Milan

Short history

In its early days, Milan was a Celtic settlement before falling under Roman rule in 222 BC, becoming an essential commercial center in the Roman Empire. The Middle Ages saw Milan prospering as a city-state, often clashing with other Italian cities for dominion. The Renaissance era heralded a cultural flourish, with Milan becoming a center of art and science under the patronage of the Sforza dynasty.

The city played a crucial role during the Risorgimento, the movement for Italian unification in the 19th century, earning it the title of Italy’s “moral capital”. In the 20th century, despite the devastation of World War II, Milan emerged as a leading center of industrialization, fashion, and design. Today, it stands as Italy’s wealthiest city, with a spirit of innovation and economic prosperity.

Geography

Milan, located in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, is situated on the Po Valley. The geography of Milan is characterized by its flat relief, which has facilitated its expansion and development over centuries. The city’s climate is classified as humid subtropical (Cfa), featuring hot, humid summers and cold, foggy winters, which influence the urban lifestyle and architecture.

The urban plan of Milan reflects its growth through different epochs, including Roman, medieval, and modern expansions. Presently, Milan is divided into nine districts (municipalities), each with its characteristics and cultural offerings. These districts are connected through a comprehensive public transportation network, fostering ease of movement across the city. Despite its dense urbanization, Milan has integrated nature within its confines, with numerous parks and gardens dotting the cityscape.

Population

Recognized as cosmopolitan city, Milan has a population exceeding 1.3 million residents as of the latest estimates.

Milan’s ethnic composition is predominantly Italian, complemented by a diverse mix of communities, notably Filipino, Egyptian, and South American residents.

Roman Catholicism dominates in terms of religion, reflecting Italy’s historical and cultural roots, yet the city is also home to a variety of religious practices, including Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Judaism. The primary language spoken is Italian, yet the presence of international communities means a multitude of languages can be heard throughout the city. 

Main sights

The Duomo di Milano, a magnificent Gothic cathedral, stands as the city’s centerpiece, with its façades and spires visible from various points in the city. Another iconic structure, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls, presents a remarkable example of 19th-century iron and glass architecture, offering an insight into Milan’s affluence and taste for luxury.

The Sforza Castle, a fortress turned museum, presents Milan’s Renaissance art and history, housing works by renowned artists, including Michelangelo’s last sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà. The Santa Maria delle Grazie, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is revered for housing Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper.

Food

Risotto alla Milanese is one of Milan’s most celebrated dishes, mesmerizing palates with its creamy texture and the distinctive golden hue imparted by saffron. Another feature of Milanese gastronomy is the Cotoletta alla Milanese, a breaded veal cutlet fried to a crispy perfection, often compared to Vienna’s schnitzel. Not to be overlooked, Ossobuco, a hearty and flavorful stew made with cross-cut veal shanks, braised with vegetables, white wine, and broth, traditionally served with gremolata and sometimes risotto, offers a taste of Milan’s culinary depth. Panettone, the quintessential Milanese dessert, is a sweet, fluffy bread filled with candied fruits and raisins, originating from the city and enjoyed worldwide, especially during the winter holidays. 

Souvenirs

Milanese silk stands out for its quality and beauty, a legacy of the city’s historical ties to the fashion industry. Renowned for its craftsmanship, silk products range from elegant scarves to ties, each piece symbolizing the sophistication of Milanese design. For design enthusiasts, replicas of iconic landmarks like the Duomo di Milano serve as reminders of Milan’s architectural marvels. These miniature creations offer a tangible connection to the city’s historic and aesthetic significance. Lastly, local artisan crafts, such ashandmade jewelry, ceramics, and other uniquely Milanese artifacts, are always a great souvenirs.

Fun facts

  • Milan is home to the Teatro alla Scala, one of the most famous opera houses in the world, which opened in 1778. The theater has hosted premieres of some of the greatest operatic works.
  • The city is also the birthplace of the aperitivo culture, an Italian tradition of pre-dinner drinks and light snacks that has spread worldwide. Milan’s version often involves lavish buffets in bars around happy hour.
  • Milan’s Duomo, with its Gothic facade, took nearly six centuries to complete, making it one of the longest ongoing construction projects in the world.
  • The Navigli District in Milan is known for its system of canals, designed in part by Leonardo da Vinci to transport goods to the city. Today, it’s an area filled with restaurants, bars, and art galleries.
  • San Siro Stadium, shared by AC Milan and Inter Milan football clubs, is one of the biggest in Europe and known for its incredible atmosphere during matches.