A few days in Milan

July 26, 2015 Blog, Global Heritage Comments (1) 1768

The Italian excursion described in my last blog had another half, and most of that was in Milan.  Milan gets a bad rap in comparison to the other large Italian cities, largely because it lost more of its fabric in the Second World War, and the rebuilding sports much of the bland utilitarian vernacular of the 1950s, but our peregrinations around this city offered more than the great Gothic cathedral.

Duomo at night2

Although it is pretty great, in both senses of the word

Duomo full view ls

Duomo aisles lkg back

Duomo interior vaults

Not an errant nave

We took one day to visit three of the other marvelous old churches, and it was revelatory.  I used to comment about Rome that you couldn’t walk a block without stumbling on a Roman ruin or a Baroque church.  Substitute “Lombardy Romanesque” for Baroque and the same can be said for Milano.

Duomo ectasy archbish altar

You can’t even walk a block in the Duomo without encountering an ecstatic Baroque altar

S. Marie D Grazie view best

This is Santa Maria della Grazie, where we did NOT see DaVinci’s Last Supper since we had not booked in advance.

This is a distinctly different architectural style, older and more often in earthy brick accented by stone, linking it to the nations to the north.  If we love Rome for its grand marble palaces and churches, we can easily love Milan for these treasured landmarks, many of which date back over a thousand years.

S. Ambrogio altar

Besides there is plenty of Baroque inside – this is an altar in San Ambrogio

S. Ambrogio best view

Here is San Ambrogio, the patron saint of Milan.  The oldest part dates to the 9th century and the towers (one for the canons and one for the monks) and hidden front are excellent examples of the Romanesque popular here.  As in Rome and other parts of Europe, the buildings are thickly layered with fragments of their history, as found in the forecourt of S. Ambrogio:

S. Ambrogio fresco n fragments

Frescos and lintels and capitals, oh my!

S. Ambrogio column frags

S. Ambrogio nice facade and tower

The interior features a stunning dome, the gilded skeleton of St. Ambrose (among others) and this fabulous dome.  There is a strong Byzantine sensibility in the forms of these churches, one that resonates with the ancient Roman empire in a way the Renaissance and Baroque do not, because the tradition is more continuous.

S. Ambrogio dome and saints

These churches will often have surviving mosaics from the 4th or 5th century, which means they are basically from the Empire, evincing a continuity of tradition rather than a rekindled one.

S. Ambrogio sarco detail

Detail from a Roman sarcophagus incorporated into the pulpit at S. Ambrogio.  9th century from 4th century original.

S. Ambrogio T 6 C column

6th century column in the treasury, S. Ambrogio

S. Ambrogio T 4th c mosaic

4th century lamb mosaic, S. Ambrogio

S. Ambrogio great painting

And a nice Renaissance painting from a thousand years later.

S. Ambrogio snake column0

It’s right near the snake column, which takes us back to the first millenium and looks like a prop from a Conan movie.  You can see the sarcophagus in the background.

S. Ambrogio TC courtyard entlang

S. Ambrogio TC ctyd colum

The courtyard by Bramante

Now, the next church, San Lorenzo Maggiore, also dates to the 4th century and was the largest building in the West at one time.  The approach through the Ticino gate is fantastic, with a row of Roman columns partially enclosing the forecourt.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore arcade tram

And a tram.  That would upset Americans.  Wussies.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore facade

You should see this place at nighttime it is like Woodstock or something.

By far my favorite of the wealth of treasures inside is this 4th century mosaic of Christ the lawgiver.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore Christ mosaic2

Notice he has no beard.  It must have taken another century or two to grow one.

The Roman styling of this is stunning for those of us – namely ALL of us – raised on a Renaissance idea of Christ.  Even more stunning is the mosaic on the other half dome across from this – Christ as the Sun.  This one has not survived as well, but you can make out Christ one-upping Sol Invictus and taking the reins of the sun’s chariot from Apollo to launch the new day.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore Sun mosaic

I love it when you can actually see one culture transform into another.

It seems only the mosaics near the ceiling survive, and they include these guys as well:

S. Lorenzo Maggiore C mosaics

Ave, Dudes

A side chapel has some more Byzantine style mosaics, which are fun to contrast against Renaissance works – I adore the wonderful layered depth of these Milanese churches – 1500 years all stuck together in one place.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore Byzan ptg


S. Lorenzo Maggiore deposition fresco


S. Lorenzo Maggiore Barok ptg


And a few interior shots but when you go make sure you go the the treasury to see the mosaics and also the undercroft where you can see the Roman foundations of the basilica.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore frescoa

S. Lorenzo Maggiore interior

S. Lorenzo Maggiore upside capital

Umm, you may want to call the conractor back….

