Day two, we decided to explore the Sforza Castle. But not before spending far too long in a lovely bakery nearby our hotel, Mr Moussa. We first sampled the croissants: Chris chose plain whilst I had apricot marmalade. It was all of the tastes of Christmas! We shared a few mini tarts before ordering chunks of focaccia. Definitely a feast of Italy.
Positioned at Milan’s centre, the Castle was unlike any other castle I have seen with red brick and white details. The area had been massively restored over recent years to reveal the majesty of former times.
The castle was originally a Visconti fortress but later home to the mighty Sforza dynasty, who ruled Renaissance Milan. Like Milan’s cathedral, the castle has undergone many transformations, including the addition of 12 bastions under Spanish command in 1550 and Napoleon’s draining of the moats and removal of its drawbridges during his reign.
Upon its transfer from military use to the government, restoration works were carried out by Luca Beltrami in the 19th century. Today, the castle houses many specialised museums, including works by Leonardo Da Vinci, who was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza to decorate the castle’s walls from 1494, and Michelangelo’s final work, the Rondanini Pieta.
Wandering around the courtyard, we attempted to enter one of the many museums housed in its walls. Turns out you need tickets from the opposite side to which we’d entered. We hurried through a little embarrassed!
Unfortunately, the queues were ridiculous for the museums so we decided not to buy tickets and instead head to the surrounding park, Parco Sempione.
The largest city park in Milan, it houses the Castle, Arch of Peace and Arena Civica. The Arch of Peace is a beautiful neoclassical structure replicating the Arc de Triumph in Paris. It was built in 1807 by architect Luigi Cagnola under the Napoleonic rule. This new gate marked the place where the new connecting road between Milan and Paris would begin, the Strada del Sempione.
When the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy fell and Milan was conquered by the Austrian Empire, work on the gate was abandoned. Until, in 1826, it was resumed again for Emperor Francis II, who dedicated the monument to the 1815 Congress of Vienna. After Cagnola’s death in 1833, Francesco Londonio and Francesco Peverelli brought it to completion in 1838.
Standing 25m high and 24m wide, the Arch of Peace is decorated with a number of bas-reliefs, statues and Corinthian columns. These decorations depict major events in Italian and European history, including the Battle of Leipzig and the Congress of Vienna. There are also subjects from classical mythology, such as Mars, Ceres, Minerva and Apollo imagined in the sculptures. As well as allegories of the major rivers in North Italy, for example the Po, the Adige and the Ticino.
Taking the outer path, we meandered through to the Arch of Peace, where we sat and listened to a woman singing for a while. It was definitely a moment of “wow we’re actually in Italy”.
Continuing along, we followed the neoclassical walls of the Arena Civica, a multipurpose stadium, where sports and concerts are often held. That morning there had been a sponsored run for breast cancer awareness.
The sun was out and we warmed our faces as we took in the scenery. With lots of lakes and trees in their autumn splendour, the park was really beautiful.
Feeling hungry, we walked to the Duomo stopping at Martini Cafe for a final pizza. Not quite as good as the first, but it certainly filled a hole!
Our holiday at an end, we made our way to the airport watching the sunset on our way.