• LOCATION 17 | The Mysteries of Milan: From the Duomo to the Royal Palace

    Duke Francesco Sforza

    Keep going straight.

    You’ll see the back of a church across the road on your right and a doorway with brick surround. It leads into the church of the Blessed Virgin. It was built in the early 1600s inside the courtyard of the city’s first big hospital called the Cà Granda. Its crypt was the burial place for its dead patients but soon became too small. No sooner was the funeral over than the bodies were sent out of that doorway, across a bridge and down the road on the left to the Besana cemetery. That’s only a few minutes’ walk down there and now has a lovely public garden and bistro.

    It was Duke Francesco Sforza who really propelled Milan into the Renaissance in the 1450s. He gave the city some of its finest buildings and broadened the canal to create large coal storage warehouses tucked into the quayside along this stretch of the road. He wasn’t a nobleman by birth but a condottiero or mercenary captain. These men were revered like rock stars. His family wasn't even from Milan but in exchange for defending Milan against the Venetians he'd been allowed to marry the only legitimate daughter of the last Visconti. With his young wife, Bianca Maria, Francesco had high hopes of ruling upon his father-in-law’s death. But the Milanese weren’t happy about handing over the city to a foreigner and an upstart. But Francesco was not going to be thwarted. He laid siege to the city and eventually the governors capitulated. He proved to be a wily statesman, but not a very good husband. People lost count of the number of children he had outside his marriage and his wife was so furious that she wrote a letter to the Pope asking him to intervene. Nevertheless a long period of peace and prosperity did follow, at least between the rulers of Italy's different city states.

    You’ll also have noticed a long cordoned-off building site on the opposite side of the road. Those are the works for the 5th Metro line due to open in a couple of years.

    The canal or naviglio was in use until the 1930s. To the people of the city it had a personality, not to mention a stench, of its own. This south-easterly stretch was known as the canal of the man with rolled up sleeves, a reference to the saw mills and little factories that used the water for power. Heading back north you'd be in the posh part of town where the houses had beautiful gardens looking on to the water.

    In a referendum held in 2011 the Milanese voted to reopen the canal. So you’d think it would be a done deal. Alas opinion is still divided. But the plan is to open up this stretch of the road and have it flowing with water again by the year 2030.

    You’re heading towards the crossroads where you'll turn right at the crossing.

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The Mysteries of Milan: From the Duomo to the Royal Palace