Give Milan a few days.
While I was going through the Frommer’s Italy travel guide few years back to figure out our itinerary for a 16-day and first Europe trip, I stopped at the page that showed the Duomo (cathedral) in Milan. It was one of the most amazing architectural works I had seen, well, on paper. However, Milan did not seem to offer much else, so Milan was dropped off our Italian itinerary. Milan does tend to get bumped off in the trifecta of Rome-Florence-Venice that primarily mark a tourist’s Italia vacation.
I did visit Milan though more recently and it turned out to be a revelation! Thus, when you are planning an itinerary for Italy, I would strongly recommend giving Milan atleast 2 days for 2 very specific reasons. Please read on.
Reason number 1 – the Duomo:
The cathedral or Duomo of Milan is stunning. It took my breath away the moment I entered the Piazza del Duomo. The gothic towers and the triangular and marble-checkered facade with countless intricately carved apostles and the large stained-glass windows make this cathedral very unique. Some details from Wikipedia – this is the fourth or fifth largest church building in the world, and the largest in Italy after St. Peter’s basilica in Vatican City. Its construction began in the late 1300’s and took around six centuries to complete.
On paying a small ticket price, you can take the stairs or the elevator to the roof of the Duomo (I confess I am partial to monuments that have the option of the elevator). Even before I reached the roof, I found myself in a passage of gothic architecture. This interaction with the Duomo’s architecture at such close quarters was quite intriguing. The interior of the Duomo is equally impressive, with massive floor to ceiling windows adorned with stained-glass paintings.
Reason number 2 – The Last Supper
Many people don’t know (me included..until I did) that the Iconic masterpiece, “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci is actually a large-sized mural and not a painting and it resides not in Rome or in Florence but in Milan. The Last Supper which depicts the moment when Jesus Christ announces that one his disciples is going to betray him, is full of enigmas and mysteries and numerous interpretations have been made of the hand gestures and facial expressions of the disciples and even of the items lying on the table.
Seeing the original Last Supper in Milan was nothing short of exhilarating. This is perhaps due to the mural’s extremely precarious existence through its history – painted in the 15th century by Da Vinci on the refectory wall of convent of Santa Maria della Grazie, the mural has survived (albeit barely) a doorway cut through its center-base (you can still see this in the mural) in the 17th century, the desecration by anti-church soldiers in the 18th century, a bombing during World War II, and numerous botched restoration attempts. A final 20 year restoration was completed in 1999 when the mural was opened for public viewing under a sealed climate controlled environment. Only 20 visitors who have booked in advance are allowed in the room for a total viewing time of 15 minutes.
What can I say, just staring at this piece of art only for 15 minutes made the trip to Milan worthwhile.
More reasons to visit Milan:
Visit Milan for the marinara pizza (mouth-watering combination of marinara sauce, olive oil & oregano) and the celebrated gelatos. Also, Milan is only a few hours’ drive to Lake Como and other gorgeous lakes of the Italian Alps. I don’t know much about it but apparently you can get some steals on the very high-end Italian brands, many of which have flagship stores in the landmark Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. And there is a piazza dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci (with his statue of course) that made the art and history geek in me jump with joy!
Here are some more Milan moments: