(Milano), situated on the flat plains of the Po Valley, and is the
capital of Lombardy and Italy’s richest and second largest
Wealthy and cosmopolitan, the Milanesi enjoy a reputation as successful
businesspeople, equally at home overseas and in Italy. Embracing
tradition, sophistication and ambition all in equal measures, they
are just as likely to follow opera at La Scala
as their shares on the city’s stock market or their chosen
football team, AC or Inter Milan,
at the San Siro Stadium.
Milan is better known for being new and fashionable, and has never
willingly thrown out the old. Three times in its history, the city
had to rebuild after conquest by foreign invaders.
Founded in the seventh century BC by Celts, the
city, then known as Mediolanum (‘mid-plain’), was first
sacked by the Goths in the 600s (AD), then by Barbarossa
in 1157 and finally by the Allies in World War II, when over a quarter
of the city was flattened. Milan had to make an art of recovery,
successively reinventing herself under French, Spanish and then
Austrian rulers from 1499 until the reunification of Italy in 1870.
It is a miracle that so many historic treasures still exist, including
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, which survived
a direct hit in World War II. The Milanesi’s appreciation
of tradition includes a singular respect for religion, to the extent
that they even pay a special tax towards the Cathedral maintenance.
It is therefore fitting that the city’s enduring symbol is
the gilded statue of the Virgin, on top of the Cathedral
The layout of the city is best understood as a historic nucleus
around the Cathedral and from which a star-shaped axis of arteries
spreads through modern suburbs to the ring road. The modern civic
centre lies to the northwest, around Mussolini’s central
station, and is dominated by the Pirelli
skyscraper, which dates from 1956 and is one of the first skyscrapers
The trade and fashion fairs take place in the Fiera
district, west of the nucleus around the Porta Genova
station. Milan’s economic success was founded at the end of
the 19th century, when the metal factories and the rubber industries
moved in, replacing agriculture and mercantile trading mainly in
silk, as the city’s main sources of income.
Milan’s position at the heart of a network of canals, which
provided the irrigation for the Lombard plains and the important
trade links between the north and south, became less important as
industry took over and the waterways were filled in to make way
for roads. A few canals remain in the Navigli district near the
Bocconi University, a fashionable area in which
to drink and listen to jazz and other live music, especially during
the warm summers of Milan’s typically continental climate.
Since the 1970s, Milan has remained the capital of Italy’s
automobile industry and its financial markets, but the limelight
is dominated by the fashion houses, who, in turn, have drawn media
and advertising agencies to the city.
Milan remains the marketplace for Italian fashion. Fashion aficionados,
supermodels and international paparazzi descend upon the city twice
a year for its spring and autumn fairs, while the world looks on.
Valentino, Versace and Armani
may design and manufacture their clothes elsewhere but Milan, which
has carefully guarded its reputation for flair, drama and creativity,
is Italy’s natural stage.