Milan skyline
Art and culture

The history of Milan in five architects

May 23, 2022

Milan is probably best known for its Gothic cathedral, but if you step away from the streets around its piazza you’ll discover a city filled with architectural wonders, from an ancient crypt to awe-inspiring skyscrapers.

Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio

With bricks the colour of Italian leather, this basilica in the Carrobbio district is best visited in the late afternoon, when the sun’s rays make it all glow golden. This place of worship was originally completed around AD 397 before being rebuilt 600 years later with classic Romanesque arches and carved pillars. It was named after St Ambrogio, originally a local bishop from the 4th century, who is buried in the crypt along with martyrs Gervasio and Protasio. Popular with pilgrims, this is a peaceful place for contemplation, while you admire its golden altar, grand mosaics and bell towers.

15 and 25 Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, 20123 Milan

Sant'Ambrogio cathedral facade
Castello Sforzesco Milano

Castello Sforzesco

A grand arch set within a clock tower guides you through the entrance of this imposing red brick fort, which dates back to 1360. Multiple architects are behind the castle, which lends its name to the Castello district. Antonio di Pietro Averlino, who created the bronze doors of Old St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, designed the tower in 1452. Also known as ‘Filarete,’ the tower is named after him, even though the current structure is a faithful reconstruction after the original collapsed. Once inside, explore the castle’s tranquil courtyards, taking shade beneath its cloisters.

Piazza Castello, 20121 Milan

La Rotonda della Besana

Leave the city behind as you enter this pretty park, which is bordered by Baroque arches. Once a chapel at the centre of a cemetery, La Rotonda della Besana was converted in 1700 into the Church of St Michael the Archangel. The symbol of the Guastalla district is now a peaceful spot in which to read beneath its shady portico or jog around its circular lawn. The church is now MUBA, a children’s museum with temporary exhibitions and mosaic workshops. While it retains its beams and columns, the newly added café makes a perfect spot to relax over coffee.

12 Via Besana, 20122 Milan

Rotonda della Besana Milano
Courtesy of Massimiliano Calamelli
Arco della Pace Milano

Arco della Pace

Reminiscent of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe or London’s Marble Arch, this Neoclassical gateway sits between a boulevard and public square at the north end of Sempione Park. Designed by Luigi Cagnola, construction on the trio of marble arches began in 1807 and only finished after his death in 1938. Known as the ‘Arch of Peace’, it was intended to honour the victories of French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte, however it was completed after his downfall and references some of his failures. Relax on a blanket and look up to admire the bronze goddesses and horses on its roof.

Piazza Sempione, 20154 Milan

Bosco Verticale

Who wouldn’t want to live in a treehouse? Some residents in Milan certainly do. Completed in 2014, Bosco Verticale by Boeri Studio architects teems with life. The 112m/367ft and 80m/262ft high residential towers, which loom over Porta Nuova’s Library of Trees Park, burst with 800 trees and 20,000 plants. Unlike glass or stone, the complex filters the sun’s rays rather than magnifying them. It’s a living building, regulating humidity, producing oxygen and absorbing carbon. It’s a win-win for residents, 1,600 local birds and butterflies and visitors, who come here to picnic.

11 Via Gaetano de Castillia, 20124 Milan

Bosco Verticale Milano

For those interested in architecture, discover more about Milan’s contemporary and futuristic designs or learn more about London architecture through the ages.

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