Today, Castello Sforzesco anchors the end of one of the main boulevards that emanating from the square in front of the Duomo. In medieval times, it was known as Castello de Porta Giovia, or “Jupiter Gate” and it guarded one of the leading entries into the center of the city.
Commissioned by Galeazzo II Visconti in 1368, construction and modification continued for the next 500 years. Expanded and reinforced by his heirs, and partially destroyed during the era of the Ambrosian Republic, it was his descendent Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, who brought the castle to its present state (1450-1466.) He rebuilt it on a much grander scale and positioned it as the heart of the Renaissance court of Milan. Domato Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci were employed in decorating the castle during this period.
Italy was in turmoil due to foreign intervention from the 16th to 19th centuries, and the castle suffered accordingly being used as a fort, barracks and stable, among other things. It remained a fortress until the arrival of Napoleon in 1796 who began a general demolition to make way for a grand forum in his honor, in the style of a Roman emperor. His empire did not survive to see completion of that project, and today all that remains of his lofty goal is the Arco della Pace at the far end of the Parco Sempione (on the far side of the castle.)
As Italy unified, there was a strong nationalistic desire to destroy symbols of the past and the castle almost met that fate. But cooler heads prevailed and it underwent significant renovation in the early 20th century. Today it houses the civic museums.
It’s quite extraordinary. We spent the morning there wandering from museum to museum. Initially it was very confusing, I’d read that a single 5€ ticket allowed entrance to everything on the site. So, our first stop (once we found the office) was to acquire that ticket. The first gallery held nothing more than a rough Michelangelo statue and it didn’t feel like we were on the right track. Leaving there, we stopped in the next gallery down the wall where a guard told us it was closed. The next one – a photography collection was also closed. And the next one was offices. Soldiering on, we finally found an entry into a collection of church and royal sculptures from medieval Lombardy. And here someone looked at my ticket!
It was an interesting collection, lots of stonework recovered from ancient churches and monasteries, an amazing equestrian tomb statue, some beautiful tapestries and a host of little bits of decorative art from the 12th through 14th centuries. The ceilings in each room were the true stars of the show, each different, each sumptuous in color, detail and design. At the end of this hall was an incredible (but modest) armor and weapons collection, including many examples of the development of firearms and armor. A nice but unexpected bonus.
Back outside and trying to decipher the guide signs we went looking for the Museum of Musical Instruments only to discover that it is only open on Saturdays and Sundays for about 2 hours on either day. The entrance courtyard was worth the walk however – a beautifully restored Renaissance space with long arched porticos, painted ceilings and patterned plaster walls.
Back out into the main area, all that was left was the Pinacoteca, supposedly a good collection of Baroque art with a room attributed to da Vinci. Up a long flight of stairs and (!) a second review of our tickets.
The first part of the museum was a surprise – decorative arts and furniture from the period of the 14th through 21st century. Well-described with excellent pieces, it turned out to be quite fascinating, particularly the examples of how furniture fashions die out, only to be revived, modified and killed again.
The Pinacoteca was big, with lots of pieces, but frankly after the Brera yesterday there was nothing shocking to behold. Oh, and the Leonardo da Vinci room was….closed.
When we saw the guy walking around with a shoe on his head, we knew it was time to take a break. It was now mid-afternoon and time for lunch so we fought the crowds past the Duomo and down through the shopping district, hugging the buildings for shade. Today is substantially warmer than yesterday.
Having enjoyed our takeaway lunch yesterday we went to the same truck. MLW opted again for the vegetarian focaccia, I went for the change-up and selected cotoleta, the emblematic food of Milan. Breaded chicken cutlet on a small baguette with lettuce. Today I warned the food truck guy that I wanted it da portar having failed to do so yesterday. He smiled and when the focaccia came out of the oven, he tried to hand it to me and caught himself. And laughed out loud.