Milan – Italy

Milan is found in the northern region of Italy, known in Italian as Milano. Today it is a popular city for visitors, but is also a notable financial centre in Italy and has strong manufacturing and commercial industries.

Milan has an interesting history, fraught with the struggle of invading nations…

Milan History Highlights:

The first known residents in Milan were the Gauls in 600BC. Milan the capital of the Celtic tribe, the Insubres. At the time in 222BC the city was known as Mediolanum (the Roman word for Milan) the Romans conquered the city which was then one of the most powerful cities in the region on the Roman side of the Alps.

Around the 1st Century BC, the city of Milan became part of the state of the Caesars. Today there is only a few reminders of the Roman reign in the area.

One of the reasons contributing to the fall of the Roman Empire was invasion attacks of its cities. Milan was no exception to these invasions and it was in 539AD that the city was attacked by invasions from Northern Europe and Asia, and the city lost its role as capital.

The history of Milan is marked by powerful families: the Visconti who was succeeded by the Sforza families, both of which contributed to the rule of the city and infrastructure.

The city was dominated by Spanish rule for almost two centuries, from 1535 to 1706.
The city fell under the rule of the Austrian Imperial dynasty of the Hapsburgs due to the great European wars of the late 17th century to the early 18th century.
In 1789 Milan fell under the French control after the French Revolution during the Napoleonic Era.
When Napoleon was defeated in 1815, Milan was returned to the Austrian control.
In 1848, Milan rebelled against the Austro-Hungarian rule and Milan along with the rest of Lombardy became a part of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1861, which controlled most of Italy. This was the unification of the Kingdom of Italy.
Milan was home to the fascist party in 1919 and experienced a post-war recovery of Allied bombardments.


Things to do and see in Milan:

One of my favourite things about Milan was the “Oh wow!!”, “Geez, that’s amazing…” reactions, not only about the food which is terrific but about the architecture. Even if you aren’t an architectural guru, just appreciating the splendour of the buildings, the attention to deal and the skill of workmanship is enough to catch your attention.

One of my favourite “oh wow…” moments was seeing the Cathedral for the first time, and the patterns and colours of the castle.

Overall, there are lots of interesting museums in Milan but if you want to go, book the tickets in advance.


1. Milan Cathedral

The Milan Cathedral, Duomo di Milano is one of my most memorable sights of Milan. The original cathedral on which was built was constructed around 355AD over about 600 years and is the second-largest cathedral in the world (the largest one is in the Vatican).

When I went to the cathedral, I did go in the height of the holiday season and noticed that the queues carried on for ages and I mental note for mentioning on this article if you are planning to see it, book online first. Note with the booking online, you need to select a date and a time for your visit. There are 4 different types of tickets you can get depending on what you want to see and how quickly you want to get in and around:

  • Cathedral
  • Crypt of St. Charles
  • Archaeological area
  • Duomo museum
  • Church of San Gottardo
  • Rooftops (by lift) or stairs
  • Fast track (enter without waiting times and get to the rooftop by lift)


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2. La Rinascente

Besides the fact that La Rinascente contains some of the most famous Italian fashion brands, the building itself is beautifully built and decorated, founded in 1865.

Big brands such as Prada, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci are featured in amoung the 150 brands of La Rinascente.

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3. Sforzesco Castle

The castle in Milan was built in 1368 as a fortress, later expanded to become a splendid palace by the Sforza family. Its history is marked with a trend of build, getting attacked and destroyed, then rebuilt.

First during the Golden Ambrosian Republic (1447–1450), by Napoleon in 1800, 1 year later the bastions and towers were destroyed. The castle was renovated in 1905, along with the Torre Filarete tower and Parco Sempione which was established.

The castle was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt at the end of the 20th century. More recently, it was destroyed in the 1960s when the metro was built. The restoration of the castle was completed in 2005.

There are several museums to visit while you are there: art museums, historic musical instruments, Egyptian historic objects, wooden sculptures and antique furniture, and the archaeological museum – which is interesting if you want to know more of the early life in Milan through to the Roman era.

A good idea to take a look at booking tickets before you go.

Note of caution – there are street vendors around the castle that can be very forward and insistent that you buy things from them. Just walk away and don’t engage with them. 

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4. Sempione Park

Sempione Park is the largest city park in Milan, covering 38.6 hectares. As mentioned above in the castle history, it was established in the 1800s. It is a beautiful and peaceful place to take a walk.

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5. Civic Aquarium of Milan

The aquarium in Milan is one of the oldest and largest aquariums in Italy, established in 1906. It houses 36 tanks and more than 100 species of fish. The tanks display fish from various environments, particularly showcasing the Italian ecosystems and fish. Tropical tanks are also on display, with brightly coloured fish.

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6. Santa Maria delle Grazie

Santa Maria delle Grazie church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which houses The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. The building itself is of historic importance, established in 1463.

The church was partially destroyed in WWII by an allied force aerial bombardment on the 15th of August 1943. The refectory which housed the famous painting had been sand-bagged to protect it. Since the war, preservation features have been added to the safety measures of protecting the painting for further centuries.

On the occasion I went to Santa Maria delle Grazie, the current queue for tickets was purchasing the tickets 2 weeks in advance. If you want to go, book tickets in advance.

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