Milan suffered extensive setback from Allied bombing during World War II, and that is why there is very little left of its history. The city is smart rather than attractive. The city is cosmopolitan and stylish, writes Vissa Venkata Sundar
After a breathtaking and floaty experience of Venice, I embarked on my last leg of the visit to Italy. It was an incredible 15 days of non-stop travel to some of the ancient cities of the world. Epic architecture and the seductive charms of the past brought me to my knees. History couldn’t have been so richly poetic than what one sees in Italy. The experiences make you see history with a fresh pair of eyes. I was feeling glum and sullen that the clock was ticking for me to bid goodbye to this enchanting country. But bid goodbye in style, that is! Milan beckoned as my last stopover.
Travelling from Venice via Verona to Milan in train was a delightful experience. Once you alight from the train, you will be looking at the gigantic and supersized roof of the Milano Centrale Station. Almost as if making a grand welcome statement to the first-time visitor to the city of style and fashion. King Victor Emmanuel III laid the cornerstone of the station in 1906 without a blueprint, apparently. The World War I led to economic slump in Italy and the construction work of the station slowed down. Thereafter, Benito Mussolini, the then Prime Minster of Italy, expedited the work and wanted the station to be grand and represent the power of the Fascist regime. Therefore, you see Milano Centrale handling 120 million passengers annually, surpassing the clichéd definition of what a railway station façade should be. Far from being a merely functional transit point, the station is adorned with numerous sculptures in Art Deco style. You may mistake it to be some grand hallway of a palace, even as you briskly walk with your luggage towards the exit.
You can’t help but notice how Milan is so discordantly different from the rest of Italy in its texture, buildings, and the views. Milan looks every bit like a grey, flat industrial and indistinguishable urban megapolis, just like any other, badly in need of a scrub. It may seem like an unfavourable description, but after having sodden with Italian history and epic architecture — which is littered in every street of its cities — Milan looked un-Italian for once and modernist in so many ways. I was told that due to the World War II, there is very little left of its history. The city is smart rather than attractive. The city is cosmopolitan and stylish. It is considered to be a leading ‘alpha global city’ and is the second most populous city in Italy after Rome, and has long held the title of being the fashion capital of the world and the world’s design capital. Milan is the hub for arts, commerce, finance, and a tourism hotspot boasting important collections in its museums and art galleries.
Milan suffered extensive setback from Allied bombing during the World War II. One structure that got badly damaged was the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping mall designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni in 1865. This ornate shopping arcade is also known as ilSalotto di Milano (Milan’s drawing room) and make Milan a shopper’s haven. The galleria’s finest feature is its metal and glass roof, crowned with a magnificent central dome. The roof was the first structure in Italy to use metal and glass in a structural way, rather than just decoratively. The floors are decorated with mosaics of zodiac signs and the floor plan resembles the shape of a Latin cross with an octagonal centre. The arcade is a multibrand fashion wonderland, with who’s who of the luxury retail selling haute couture, jewellery, books, and paintings. You will find here some of the oldest shops and restaurants in Milan, such as Biffi Caffe, founded in 1867 by Paolo Biffi, the pastry chef of the monarch.
Adjacent to the Galleria is one of the largest Gothic churches in the world. The Milan Duomo crowned with an extraordinary roof, distinctive and bristling spires, is one of the architectural gems of this stylish city that will surely make you transfixed. Oddly, it took 500 years to complete it. Such a magnificent structure also comes with a hefty price tag for the organisation that has been responsible for its construction and maintenance. The marble that was used to build the church was from Candoglia and is not hard as compared to Carrara marble, which is more commonly used in Italy. It is only a matter of time that wear and tear becomes evidently clear. The replacement of the marble was planned so that much of the Duomo would be refaced.
It is another thing that your appetite for all things Italian may not die down soon. But the most coveted spot in Milan — Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ at the convent of Santa Maria delleGrazie, a Unesco World Heritage site — eluded me. The ludicrously long advance bookings could run into weeks and months. Disappointed at having missed it, I thought to myself that maybe this was a good excuse for me to visit Italy once again to satiate my appetite for this beautiful country. With a stroke of luck, I would rather start my journey from where I inconclusively ended it. Milan, you inspire the world. Be back soon!
Stay: Magna Pars Suites Milano is a boutique hotel surrounded by lush gardens. The rooms are elegantly decorated with subdued colours and furnished by local designers. For travellers with deep pockets and those who want to enjoy in the lap of luxury, Palazzo Parigi — an opulent hotel at the higher end of the spectrum — will make for a good choice. Cascina Cuccagna is a kitchen, bar guesthouse, which provides an affordable and comfortable stay for budget travellers
Flights: AlItalia serves Delhi and Mumbai with direct flights to Milan, among other destinations in Italy. You can also check out Air India, Etihad, Qatar, and Emirates Airlines for more information on flight connectivity
Writer: Vissa Venkata Sundar
Courtesy: The Pioneer