Center of fashion and business, Milan (Milano in Italian) also has a wealth of impressive sights reflecting its long and checkered history.
An important trading center since it was founded by the Romans in 222 BC, Milan's central position made it a favored location for the empire's rulers. It was here that Emperor Constantine declared that Christianity was officially recognized, following his own conversion (known as the Edict of Milan, AD 313).
By the Middle Ages Milan was one of many cities in Lombardy which opposed the power of the Holy Roman Emperor. A period of local dynastic rule followed the fall of the region to the Visconti family in 1277. They were succeeded by the Sforzas during the Renaissance.
These dynasties became great patrons of the arts, with the result that Milan has acquired a host of artistic treasures.
Today this chic, bustling, and prosperous metropolis also offers opportunities for designer shopping and gastronomic pleasures.
Situated at the very heart of Milan, the giant Duomo is one of the largest Gothic churches in the world. The roof is extraordinary with 135 spires and innumerable statues and gargoyles. Inside, there are remarkable stained-glass windows, bas-reliefs, and a medieval treasury. More religious artifacts can usually be seen in the Museo del Duomo located in the Palazzo Reale, but it is closed for renovations until 2012.
An ornate shopping arcade completed in 1878, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II links the Piazza del Duomo with the Piazza della Scala. It boasts a superb metal and glass roof crowned with a central dome, has mosaic floors, and houses stylish shops and restaurants.
The Neo-Classical Teatro alla Scala opened in 1778 and is among the most prestigious opera houses in the world.Its stage is one of the largest in Europe. The adjoining Museo Teatrale displays past sets and costumes and offers a glimpse of the auditorium.
The Castello Sforzesco, a symbol of Milan, was initially the palace of the Viscontifamily. Francesco Sforza, who became lord of Milan in 1450, embellished it, turning it into a magnificent Renaissance residence. The building has a forbidding exterior, a delightful interior, and contains an impressive collection of furniture, antiquities, and paintings. Michelangelo's unfinished sculpture, known as the Rondanini Pieta, can also be seen here.
Milan's finest art collection is held in the imposing 17thcentury Palazzo di Brera.
Major works of Italian Renaissance and Baroque painters including The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, and Mantegna's Dead Christ, hang in the 38 rooms of the Pinacoteca di Brera. Works by some of Italy's 20th-century artists are also on display.
The beautiful 15th-century Renaissance convent of Santa Mariadelle Grazie, in the southwest of the city, is a must-see because it contains one of the key images of western civilization: the Last Supper (or Cenacolo) of Leonardo da Vinci. The large wall painting has deteriorated badly but remains an iconic work of great subtlety.
Sant'Ambrogio is a mainly 10th-century Romanesque basilica dedicated to the patron saint of Milan whose tomb lies in the crypt. The 4th-century church of San Lorenzo holds an important collection of Roman and early Christian remains.