History and Art
Situated near the lake district of northern Italy, in a pivotal position between Rome and northwestern Europe, Milan has truly been a commercial, industrial, and cultural crossroads throughout history. Napoleon recognized its importance when he made it the capital of his Italian Republic in 1802. It was also in Milan where, in 313 AD, the Emperor Constantine granted freedom of worship to Christians. The world’s fourth largest church, a Gothic cathedral located in the Piazza del Duomo, was commissioned in 1386 and is today the architectural crown jewel of the city. Milan is also home to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and the famed opera house La Scala.
Milan “Fashion Capital”
Although nearly 80% of the city was destroyed in World War II, Milan was rebuilt and has since become a revitalized center of industry, commerce, and design. Milan rivals Paris as the fashion capital of Europe and the world. Armani, Versace, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Pucci, Gucci and many more took off on Milan’s runways. Fashionistas make a pilgrimage here to shop at the designers’ flagship stores in the Quadrilatero d’Oro (Golden Quad). Boutiques stocking emerging labels, and chic concept shops also line the city’s streets, while discount outlets selling samples, seconds and last season’s cast-offs are a bargain-hunter’s Holy Grail. Milan is also the world capital of furniture and homewares (the beanbag is a Milanese brainchild), and a hub for risk-taking contemporary art.
Culture and Lifestyle
The city is the cultural and economical center of Lombardy, the wealthiest and most developed region in the country. Home to approximately 1.6 million inhabitants, it is a city of artistic, historical, and cultural richness. By night there’s an avant-garde theatre scene, a fabulous aperitivi scene (extended ‘happy hour’ with platters of bar food laid on) and hip, hot clubs.
Fashion and finance aside, Milan’s other religion is, of course, calcio (football). The city is home to both AC Milan and Inter, two of Italy’s top teams, and passionate crowds pack San Siro stadium on Sunday in season. The city also harbours some lesser-known attractions such as the Navigli’s canal-side cafés and old-fashioned gelaterie (ice-cream shops) and the funky design district of Isola.
The city is at its hottest – weather-wise – in August, when locals take holidays, and many places close; though it can provide a tranquil alternative to the crowded coast. Just three hours from Florence and Venice and five hours from Rome, Milan is easily accessible by train to other major cities in Italy and Europe.