• LOCATION 24 | The Mysteries of Milan: From the Duomo to the Royal Palace

    Milan University Courtyard

    Feel free to wander around the courtyard while I tell you about it.

    When conceived as a hospital in the middle of the 1400s this large courtyard had the purpose of separating the mens’ wing on the left from the women's on the right so ne’er the two could meet. The only original part designed by Filarete is the women's courtyard, on your right as you enter.

    It had a very strategic location because it backed on to the canal water and it had every mod con you could imagine, for example there was a toilet to every two beds and a walled-in drainage system so that the murky effluents could be discharged into the canal water. It wasn’t so great if you happened to be sailing round that part of the canal though. For the first time each sick person would be given a bed of their own, a blanket made out of coarse leather and their very own set of nightwear consisting of a wool shirt, socks and a white beret. It’s estimated that there were about 1600 people here including patients and staff by the end of the 1400s. Of course, if you fell ill back then your chances of survival were fairly slim. Surgeons were usually no more than barbers and pain-soothing medicaments consisted of concoctions of wine, lard, ashes and lime. As medical and scientific knowledge progressed so too did the Cà Granda and today, its located in the north-east suburbs of the city and it’s considered one of Italy’s most sophisticated hospitals in terms of pioneering techniques.

    The hospital would only be completed by the early 1800s and it was financed by generous donations from private citizens and aristocratic sponsors. In exchange for their philanthropical deeds they would have their portrait painted: a full one if the amount of money given was considerable and a half portrait from the waist up if the bequest was a bit on the stingy side.

    The site of the state-run university since 1958, it’s now the students’ main hangout in nice weather and the entrance to the Philosophy Faculty. I’d already got my degree in Italian back in Scotland by the time I came to Milan. But how I envied these youngsters when I first came here, having the privilege of studying in such a beautiful, historical setting. But things haven’t always been quite so harmonious. Here too the allied bombs of World War II wrought their destruction. In the 1970s it was also the theatre of fierce protests between students demanding social reform and the establishment which was more sympathetic to lingering factions of Fascists. Nowadays its generally a very peaceful place to be and more than 64.000 students from all over the world are enrolled.

    When you're ready, exit back onto the street, make your way along the road that leads away from the University. It's the one in between the park and the bookstore. You'll hear from me when you get to it.

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