I've never been shopping in Milan – almost unbelievable coming from a guy from the Balkans – but I've twice been to Milan on honeymoon. Both times, the most important thing for me was to visit the Brera Art Gallery to see, to take time to gaze at Mantegna's Lamentation of Christ. Is it possible to think of Mantegna in Milan, especially on a honeymoon? Yes, it is, and I am a perfect example.
In fact, my first independent travel in Europe, some time at the beginning of my high school days, started in front of Mantegna's "shortened" Jesus. The explanation is both simple and unusual. My teacher of arts, or "artistic education", as it used to be called, was a renowned Bosnian painter Enver Krupić. Although he studied in Paris, he despised modern, particularly abstract, art, so his lectures included periods from the renaissance and classicism to impressionism, and they stopped there. Krupić was a strict teacher, and the students were terrified of him. Just to get the lowest grade, we had to learn the tiniest details about famous works of art by heart. Mantegna's painting was one of our lessons. Being forced to learn about all these details of the shroud, the colour of the skin of the dead Jesus and principles of perspective and foreshortening on a painting I had never seen except in a schoolbook, seemed completely pointless.
So, when I arrived in Milan for the first time, curiosity led me to the Bara Art Gallery to see that framed artefact that used to give me so much trouble at school. I stood in front of the painting and was fascinated. All that school knowledge that seemed so boring and unnecessary suddenly came to my mind, and I realized I was standing in front of a real masterpiece. What's more, I had the impression that among all these hasty and superficial visitors of the Gallery, I was the only one who understood the real value and beauty of Mantegna's painting. I was probably showing off a bit. That is the impression I leave on photos at the Duomo Square, the inevitable photos in front of the Cathedral, no one fails to take a photo there, I'm showing something with my hand as if I'm some kind of expert, probably saying something about marble figures and ornaments on that magnificent Cathedral, all the things I had to know being a student of Professor Krupić, number, order, meaning. Of course, you forget all that in time, it fades away, but what remains is that important impression, the memory of a city.
Things are like that today, too. After the adolescent high school trip to Milan, and then the first student honeymoon when we stayed at a campsite near the city, the second honeymoon to stay with our friend Patricia in Via Torino, near the Duomo, then various tourist visits, you don't notice as maturity creeps up. And there I have been in Milan in recent years, talking about my books published in Italy. It is an extraordinary experience, and I will have to write something special about it some other time.
And now, another impression. I've recently stayed with a friend in Milan's Lambrate quarter. This is a relaxed part of the city, conveniently apart from the business and posh atmosphere typical of Milan. I go out on the street and notice that I have a WiFi signal near a café, a great chance to avoid the crazy cost of roaming, so I stand there, calling over Viber, Facetime, and other technical innovations. I am pacing up and down the street in front of the café, trying to catch a better signal, when I see one of the owners, from Sardinia as I found out later, taking out a nice, large, wooden bench, putting it in front of the café window and gesturing to me with his hand to sit down. And indeed, I really enjoy my time on that bench, talking long on the phone. Somehow I remembered is a nice typical-atypical impression about Milano. When somebody asks me about Milan, I always remember Mantegna and the bench in front of L'Angolo Bar Ristorante, and I say – there, that's Milan.
Author: Dušan Veličković
Milano is definitely not just Mantegna's Lamentation of Christ, nor the Duomo Cathedral. Like many other Italian cities, it is "a city within a city", guardian of the many historical influences it was exposed to, from the Romans to the Langobards, the Austrians, the French... Milan, it used to be the industrial capital of Italy during the 20th century and today it is known primarily as the financial centre and the city of fashion and design, but it also retains its immense artistic and architectural heritage. If you like nightlife, this city will definitely meet your expectations.
Starting from Brera, apart from Pinacoteca, you can visit other parts of the complex built during the Hapsburg occupation following an order from Maria Theresia: the Braidense Library, Botanical Garden and Astronomic Observatory. If you want to feel the atmosphere of Brera from the beginning of the 1960s, when it was the centre of arts in this city, have a drink at the Jamaica Bar, where painters, poems and bohemians used to gather. A few minutes' walk will take you to the Sforza Castle, that used to be the residence of two important families, Sforza and Visonti, who governed the city between the 14th and 16th centuries: both loved and hated by the Milanese who saw it as a symbol of oppression, and in some historical moments of foreign occupation, it remains a rare example of a medieval fortress. It surely deserves to be visited, as its defence systems (in part designed by Leonardo da Vinci), its towers and its defensive walls are worth admiring. If you are tired after the visit, you can rest in the spacious park behind the castle. From there, you can easily reach La Scala, one of the symbols of Milano: designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, and opened in 1778, in time it became the temple of the world's opera. Don't miss the guided tour of the theatre and its museum.
Apart from the Cathedral, you should also visit the 20th Century Museum, situated a few metres away. Among other works, there is the famous Quatro Stato painted by Pelica a Volpedo. Taking the artistic route of Milano near the Duomo Square, there is the Church of the San Bernardino alle Ossa, famous for its walls covered in bones and skulls, real ornaments – let the fainthearted wait at the exit! Near the Church of the San Bernardino, between Torino Street and the Square dela Borsa, there is a little hidden square called San Sepolcro: the historical centre of Milano, the point of intersection of the main city streets in Roman times. Its name comes from the church built on the ruins of the old Roman forum and called San Sepolcro because in the second half of the 16th century, Carlo Borromeo had a holy tomb built inside it to remind us of the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem. Borromeo appreciated Renaissance art very much, and behind the Church, he founded the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, that still keeps the works of Botticelli, Caravaggio and Bruegel the Elder. At the end of this artistic route, you should visit Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper housed at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie (booking a few months in advance is recommended).
All design lovers will enjoy the Design Week held every year between March and April (don't miss its counterpart, the Fuorisalone, with events organized all over the City, frequently in wonderful gardens of old palaces that are usually closed to visitors), and the many historical sites to visit any time of the year: the Design Museum within the Triennale and many private museums, located mostly between Manconi and Porta Venezia. There you can admire avant-garde architecture and decoration from the first half of the 20th century, the works of real Italian geniuses, such as the architect Pietro Portaluppi who, during the 1930s, designed a mansion for the Necchi Campiglio family, representatives of the educated industrial bourgeoisie that kept up with the modern times. This building, situated in a fairytale garden, with a tennis court and a swimming pool (one of the first private swimming pools in the city) is a pearl of art deco and innovation: lifts, kitchen elevators, internal phones, sliding armoured doors and built-in safes. The luxury and the modern spirit of all these features made this mansion one of the symbols of that period.
If you are curious about discovering the traditional regional cuisine, you should definitely visit the Osteria del Treno, next to the central station. After you find your place in the wonderful Sala Liberty Hall, you will drift away to the Milan of old times, enjoying typical dishes like beef liver pate or goose breast, together with good Lombardian wine like Barbera. Concerts of traditional music and other spectacles are organized on the hall's stage.
The night life of Milano is one of the liveliest in the whole of Italy. After an aperitif along the river canals or in the Guaribaldi district, maybe in the shade of the "vertical forest" or the surrounding skyscrapers that have adorned the horizon of this district for the last few years, the night life can be continued in one of many discotheques in the City: Alcatraz for 1980s and 1990s revival fans, Amnesia for techno music, while those searching for VIPs may try to sneak into the Hollywood.
Author: Eugenio Bera
Text realized in cooperation with the Italian Culture Institute in Belgrade.