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Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” has been restored to the master's genius. It is open to the public at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

The 2018 Publisher’s Tour Makes a Last Stop in Milan

Part V of V: Milan

This is the final stop on the 2018 Publisher’s Tour. We hope you have enjoyed this five-part series about the travels, sights and culture of the places visited by Marion and Buddy Fortunato and their fellow travelers. In this final segment, the group has returned from Austria and have landed in the fashion capital of the world – Milan.

Milan is Italy’s city of the future, a fast-paced metropolis where creativity is big business, while looking good is compulsory and after-work drinks are an art form. It has the third-largest economy among the European cities after Paris and London, but is the fastest in growth among the three and is the wealthiest among European non-capital cities.

Devastated by Allied bombing during WWII, during the post-war economic boom, a large wave of migration from rural areas and the south significantly increased Milan’s population. During this period, Milan was largely reconstructed, with the building of several innovative and modernist skyscrapers, such as the Torre Velasca and the Pirelli Tower. During the 1970s and 80s, with the international success of design houses such as Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, Milan became one of the world’s fashion capitals.

When visiting Milan, there are numerous sights on every traveler’s list. At the top of each is viewing the most recognized paintings in the world – Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Located in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the mural was commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. The enormous work is 15 feet by 29 feet and believed to have begun in 1495. The innovative method that Leonardo used to paint the masterpiece was not a true fresco, where the paint is applied to wet plaster. Leonardo wanted to use his complex method of shading (chiaroscuro), seeking a greater detail and luminosity than could be achieved with traditional fresco. Unfortunately, his method did not withstand humidity and within a generation of its completion, began to flake and fade. For centuries, The Last Supper has been retouched and restored. In August 1943, the refectory was struck by Allied bombing. Thankfully, protective sandbagging prevented the painting from being struck by bomb splinters.

The painting’s appearance by the late 1970s had become badly deteriorated. Beginning in 1978, a two-decade-long major restoration project was performed on the work. Since it proved impractical to move the painting to a more controlled environment, the refectory was converted into one that is sealed and climate-controlled. On May, 28 1999, the painting was finally opened to the public and it continues to draw visitors from around the globe.

The next stop through the city took the Publisher’s Tour to the Milan cathedral. Duomo di Milano is dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity (Santa Maria Nascente) and took nearly six centuries to complete. It is technically the largest church in Italy, since St. Peter’s Basilica is in the State of Vatican City. The first cathedral on the site was completed by 355. An adjoining basilica was erected in 836. The old octagonal baptistery, the Battistero Paleocristiano, dating to 335, can still be visited under the present cathedral. When a fire damaged the structures in 1075, plans were laid for a new duomo, but construction did not begin for another three centuries. Construction finally began in 1386.

Though originally begun in terracotta stone, once the grandeur of the project was realized, Condoglian marble from Lake Maggiore was chosen. The entire building is faced with the pink-hued white marble. To bring it from the quarries of Candoglia, canals were dug leading to the construction site, evidence of which is still visible along the famous navigli, the canals left over from the network built in southern Milan specifically for that purpose. Thousands of artists, sculptors and specialized workers were involved in the construction of the Cathedral of Milan. Architects from across Europe were invited to work on the project, at least 78 different architects in total. As it grew and grew, its construction dragged on over the years. It was consecrated in 1418, but only the nave was truly finished at that time.

In 1762, one of the main features of the cathedral, the Madonnina’s spire, was erected at the dizzying height of 358 feet. The spire was designed by Carlo Pellicani and at the top is a statue of the Madonnina. It was actually Napoleon Bonaparte who played a major role in moving construction forward on the project. About to be crowned King of Italy on May 20, 1805, he ordered the façade to be completed, with France’s treasury footing the bill. The work was enthusiastically completed in only seven years, but unfortunately, France never paid the bill. In years that followed, the remaining arches and spires were added. The Allied bombing of Milan caused some damage, although to a lesser degree, compared to other major buildings in the vicinity, such as the La Scala Theatre.

The last details of the cathedral were finished only in the 20th century and the last gate was inaugurated on January 6, 1965. This date is considered the very end of a process, although even now, some uncarved blocks remain to be completed as statues.

If you visit the Duomo, look above the apse (the arched part above the altar) where you will see a spot marked with a red lightbulb. This is where one of the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion has been placed. Each year on the Saturday closest to September 14, the Archbishop of Milan ascends to the space in a centuries-old wooden basket to retrieve the nail. The nail is exhibited at the altar until Monday and then it is lifted back up again to remain for another year. There are said to be more statues on the Duomo than any other building in the world, including 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles, 700 figures and 135 spires.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is Italy’s oldest active shopping mall and a major landmark of Milan. Housed within a four-story double arcade in the center of town, the Galleria was designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni and built between 1865 and 1867. The structure consists of two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon covering the street connecting Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala. The central octagonal space is gloriously topped with a glass dome. The Milanese Galleria was larger in scale than its predecessors and was an important step in the evolution of the modern shopping mall and has inspired the use of the term galleria for many other shopping arcades and malls. The Galleria connects two of Milan’s most famous landmarks – the Duomo and the Teatro alla Scala, but the Galleria is a landmark in its own right.

Teatro alla Scala was inaugurated on August 3, 1778 and was originally known as the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala (New Royal-Ducal Theatre alla Scala). The premiere performance was Antonio Salieri’s Europa Riconosciuta. La Scala’s season opens on December 7, Saint Ambrose’s Day, the feast day of Milan’s patron saint.

La Scala was originally illuminated with 84 oil lamps mounted on the stage and another thousand in the rest of theatre. To prevent the risks of fire, several rooms were filled with hundreds of water buckets. In time, oil lamps were replaced by gas lamps, these in turn were replaced by electric lights in 1883. The original structure was renovated in 1907, when it was given its current layout with 1,987 seats. In 1943, during World War II, La Scala was severely damaged by bombing. It was rebuilt and reopened on May 11, 1946. Most of Italy’s greatest operatic artists and many of the finest singers from around the world have appeared at La Scala. The theater is regarded as one of the leading opera and ballet theaters in the world and is home to the La Scala Theatre Chorus, La Scala Theatre Ballet and La Scala Theatre Orchestra.

Sforza Castle was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. In 1494, Ludovico Sforza became lord of Milan and called in numerous artists to decorate the castle. These included 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. Later renovated and enlarged during the next two centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe. Extensively rebuilt by Luca Beltrami from 1891-1905, it now houses no less than ten of the city’s museums and art collections.

The Alfa Romeo Museum was completely renovated only a few years ago and has six floors bringing together the marque’s historic past, present and future, complementing the achievements of an extraordinary brand and its vehicles, technology and, of course, style. The museum is located in the former Alfa Romeo Arese factory area and is dedicated to the company’s more than 100 years of history. The floors are divided into four theme areas and the collection numbers over 250 cars and 150 engines, of which approximately half are on display.

For anyone who has traveled by rail to or from Milan, Stazione Centrale, the main railway station of the city, is a remarkable sight. It is the largest train station in Europe by volume with roughly 120 million travelers per year. It has high speed connections to cities in each direction of the compass. Its façade is 660 feet wide and its vault is 236 feet high, a record when it was built. The station has no definite architectural style, but is a blend of many different styles, especially Liberty and Art Deco and is adorned with numerous sculptures.

As one quickly realizes, there is much to see and experience in the capital of the Lombardy region. Buddy and Marion hope that all of the readers of the Italian Tribune have enjoyed their series. They are already hard at work planning their 2019 Publisher’s Tour.