As children, we learn very quickly how to locate Italy on a map. Next to the shape of Michigan’s mitten, your eyes can’t help but zero in on the funny shaped boot that gives the impression of kicking a pebble at the continent of Africa. Like Michigan, Italy’s unique physical topography offers visitors a feast of visual textures that continuously change as one travels farther into its ever shifting physical environs.
Beginning at its northern most borders, you eyes are met head-on by jagged, sharp-edged, sugar spun snow capped mountains surging into valleys of lush, green forests and meadows. Moving south, the silky, velvet gold and jade carpet of undulating agricultural fields, speckled with bright shades of purple, brick red and brown earth sandpapery towns, appear out of thin air alongside randomly spike-like lush cedar trees of the central countryside. Finally as you reach its southern most boundaries, the landscape becomes prickly and rock-strewn; a bleached terrain where open fields of spiny and wild vegetation fight to stake its own beauty onto an ancient panorama.
Textures are an authentic center for Italy’s internal and outer character, especially when visiting the city of Milan. This city offers up a cornucopia of runniness involving more than just the physical senses. Widely regarded as a global capital for industrial design, fashion, architecture, art and culture, Milan has been a hot bed of historic political struggles due to its strategic location. Celts, Romans, Spanish, French and various Christian and non-Christian tribes for thousands of years have claimed Milan as a prize in their empirical rise.
This singling out has allowed the Milanese people an opportunity to offer great societal contributions that have enriched and nurtured human history and advancement on all academic and creative levels. Today, visitors can see firsthand this achievement and gain inspiration from its still influential greatness. When visiting Milan there are at least five places and experiences you must indulge in to truly experience Milan.
The Duomo. This cathedral is the symbol of Milan and the city’s true center. Roads that radiate out from the heart of this cathedral, and its hugeoutdoor plaza, is a meeting place where visitors and residents alike can stroll, people watch, or sit in one of the cafes along its edge, enjoying the human spectacle that is Milan. The cathedral, renowned for its size, is the third largest Catholic Church in the world after St Peter’s in Rome and the Seville Cathedral. Started in 1386, it took almost 600 years to build, and at the time it was built, the cathedral could hold what was then the entire population of Milan of 40,000 people. Its predominant style of late Gothic, and elements of Romanesque tradition, is striking with itsexterior alone of many spires and over 3,400 pieces of statuary. A visit to its roof is something you can’t miss. Take either the 250 steps up for 7 Euros or the elevator ride for 12 Euros and it’s well worth the price to see all the gargoyles, statues, and flying buttresses close-up, along with and a view of the city and beyond, that on a clear day you can see all the way to the Alps.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This huge glass-roofed shopping mall lined with expensive shops, bars, and restaurants was built between 1865-1877 and is the world’s oldest shopping mall. Housed within a four-story double arcade, it’s named for the first Italian King. The structure links the squares of the Duomo and La Scala and has beautiful mosaics consisting of the symbols for the cities forming thenewly united Italy. Oddly enough, don’t be surprised to see tourist gathering in one particular spot. It’s considered good luck to stand on the testicles of the bull of Turin – who knew!
La Scala Opera House. A major national and international center for the performing arts, and also considered one of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, Italy’s greatest operatic artists, and the finest singers from around theworld have appeared at La Scala during the past 200 years. Today the theatre is still recognized as one of the leading theatres in the world, and well worth the admission to visit its museum. Containing an unprecedented collection of paintings, drafts, statues, costumes, and other documents regarding La Scala’s and opera history in general, even if you weren’t an opera lover before hand, you will become one instantly.
Santa Maria delle Grazie Church and Convent. This church contains the mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, which is actually in the dining hall of the convent. Considered the most famous religious mural in the world, this piecewas almost lost during World War II when bombs dropped by British and American planes hit the church and the convent. Much of the hall was destroyed, but some walls survived, including the one that holds this mural. Due to continuing preservation efforts, limited-timed tickets must be purchased in advance (do this online to guarantee a spot) which only allows a fixed number of people and limited-time to view this masterpiece per day. Trust me; it is well worth the effort!
Sforza Castle. This 15th Century castle, built by the Duke of Milan as his residence, is one of the largest citadels in Europe. This home base forthe powerful Sforza Family is now a complex of eight Civil Museums with an incredible collection of masterpiece art, furniture, musical instruments, archaeological and Egyptian artifacts — even Michelangelo’s last sculpture the ‘Rondanini Pieta’ and da Vinci’s ‘Codex Trivulzianus’ manuscript are housed here. Walking the complex you get a sense of what life must have been like living behind fortified brick walls that once protected a family and ruler, that now protect the priceless artifacts of Italian culture and heritage.
Of course you must go window shopping to see the latest designers and their shops just a stone’s throw from La Scala … oh the shoes and handbags alone! Last but not least, make sure you try the culinary masterpieces of Northern Italian cuisine. From antipasti salads, risotto, polenta and many other famous Lombardy regional dishes (cotoletta, cassoeula and ossobuco); to delicacies and desserts like mostarda and panettone, Milan is a gastronomic epiphany for many Americans that Italian food is more than tomato sauce, pasta and pizza. Believe me; I still dream of the Gorgonzola cream sauce! … and on that note, I think I’m cracking open a bottle of wine. Ciao!
FL77 ©- Duomo Plaza
FL06 © Duomo Roof
FL94 © Gallaria Vittorio Emanuele
FL42 © LaScala Opera House
FL37 © LaScala Opera House
FL28 © Santa Maria delle Grazie Church
FL57 © Sforza Castle
FL90 © Street Scene
Juliet Martini is an aspiring romance writer in the contemporary and romantic suspense genres, seeking fame and publication (hopefully), in the near future. Currently, she is working on her second book, the first in a three book series centered on passion, wine and Italy. By day, she hides out as Margaret Hren, a marketing and fundraising consultant, and when time permits, she is building her author website and planning her next exotic travel get away. She also hopes to also launch her travel blog, The Travel Savvy Chick, later this year focusing on travel tips and personally acquired destination information.