Cities in Europe don’t run out of castles and palaces, and Milan is no exception. Just a few minutes away from the bustling Duomo, you will find the Castello Sforzesco, or Sforza Castle. Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforzesco, the Duke of Milan, it was later rebuilt and enlarged, and at one point, was one of the largest forts in all of Europe. Today, however, the castle houses several museums and art collections.
The castle has undergone many renovations throughout its existence but the layout and features largely remained the same, thanks to the plans left behind. What really fascinates me about this castle is that it actually has circular towers in its corners, and I can imagine it having drawbridges in each of its entrances during its heyday.
The castle is big, but not impossible to navigate in a day (unlike Versailles or Schonbrunn), at least if you’re goal is just to circle it and maybe look into a couple of the museums housed there. There are several buildings inside, and pocket gardens with reflecting pools in the middle. Too bad though that the pool (or pond?) was very dirty during our visit. Perhaps because it was summer and everything was dry and dusty.
I am a museum freak so of course, I had to drag my friends with me and our first stop was the Museum of Ancient Art, found on the ground floor of the Ducal Courtyard. This is right behind the museum ticket counter and souvenir shop, so there is no missing it, and why it serves as the logical first stop on the tour. The museum is very tourist friendly as well, since there are reading materials which you can get in each room, free of charge!
Perhaps the most imposing structure in the first and second rooms would be the Sepulchral Monument of Bernabo Visconti, former lord of Milan, which stands proud in the middle of the room. Made in 1363, the marble monument was supposed to be used for the apse of the San Giovanni church in Conca, but later used as a sepulchral monument for Bernabo Visconti after his arrest and subsequent murder (by his nephew, Gian Galazzo, who had seized power). The sarcophagus, made between 1380 and 1385, was added to the marble statue of the figure riding a horse.
There are also two slabs from tombs on the floor and not to play favorites, but I liked the one of Bianca di Savoia, mother of Gian Galazzo Visconti:
Room VII or the Room of the Gonfalone is dedicated to sculpture from the 16th to the 18th century and various tapestries. But what immediately caught my eye (and my nose to be honest, owing to the dust and mites that must be living in colonies within) was this huge tapestry of the standard of the city of Milan, dating from the mid-16th century. It first appeared in public in 1566, during the feast of the Duomo of Milan.
In the Sala del Ducali, or Room IX, a sculpture of the Madonna and Child greets visitors upon entry. This wort of art from Jacopino da Tradate is notable for the lifelike draping of the garment – indeed, I actualy found it so meticulously carved to mimic the flow of garments as they would in real life. However, one aspect which I found severely lacking is that the face is rather unattractive. I am quite used to seeing similar scuplture where the effort is more concentrated on the facial features rather than other details.
One of the highlights of our tour to the Sforza Castle is being able to see up close a huge sculpture by Michaelangelo – the Rondanini Pieta. I have seen a Madonna and Child scuplture of his in Bruges, but that was from about five meters away and with velvet ropes barring me so this was actually my first close encounter with an artwork of his.
As legend would have it, the artist was working on this up to a few days before his death and that he intended for it to be given to his servant, Antonio del Francese.
The sculpture in the castle appears to have undergone several versions, with Michaelangelo superimposing another version on top of the original, and this can be seen in the different texture of various parts of the sculpture, and sometimes, it seems even different techniques employed. In any case, this pieta was not finished owing to the death of Michaelangelo.
One part of the castle was dedicated to antique furniture and cutlery and all sorts of household stuff. One word actually comes to mind whenever I see such rich/ostentatious display of wealth: nouveau riche. Each furniture was so intricately carved with gold or silver trimmings that one cannot mistake that they were deliberately put there to remind the spectator of the cost or value such a piece would have commanded.
Fruit platter in solid silver, anyone? I even spied a silver cutlery set with gods and goddesses on the handles. I am forever a fan of mythology and I would love to have a similar set in my future home, but probably only in stainless steel as that’s only what I can afford. Hahaha!
I remember my grandmother had this antique set of a small flask and shot glasses made of silver in her house and thinking, it must be so expensive now. Too bad they promptly disappeared and I couldn’t find them during my next visit.
The gilded furniture kind of reminds me of the ones being sold at Muebles Italiano. Then again, it is an Italian-themed furniture store.
The last part we visited before our feet forced us to head home was the underground level containing the Egyptian section. Of course, I was ecstatic. I have been dreaming of going to Egypt since I was a kid that I think I must have been Egyptian in my past life, if I am to believe in reincarnation.
I didn’t think I’d see another Egyptian mummy just a few days after paying a visit to the one at the Louvre but what do you know. This one though is not as complete as the one in Paris, and the funeral jars are missing.
There are many other rooms at the castle containing paintings and musical instruments that we weren’t able to visit; it was simply too big, but more manageable than the Louvre and certainly easier to navigate. Our feet just couldn’t go much further after our stop at the Egyptian section. I am quite glad that we decided to explore this castle based only on our trusty Trip Advisor app as otherwise, I might have missed it completely (I didn’t really plan much for our Milan leg since I knew I was heading to Switzerland as well). Definitely one of the highlights of our Milan trip.