Milan: a castle in a park

22 Apr

Last friday I had to take a day off to go to Milan with my daughter. She had to take a test for a possible temporary employment there. We had to be at the appointment by 10am and while she was busy with her essay, I wandered around. Just adjacent to the Triennale headquarters, there is a big park, Parco Sempione.

Established in 1888, it has an overall area of 386,000 m², and it is located in the historic centre of the city. It owes its name to Corso Sempione, a major thoroughfare of Milan, dating back to the Napoleonic Empire. The park is adjacent to the gardens of the Sforza Castle and to the Arch of Peace, two of the prominent landmarks of Milan.

The Sempione gate is marked by a landmark triumphal arch called Arco della Pace (“Arch of Peace”), dating back to the 19th century, but its origins can be traced back to a gate of the Roman walls of Milan.The very design of the park, due to architect Emilio Alemagna, was conceived with the intent of creating panoramic views encompassing both monuments.

After a walk in the park I decided to have a look at the Castello Sforzesco, because even if I’ve been in Milan several times (usually to visit some exhibitions) I’ve never seen the Castle.The Castle complex includes some museums:The Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco,with an art collection which includes Andrea Mantegna’s Trivulzio Madonna and masterpieces by Canaletto, Tiepolo, Vincenzo Foppa, Tiziano Vecellio and Tintoretto. The Museum of Ancient Art which includes Michelangelo’s last sculpture (the Rondanini Pietà), the armory, the tapestry room and some funerary monuments.The Museum of Musical Instruments.The Egyptian Museum. The Prehistoric collections of the Archaeological Museum of Milan.The Applied Arts Collection.The Antique Furniture & Wooden Sculpture Museum.The Achille Bertarelli Print Collection.The Trivulziana Library holds Leonardo da Vinci‘s ‘Codex Trivulzianus‘ manuscript. Also in 2012 new paintings attributable to Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio have been discovered at the castle. I really hadn’t the time to visit even one of them (the queues at the entrances were way too long) but I had a great time walking through its inner courtyards. I actually entered the Catle from the back and oldest gate, called Barcho.

The original construction was ordered by local lord Galeazzo II Visconti in 1358-c. 1370; this castle was known as Castello di Porta Giova (or Porta Zubia), from the name of a gate in walls located nearby.His successors Gian Galeazzo, Giovanni Maria and Filippo Maria Visconti enlarged it, until it became a square-plan castle with 200 m-long sides, four towers at the corners and up to 7 m-thick walls. The castle was the main residence in the city of its Visconti lords, and was destroyed by the short-lived Golden Ambrosian Republic which ousted them in 1447.

In 1450, Francesco Sforza, once shattered the republicans, began reconstruction of the castle to turn it into his princely residence. In 1452 he hired sculptor and architect Filarete to design and decorate the central tower, which is indeed still known as Torre del Filarete. After Francesco’s death, the construction was continued by his son Galeazzo Maria, under architect Benedetto Ferrini. The decoration was executed by local painters. In 1476, during the regency of Bona of Savoy, the tower with her name was built. In 1494 Ludovico Sforza became lord of Milan, and called numerous artists to decorate the castle. These include Leonardo da Vinci (who frescoed several rooms, in collaboration with Bernardino Zenale and Bernardino Butinone) and Bramante, who painted frescoes in the Sala del Tesoro;the Sala della Balla was decorated with Francesco Sforza’s deeds.Around 1498, Leonardo worked at the ceiling of the Sala delle Asse, painting decorations of vegetable motifs. In the following years, however, the castle was damaged by assaults from Italian, French and German troops; a bastion, known as tenaglia was added, perhaps designed by Cesare Cesariano. After the French victory in the 1515 Battle of Marignano, the defeated Massimiliano Sforza, his Swiss mercenaries, and the cardinal-bishop of Sion retreated into the castle. However, King Francis I of France followed them into Milan, and his sappers placed mines under the castle’s foundations, whereupon the defenders capitulated. In 1521, in a period in which was used as weapons depot, the Torre del Filarete exploded. When Francesco II Sforza returned briefly into power in Milan, he had the fortress restored and enlarged, and a part of it adapted as residence for his wife, Christina of Denmark.

