Major Cities of Italy
EurFirst Trip to Milan, Italy
Revised December 1, 2007Tourists who visit Milan should bring credit cards and shopping bags because Milan is the center of commerce for Italy and the heart of Italy's fashion industry. It is a city with high priced restaurants and expensive hotels, but it is possible to enjoy the beauty and history of Milan on a budget if you do a little planning.
The Duomo of Milan
The Duomo of Milan is located right in the middle of Milan. It is the third biggest church in the world at 515 ft (157 m) in length and at its widest 301 ft (92 m). It was started in the 1300's but not completed until over half a millennia later. The most noticeable part of the building is the roof with 135 spires which on a clear day can be seen from the Alps. Though massive in size, the exterior is delicately decorated with great detail.
Dedicated to Saint Ambrose, the church was built under the direction of many of Europe's best engineers and architects. Its construction required new innovations in building techniques and restoring it after serious damage during World War II has proved almost as challenging. The efforts, however, have paid off with one of the most stunning cathedral in all of Catholicism. If you have the time, get to the Duomo, in the evening when its stunning silhouette glows against the night sky.
The interior of the Duomo is filled with works of Renaissance painters and sculptors, including a famous monument dedicated to Gian Giacomo Medici, a mercenary soldier who fought on behalf of Emperor Charles V. Gian's brother, Giovanni, became Pope Pius IV
You will also find the relics of Saint Ambrose who served as the Bishop of Milan (then Mediolanum) in the 4th Century inside the Duomo along with the remnants of Milan's first two martys whose relics were discovered after a dream by the honored bishop.
La Scala and Opera
The Teatro alla Scala, also known as La Scala, has the largest stage in Europe. It also gets many of the greatest singers in the world. Tickets are usually sold out a long time in advance so if you are travelling to Italy, you may want to make reservations long before you start your trip. There is an adjoining building called Museo Teatrale where you can see sets, props, and costumes from the old productions.
Even if you don't love the sounds of opera. you might still find one of the tours of the Ansaldo Workshops of La Scala to be quite fascinating. As you wander through hallways, you'll see how the sets and costumes for upcoming performances are created. The tour, held at the old steel mill that has been converted to the Ansaldo Workshops, is also one of the best entertainment values in Italy...currently only 5 € for individual tours which can be booked online
Renaissance Artwork in Milan
The Santa Maria delle Grazie is important because it is home to Leonardo's Last Supper. It is this picture where Christ tells his disciples that one of them will betray him. The portrait of Christ is not finished because Leonardo didn't consider himself worthy to paint Christ. There is now a debate to leave the Last Supper with all it's restorations or to leave it with just what Leonardo himself painted but work is continuing on a current restoration that has already taken decades with only a small amount of actual repair completed.
The best collection of art in Milan is the Pinacoteca di Brera which has both classical and contemporary Italian works. Among its important paintings are the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael. The Kiss by Francesco Hayez which became a romantic symbol of 19th Century Italian patriotism and Mantegna's Dead Christ that dramatically portrays the lifeless body of Jesus. In its modern collection you can find paintings by Modigliani and Carra among others. There are many great scenic wonders within a day's drive from Milan--the Dolomite Mountains, Lake Como and the National Park of Stelvio. And just a short trip outside Milan, in the town of Cremona, you can see some of the greatest musical instruments in the world and the tomb of the brilliant craftsman who produced perfect violins--Anthony Stradivari.
Shopping in Milan
Almost every major Italian designer displays their products in Milan. The trendiest stores are in an area just north of the Duomo. If you plan to window-shop in this area, you'll feel most comfortable if you don something stylish for the day. With the Euro at such a high price, you may want to head further east if you are looking for a souvenier from this fashion mecca. Just as there are in all famed cities, there are places where the locals shop for great designs at reasonable prices. Most are just outside Milan and often you can arrange for tours to those locations (if you don't have a car).
The Lake Region
Just north of Milan are the famed lakes of the Italian Alps. Tucked up dramatic mountain canyons near the Swiss border, the lakes have long been summer playgrounds for affluent Italians. As you drive along their shores, you'll be impressed by the large villas that dot the hillside but you'll also be charmed by the working folks' homes that cling to the slopes.
Our lake trip took us to Bellagio that sits at a point jutting into the inverted-Y of Lake Como. It is a charming tourist town with all the services a traveller might need. It was possible, however, to find a clean, reasonably priced room just above the city center.
Main Street of Bellagio from wharfside park
The little town of Bellagio from the ferry to Varenna
A view across the lake toward Switzerland