Monday, July 6, 2015

Milan: Sforza Castle perfect location for museums

The afternoon was becoming very hot as we made our way to the Sforza Castle. In the TV show The Borgias, Catherine Sforza bares her breasts from the castle walls, in an act of defiance towards one of the Borgia sons. It was originally built by the Duke of Milan in the 1300s but then destroyed a hundred years later. When Francesco Sforza  grabbed power and declared himself Duke of Milan, he quickly rebuilt the castle, this time with a seventy-meter tall central tower — the Torre del Filarete — flanked with large round towers. His successors further improved and embellished the structure.

In its heyday during the reign of Ludovico Sforza — nicknamed 'Il Moro' — the castle was transformed into a magnificent Renaissance residence. The duke turned to the great artists of his time, including Leonardo da Vinci to decorate the castle.

During the following centuries, when Milan was under foreign rule, the castle was neglected and mostly used as a barracks. The Torre del Filarete, which was used as a munition storage, exploded in 1521. During the latter part of the sixteenth century the Spanish added star-shaped fortifications around the castle, later partially demolished by Napoleon's troops.

After the Italian unification in 1861 the castle was heading for the wrecking ball when it was saved to house various museums. The present castle, with a square plan laid out around three inner courtyards, is dominated by its many towers.

The Rocchetta was the castle's stronghold and the last refuge in case of a siege. During the reign of Ludovico Il Moro, the residences around the courtyard were magnificently decorated with frescoes.

We viewed the collection of the archaeological museum, which contains prehistoric and Egyptian artefacts. The ground floor exhibits a wide ranging collection of ancient art. Highlights include a fourth century sarcophagus, the fourteenth century Mausoleum of Bernabò Visconti and the Pièta Rondanini, an unfinished Michelangelo.

The first and second floor of the Rocchetta house the museum of musical instruments and the collection of applied arts. On the first floor you'll find historic musical instruments such as a sixteenth century Venetian harpsichord, a glass harmonica and lots of hurdy-gurdies which were even used in symphony orchestras at one time. It was a massive collection of historical musical instruments which was really interesting.

We even walked out to the balustrades where we looked over the ever larger crowd of people that had come for the afternoon. No Sforzas or Borgias were spotted.

Next to the castle was Sempione Park, nicely landscaped with winding paths, open grassy areas, tall trees and a picturesque bridge across a central pond. It was especially popular on this hot day. Back in the 1400s the park was used as a hunting ground. At one time Napoleon built a peace arch and the area was going to be used as a parade ground but he was defeated and that never came to pass. Lots of people were gathering for a music concert. We would have stayed but it was time to return to the hotel to pick up our luggage.

After a final cup of tea at the hotel we walked back through the park in front of Milan Centrale. This park is full of African refugees who stay there overnight as they have nowhere else to go. There are sizeable numbers there during the day as well. It was always an odd feeling walking through these living quarters which were quite busy on this Sunday evening.

It was good-bye Milan as we headed off for Bergamo airport. Our 10:15 flight arrived early in Barcelona as Ryanair flights do. By two o'clock in the morning we were home. What a long day.

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