|A prosperous region
with very fertile soil, a temperate climate and, for the tourist,
the spectacular lakes of Como, Garda,
Maggiore (shared with Lombardy) and Lugano.
In Lombardy, the Po Valley is the site of much
heavy industry. High mountains in the north, marking Italy’s
frontier with Switzerland, provide some excellent skiing and climbing.
Lombardy’s most famous culinary inventions are minestrone
soup and osso buco and translates literally
to ox knuckles.
Italy’s most sophisticated city, Milan (Milano)
is a financial and commercial centre of world importance and a rival
to Paris in the spheres of fashion and modern art.
Its international character is marked by a concentration of skyscrapers
found nowhere else in Italy, contrasting and competing with the
landmarks of Milan, but built in the same boastful spirit of civic
pride that, 500 years ago, gave the city its splendid Gothic
Duomo (Cathedral). Even today, this is one of the world’s
largest churches, and despite its size, it creates an impression
of delicate and ethereal beauty due to its pale colour and the fine
intricate carving that covers its exterior. The whole fabric of
the city with its many palaces, piazzas and churches, speaks of
centuries of continuous prosperity. The Castello Sforzesco,
located in the west of the city, is a massive fortified castle,
which now houses a number of museums. The Pinacoteca di
Brera displays some of the city’s most valuable
artistic treasures, while the Museo Poldi-Pezzoli
houses a private collection of paintings, ancient jewellery and
Persian carpets. Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece,
The Last Supper, may be seen at the convent of
Santa Maria della Grazie. The Teatro della Scala
(Scala Theatre) remains the undisputed world capital of opera and
is well worth viewing for its magnificent opulence.
South of Milan, the town of Pavia is home to several
interesting churches and the 14th-century Castello, housing an art
gallery, archaeology museum and sculpture museum.
The Certosa di Pavia, 10km (6 miles) outside of
town, is a monastery famous for its beautiful design. Originating
as the family mausoleum of the Visconti family,
it later became the dwelling of a Carthusian order of monks sworn
to deep contemplation and silence. However there are a chosen few
who are allowed to give visitors a guided tour and tell the story
behind their palatial surroundings.
Cremona is the birthplace of the Stradivarius violin
and is a charming haven of historic architecture. A walk around
the Medieval Piazza del Comune offers various architectural
treats including, the Torazzo, one of Italy’s
tallest Medieval towers, the Cathedral,
with its magnificent astronomical clock, and the
Loggia dei Militia, the former headquarters of
the town’s Medieval army. There are also two interesting museums,
the Museo Stradivariano, housing a wealth of Stradivarius
musical instruments, and the Museo Civico, displaying
mosaics and relics from the Romanesque period.
Mantua (Mantova) is the birthplace of a number
of renowned Italians, ranging from Virgil, a statue
of whom overlooks the square facing the Broletto in the Medieval
town hal, to Tazio Nuvolari, one of Italy’s
most famous racing drivers.
The churches, Sant’Andrea (designed by Alberti
and the burial place of Mantua’s famous court painter, Mantegna)
and the Baroque Cathedral in the Piazza Sordello
are both important works of architecture. However, the most famous
sites of Mantua are its two palaces, the Palazzo Ducale
and the Palazzo del Te.
The Palazzo Ducale, once the largest in Europe,
was the home of the Gonzaga family, and has a number
of impressive paintings by artists including Mantegna
and Rubens. The Palazzo del Te
was built as a Renaissance pleasure palace for Frederico
Gonzaga (known as a playboy) and his mistress, Isabella.
The decorations by Giulio Romano are outstanding and well worth
Located at the foot of the Bergamese Alps, Bergamo is made up of
two cities, the old and once Venetian-ruled Upper Bergamo
(Bergamo Alta) and the modern Lower Bergamo (Bergamo
The old city is well appreciated for its ancient Venetian fortifications,
palaces, churches and towers, including the 12th-century Palazzo
della Ragione, the Torre del Comune, the
Cathedral, the Colleoni Chapel
and the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The modern
city’s main attraction is the Accademia Carrara,
one of Italy’s largest art collections, with paintings by
Bellini, Botticelli, Canaletto, Carpaccio, Lotto
and Mantegna, amongst others. The cities are connected
by a funicular railway.
The great northern lakes lie in a series of long and deep valleys
running down onto the plains from the Alps.
Como is perhaps the most attractive, Lake Maggiore
the most elegant (and populous) and Lake Garda
the wildest and most spectacular. On the south shore of Lake Garda
lies the peninsula of Sirmione, renowned for its
mild, Mediterranean climate, its beautiful countryside and the Caves
of Catullo, an archaeological site of a former Roman villa
situated on the tip of the peninsula. The Sirmione Spa,
the largest privately owned thermal treatment centre in Italy, whose
sulphurous waters originate from the depths of Lake Garda,
has long been one of Sirmione’s main attractions.