Under the Spanish domination which followed, the castle became a citadel, as the governor’s seat was moved to the Ducal Palace (1535). Its garrison varied from 1000 to 3000 men, led by a Spanish castellan. In 1550 works began to adapt the castle to modern fortification style, as an hexagon (originally pentagon)-shaped star fort, following the addition of 12 bastions. The external fortifications reached 3 km in length and covered an area of 25.9 hectares.The castle remained in use as a fort also after the Spaniards were replaced by the Austrians in Lombardy. Most of the outer fortifications were demolished during the period of Napoleonic rule in Milan under the Cisalpine Republic. The semi-circular Piazza Castello was constructed around the city side of the castle, surrounded by a radial street layout of new urban blocks bounded by the Foro Buonoparte. The area on the “country” side of the castle was laid out as a vast 700m by 700m square parade ground known as Piazza d’Armi.  After the unification of Italy in the 19th century, the castle was transferred from military use to the city of Milan.

So far, the history. With regard to its architecture, the castle has a quadrangular plan, site across the city’s walls. The wall which once faced the countryside north to Milan has square towers and has an ogival gate. This was once accessed through a drawbridge. The northern tower is known as Torre della Corte, while the western one is called ”Torre del Tesoro: both received wide windows during the Sforza age.The corner defended by the Torre Ducale is characterized by a loggia bridge, attributed to Bramante, and commissioned by Ludovico Sforza in the late 15th century to connect the Corte Ducale (the court in the area used as ducal residence) and the Cortile della Ghirlanda. This ghirlanda refers to a wall, protected by a ditch filled by water, built under Francesco Sforza, of which few traces remain today, including the Porta del Soccorso. Remains of two later ravelins can be seen in correspondence of the point in which the castle was joined by the city walls (near the Porta Comasina gate) and the Porta del Carmine. The Porta della Ghirlanda gate was entered through a ravelin (now lost) and had two entrances accessed through runways, on which lead to an underground passage which continued along the walls. The external side which once faced the walled city has two round towers, commissioned by Francesco Sforza to replace the former square ones, which had become less suitable to defend against fire weapons. The central tower, called Torre del Filarete, is a modern reconstruction. The round towers lost the upper parts under the Austrians, which needed open space for their artillery. Their upper sector existing today is also a modern restoration. The Torre del Filarete and the Porta del Santo Spirito, located more southwards, are both preceded by a ravelin.The main gate leads to a large court from which several internal features can be seen. These include the Tower of Bonza of Savoy (1476) and the Rocchetta, a sort of internal defensive ridotto with a ate of its own. At the right of the Porta del Carmine are remains of two 15th century courts. The Rocchetta, whose access gate from the main court (a modern addition) features the coat of arms of the Sforza, has an internal courts with, on three sides, a portico with 15th century arcades. The Corte Ducale is the wing of the castle originally used as ducal residence; it features a court with two loggias, a smaller one at left and a larger one at its end, called Loggiato dell’Elefante due to the presence of a fresco of an elephant.

I finally entered the last courtyard (actually the first and most important one if you have access from the main gate looking on Piazza Castello)

I had to go back on my path to meet with my daughter who texted me she was finished. Together we walked again through the Castle (she’s already been there so it was no “ohhh” and “awww” for her) and this time we passed under the main gate to the the Piazza Castello.

It was past lunch time and we were starving so we took the subway to our usual place where to eat when in Milan, and we had plans for the afternoon…………




Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “Milan: a castle in a park

  1. Gattina

    April 22, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    The park is beautiful, and the castle and its history very interesting !

  2. ionuca

    April 22, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed for M.!


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