So remember what I said about Rome being a place where you stumble into a Roman ruin or a Baroque church on every other block?  In Milan you have to walk maybe two blocks.  Here is a Roman ruin we stumbled upon.  A piece of a whacking great amphitheatre actually….

Amphitheatre park w sign

Even had its own free museum with a rare gladiator ceremonial stelae and more mosaics and sculptures from the Roman era.

Amphitheatre museo gladiator stelae

Plus an amazing chorale group rehearsing and we were the only ones there…

And the fact of the matter is you stumble on Baroque (and Romanesque) churches all the time

S. Anthony Adate int2

St. Anthony Adate

S Stefano

S. Stefano

s. carolo

S. Carolo

S. Biblia

S. Biblia

Another church off Garibaldi Brera

In Brera

Hey, and if you want the overwrought contraposto and languid emotionalism of the Baroque, just stop by the City Cemetery, which is 19th century but every damn tombstone is adorned with a massive bronze sculpture dripping with emotion.

Cemetery another

Okay, this is a nice sentiment

Cemetery white tombcls

Now this is a little more heart-rending..

Cemetery Casati-Briggs sleeper

Alright, you amped it up now please tone it down a bit…

Cemetery Ego Sum close2

I said DOWN, not UP to 11!  Give me a nice Victorian lady in a button-up dress mourning…

Cemetery kissing guys

…two emaciated guys lying head-to-head in full liplock.  Okay, I give up.

The first monument we encountered on entering the city was the great (in both senses)  Castello Sfroza, which is ginormous and full of art.

Castello Sforza main and corner

Castello Sforza vault room n stats

Castello Sforza resting guy

Take a break if you get tired from all the walking…

I was also struck by the level of decoration in a host of downtown commercial buildings.  I mean, this city has Atlanteans by the bucketful.

Baroque bldg

Bank of Italy

Bank of Italy

motorbuke facade


Via Dante facade Gutteridge

Hang on guys!

Barok Heads church cls

That’s another church – see what I mean?

Pza Cordusio Generali


Take that, Rome!

Castle near S. Ambrogio best

They can do monochromatic Baroque, but in Milan they bend toward the Lombardy contrast of red brick and gray stone, like in this cute little corner castle.

The commercial building to end all commercial buildings is of course the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel, right next to the Duomo.

Galleria Vittorio Emm ctr

Render unto Prada…they actually have binoculars installed so you can see the detail up high.

University fr abv

Now this is the University of Milan, view from our dear friend Francesco Gnecchi-Ruscone’s terrace.  The Ca’ Grande seen here dates to the 15th century.  We also went out to find some of Gnecchi-Ruscone’s work, including this block of flats north of the park, which brings us to modern Milan

FGN residences

And we must of course include the Torre Milano, perhaps the most Ür-PostModern building in all of Europe if you will excuse the catastrophic clumsiness of that construction.

Torre Milano

I meant the clumsiness of the literary construction…

But the real place to visit now to see the latest is Piazza Gae Aulenti, a district full of new buldings designed in contextual relationship with one another.  As is often the case in such arrangements, there is an emphasis on primary forms and their contrast, but the curves and spikes and bends and folds and colors do have a harmony in more than one view and dimension

Pza Gae Aulenti view up

That is the UniCredit tower in the middle. Urbanist view.

Pza Gae Aulenti curve and UniCredit

More the windswept Modernist view from the plaza itself, significantly named for a pioneering female Milanese architect.

Pza Gae Aulenti people

Pza Gae Aulenti curves etc

This is what happens if you look at too much LeDoux before bed…

Pza Gae Aulenti green towers

Green architecture much!  We saw these on the train ride in and from that angle the massive cranes needed to plant trees that high were visible.  Vertical Forest by Boeri Studio.

Milan is known of course for fashion, and indeed a Gnecchi-Ruscone launched the Industrial era here in the silk industry.

fashion desigual

I went shopping with my wife, the most arduous test of love there is…

Duomo St. Barth rear

Renaissance Runway:  An exquisitely flayed St. Bartholomew by Marco D”Agrate, 1562 in the Duomo.

tram near Pza 14Magg

The trams in Milan are wonderful, in part because like those in our own San Francisco, they are an encyclopedic collection of cars from throughout the 20th century.

Via Broletto streetv8ew

God I love infrastructure

Milano trams

Somehow it all fits together

Speaking of infrastructure, there is a canal system that has become a popular destination, especially the Invigli area, lined with restaurants and boutiques, each of which has mosquito spray onhand 🙂

Invigli Via Ascanio yellow best

Invigli stroll


Invigli Via Ascanio boats bldgs

Francesco and his wife left all friends a standing invitation to drop by their house in the evening for a gin and tonic, so let us end in this evening waterside paradise at Milan’s first gin bar, Gino 12.

Invigli Via Ascanio Gino 12c

One Response to :
A few days in Milan

  1. Qing Mei says:

    Greeting from Berlin!

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