In Milan I lived my university years. I remember it as a very beautiful but intense period, especially the last year when I prepared my thesis together with the exams. Stress caused me different psycho-somatic symptoms but I never took the urge to go out and, in moments free from study commitments, to explore a city that I always considered interesting.
The shy beauty of Milan
Rich in a deep beauty, to be discovered not as enchanted as that of Venice, as fascinating as that of Florence, shameless like that of Rome, as opulent as that of Palermo or as decadent as that of Naples.
It has always been said that Milan is to be discovered through its courtyards and its gardens which, in keeping with the shy character of the city, conceal marvels. I have always taken the time to walk slowly (in this very little Milan), to slip behind a door, to enchant with my nose stuck to the windows of the great fashion quadrilateral of Via Montenapoleone and surroundings.
But also to devote myself to reading a book or newspaper sitting on a bench under the “monumental” trees of the Guastalla Gardens, the oldest in Milan. The garden, built in 1555 at the behest of Countess Paola Ludovica Torelli of Guastalla, is now called “the children’s garden”, because here it is possible for them to play, have fun and be in contact with nature in complete tranquility and it’s open to animals in an area dedicated to them.
The last time I was in Milan, however, I wanted to know its new beauty, that of modern architecture and new neighborhoods such as the new smart district of Porta Nuova with Piazza Gae Aulenti awarded by the Landscape Institute as one of the most beautiful world and the Bosco Verticale skyscraper.
Despite the brand new skyline and the post-Expo effect “Milan is not America”, as the Brescian group of Timoria sang in 1990, when Omar Pedrini was my classmate during the German classes at the Statale in Via Conservatorio. But it remains the most international city in Italy, “Milan close to Europe”, this time quoting the great Lucio Dalla, from which you can easily and quickly reach cities like London and Paris.
As a student I lived in the house of my mother’s aunt, in Milan since the mid-fifties, who told me about the fashion world before the designer boom in the 80s, that of exclusive stores like Biki, tailoring in a courtyard in via Sant’Andrea, where the most famous seamstress in the Lombard capital proposed her clothes to clients such as Maria Callas. The large Seventy-style apartment with fine furnishings and valuable contemporary works of art of which my uncle was a great admirer overlooks Viale Montenero, one of the Milanese arteries that links Piazza Medaglie d’Oro to Piazza Cinque Giornate, which I often used to feet to reach the University.
Even in Piazza Duomo I liked to get there on foot going through Corso di Porta Romana. And right here at number 3 is one of the curiosities, not known by many: a cannon ball stuck in the wall since March 1848, in the famous revolt of the five days in Milan.
Instead, when I decided to take the vehicles, until December 1990 when the line 3, the yellow one, of the subway, came into service, I used the tram that led to the Duomo and had as its terminus via Dogana.
Generally the cathedral, symbol of the city, is the most photographed background but I always liked to enter and look at its treasures and its wonders. Not everyone knows that immediately after entering the main door, at the top between the vaults of the right aisle there is a small hole in the wall facing south, from which, at the astronomical noon, a ray of light filters out and projects floor, where intercepts a line of marble and brass with the zodiacal signs. It is a sundial which in the nineteenth century was used to regulate the mechanical clocks of the city.
To do the tour of the city I often took the trams of lines 29 and 30 those that circulated along the Cerchia dei Bastioni that traces the route of the Spanish walls and that without descend to circumnavigate Milan passing in front of monuments such as Porta Venezia and the Monumental Cemetery, a real open-air museum that shows extraordinary works produced from the nineteenth century to the present.
Returning to the trams were for me cross and delight: very full during rush hours when I often had to wait for the next to get up or empty and inviting despite the rigid wooden seats and damp glass, wobbly coaches on the tracks and real boxes on the stage of Milan streets and squares.
And to think that now they are just some of the oldest coaches, those that came into service 90 years ago, in February 1928, called “Carrelli” or Serie “1500” or even “Ventotto” from the introduction year, to host the traveling restaurant ATMosfera where instead of the wooden benches there are comfortable fixed seats and elegant tables, as well as a wardrobe and a toilet.
And even a biosauna in which, after hanging the bathrobes at the entrance to the carriage, you are preparing for a journey in the well-being. Once on board you can lie down or sit on the comfortable wooden benches and enjoy the naturally regenerating properties of steam and heat, which never reach temperatures too high. In this case the trip is only ideal because the historical Carelli car is located inside the QC Terme spa in Milan, located, just in case, right in front of Porta Romana.
Among the “jewels” discovered by me in Milan a bit ‘by chance over the years there is San Maurizio Maggiore, also called the Sistine Chapel of Milan, in Corso Magenta. A wonderful church entirely frescoed with marvelous paintings by Bernardino Luini and his school.
Also in Corso Magenta, just in front of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” is located, a visit to the Casa degli Atellani is a must, a splendid 15th century residence, perfectly restored and restructured by the great architect Portaluppi and still inhabited by the owners. On the back is the vine of Leonardo da Vinci, donated to the artist by the Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro.
Finally, another suggestion to remain literally breathless: enter the Church of San Satiro, almost hidden in Via Torino (we talked about it in https://www.cittameridiane.it/en/a-tour-of-the-city-milan-first-part/). You will discover a renaissance optical illusion designed by the architect Donato Bramante in 1480 that makes a space that actually measures only 95 centimeters deep 9 meters deep.