parts of the opera house which are now exhibited as a museum. This includes several boxes which, in the past, were owned by specific affluent families and aristocrats who decorated them as per their individual style. This was a clear way to determine status. One of the boxes, whose owner is unknown, was even decorated entirely with mirrors, so that within the box you can see any angle of the theatre reflected.

Another curious legend concerns the ‘Callas spot’. This is the name given to a precise point on the stage where Maria Callas would sing to make her voice travel to every corner of the theatre. Maria Callas was one of the most well known opera singers to grace La Scala stage but she was not the only name to remain famous thanks to the theatre’s success. A soprano singer from the nineteenth century, Maria Malibran, died at a young age and now her spirit is said to haunt the theatre. Some even claim to have seen Callas’ spirit around.

These two lavish palaces of entertainment have adapted to the desires of the Milanese elite throughout the ages. No visit to Milan would be complete without strolling through the arcades at the Galleria Emanuele or touring the illustrious Scala Theatre to experience a truly elegant and distinguished destination.

More info on our bike tour in Milan.

Read also: Juliet’s House in Verona.

Top Attractions in Milan. Duomo Cathedral and the 20th Century Museum

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No trip to Italy would be complete without a visit to Milan to discover some of the most elegant historical sites in the country. Milan may be famous for being one of the fashion capitals of the world, but it is also home to some spectacular tourist attractions and architectural marvels.

Discover more about this sophisticated metropolis and what is has to offer by taking a tour of the Milan Cathedral, known in Italian as il Duomo. This vast, ornate centre for worship inspires a serene feeling of awe in its visitors due to the sheer size and elaborate decor.

Also, don’t miss out on a visit to the Museo del Novecento – a 20th century art gallery – where you can get to know a vital part of true Milanese culture through some of the most extraordinary works of art from the area.

More info on our bike tour in Milan.

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Interesting facts about the Duomo

Milan Cathedral is an iconic place of interest that has been witness to some of Italy’s most fundamental historical events throughout the centuries. As the largest gothic church and one of the largest church in the world: in addition to this, it is the largest church in Italy. So there are some fascinating aspects to consider before visiting. Coming prepared with Milan Cathedral facts will allow you to take full advantage of your trip.

The history of the Milan Duomo dates back to when construction began in 1386. The Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo and the Ruler Gian Galeazzo Visconti established an ambitious program to build a cathedral. The Milan Cathedral was actually consecrated in 1418 when only the main nave was completed. However, it continued to be under construction for nearly half a millennium and even still to this day through regular maintenance. Throughout the years many issues arose slowing down progress on the cathedral including religious reform, politics, lack of funding, and artistic differences.

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The Madonnina is the name given to the statue of the Virgin Mary that stands on the tallest spire of the Milan Cathedral. This structure gave way to a specific tradition in Milan. This unusual tradition dictates that no building may be higher than the Madonnina. To this day, Milan has respected this tradition by adding a Madonna sculpture to the tallest construction.

Another curious element that you should know before visiting the Milan Cathedral is that it is home to over 3,000 statues. It holds the world record for most statues in a single church. Among the outstanding works of art and monuments, several are famous for their originality. These include the Saint Bartholomew Flayed, 2 fighting boxers based on Primo Carnera and Erminio Spalla, gothic gargoyle demons, the original statue of liberty, even a tennis racket and sport equipment.

Close to the main entrance of the Milan Cathedral, there is a sundial on the floor which displays the time from a ray of sunlight that shines through a hole in the opposite wall. It was designed and included in the Duomo in 1786 by astronomers from the Accademia di Brera and is still so precise to this day that it is used to regulate clocks throughout the city. Another of the reasons visitors come from around the globe to see and experience this graceful, momentous landmark.

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The Arengario Palace

The Arengario Palace is home to the Museo del Novecento. Translated as the Museum of 20th Century, this museum houses around 400 works of art including sculptures, paintings, and installations from 20th century Italian artists. Inaugurated in 2010, the museum’s main objective is to give importance to the many masterpieces created during the 1900s in Italy and in particular Milan itself.

A large section of the museum is dedicated to Futurist Art, but there are also displays offering artworks from other 20th century movements such as Novecento Italiano, Abstractionism, Arte Povera, Post-Impressionism, and Realism.

The building itself was constructed between 1936 and 1956. It was the last of the edifices to be erected in the Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo). Originally meant to be used as a local government building for Mussolini to give speeches, it was never actually used in the Fascist era due to delays in construction from the second world war.

A visit to the 20th Century Museum in Milan is well worth it to serenely gaze upon the emblematic works of art from this period and region, such as Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s The Fourth Estate. Just as with the Cathedral, take your time to wander around the museum and reflect on the artistic genius held within.

Admiring the works of art in both of these renowned Milan attractions allows visitors a true insight into the magnificent history and culture of creativity and skill that has dominated Milan for centuries.

More info on our bike tour in Milan.

Read also: The Verona Arena.

 

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