Tag Archives: Milan IBIS

Travels in Italy, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Cathedral in Milan

Milan Doumo

“What a wonder it is!  So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!…”, Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’

We left Rimini early in the morning.  We booked the fast train and were especially careful to make sure that we caught the right one this time.  Kim fell asleep. The journey took two hours and we arrived in Milan around about midday and walked to the IBIS Hotel.

We only had an afternoon in Milan so we had to make a choice about what we would go and see.  Should it be Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie or alternatively visit the largest Cathedral in Italy.

Leonardo Milan

We decided upon the Cathedral and this was our reasoning.

The Last Supper by Da Vinci isn’t the original.

The work started around 1495 but due to the methods used, a variety of environmental factors and some intentional and accidental damage, nothing of the original remains.

Because the painting was on a thin exterior wall it was affected badly by humidity and the paint failed to properly adhere and after it was completed it quickly began to deteriorate.  By 1517 the paint was flaking, by 1532 it had lost most of its colour and detail. In 1652, a doorway was cut through the painting, and later bricked back up. In 1768, a curtain was hung over the painting for the purpose of protection but instead trapped moisture on the surface and whenever the curtain was pulled back it scratched the flaking paint.

A first restoration was attempted in 1726 and a second in 1770 both were criticised for not faithfully reproducing the original.  In 1796 French troops threw stones at the painting and climbed ladders to scratch out the Apostles’ eyes. The refectory was then later used as a prison.   A repair project was attempted in 1820 but this only succeeding in damaging the work when a whole section fell off the wall.

During World War II the refectory was struck by Allied bombing and the painting was damaged by splinters and vibration. Between 1978 and 1999 the most recent major restoration project undertook to stabilise the painting and reverse the damage caused by dirt and pollution.

So this is my point, this is why I mention this here  – it is possible to go to see the painting, a painting, but it isn’t by Leonardo Da Vinci that’s for sure so if it isn’t an original what is the point!

There are lots of other versions of the Last Supper – this is one of my favourites…

Last Supper MASH

We were also influenced in our decision making by the fact that it costs €40 to visit the Basilica to see the painting but only €10 to visit the Cathedral and climb to the top of the roof. We chose the Cathedral.

Milan Cathedral

I have made no secret of the fact that I didn’t especially like Milan but I have to say that the Marble Gothic Cathedral is perhaps one of the finest that I have ever seen in Italy. In design, more French than Italian perhaps. The location is magnificent with a wide open Piazza to the front and it rises dramatically upwards with spires like needles piecing the sky, each one decorated with a Saint or Apostle at the very top.

It is claimed there are more statues on this cathedral than any other building in the world; there are three thousand, four hundred statues, one hundred and thirty-five gargoyles and seven hundred figures. There are two hundred and forty steps to the top but that did not concern us, we had climbed nearly five hundred in Bologna so we ignored the extra charge for the lift and began the ascent.

Milan Cathedral Roof

Now this was really something really worth doing and well worth the admission charge. There was a lot of restoration work at the top but this didn’t interfere with the stunning views and the rooftop panorama of the city. We stayed up on the top for quite some time and after two circuits made our way down the steps and into the Cathedral which was equally impressive.

I will tell you two stories…

Above the apse there is a spot marked with a red light bulb. This marks the spot where one of the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion was allegedly placed. Once a year in September the archbishop of Milan ascends to the apex in a wooden basket decorated with angels to retrieve the nail.  The nail is displayed on the altar for three days and then put back again. You do have to wonder why?

Inside the Cathedral is a statue of the Apostle Saint Bartholomew who met an especially grisly end when he was skinned alive. Condemned to death he was flayed and the skin of his body cut into strips,then pulled off leaving his body open and bleeding for a long time, after that he was beheaded and then crucified just to make sure. I am prepared to be challenged on this point but I don’t believe that it would be possible to be skinned alive, I imagine you’d die of shock quite quickly.  The pain must have unimaginable, I know I call for a sticking plaster for just the tiniest of little skin-nicks!

We left the Cathedral and took the dreary walk back to the hotel. I still hadn’t warmed to Milan but the Cathedral helped redeem it a little.

Saint Bartlomew

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Travels in Italy, Milan (Is this Really Italy?)

province_map_of_emilia_romagna

“Cities that are dedicated to making money, and in Milan they appear to think of little else, seldom have much energy left for charm” – Bill Bryson’, Neither here Nor there’

After the overwhelming success of the previous year’s holiday to Portugal where we used the train service to travel from Lisbon to Porto with various stops upon the way, we decided that we would do something similar again this year.  When we were making plans we decided to travel to Italy, persuaded most of all it has to be said by the £40 return air flights to Milan.

Our plan was to use the trains to first visit the Italian Lakes and then to travel through the Region of Emilia-Romagna and stop off at the cities of Parma, Modena and Bologna and finish at the seaside at Rimini on the Adriatic Riviera.  We would immerse ourselves in culture and then submerge ourselves in the Mediterranean Sea.

We arrived in Milan late one evening with only just enough of the day left to find our hotel, check in and then hastily find somewhere for evening meal and leave the sightseeing until the following day.

The mile long walk into the City was immediately disappointing.  In Italy I like chaos with the street life, chatter and noise, dripping washing lines hanging across the streets, peeling paint, geraniums on balconies, pavement cafés with espresso stained cups, people selling things from mobile shops and groups of men hanging around on street corners discussing the big issues of the day but there was none of this in Milan just a long soulless street lined with shops and offices, boutiques selling expensive adornments for the body, shoes, handbags, jewellery, designer clothing and other pointless stuff.

Milan Gucci

The place for me lacked any sort of appeal but to be fair it was always unlikely that, as Kim was quick to point out, I would get on well with a city that boasts shopping and fashion as major attractions.  In fact Milan markets itself as the World’s leading fashion capital and to prove it this week just happened to be one of the most important weeks of their year – Milan Fashion Week.  FASHION WEEK! I broke out into an immediate sweat!

Milan is the second largest city in Italy after Rome and also the richest and most prosperous.  The Barcelona of Italy.  It concentrates on business and banking, commerce and trade; it prides itself on productivity, innovation and efficiency and as a consequence it lacks the vivacity of Naples, the grandeur of Rome, the heritage of Florence or the theatre of Venice.

This is a city of big business and enterprise rather than street vendors and indolence, hardly like being in Italy at all it seemed to me as we made our way to the historical centre.  The reason maybe is that geographically Milan is the most northern major city in the country and only a few miles away from the Swiss border and therefore more central-western than southern European.  Maybe also being part of the Austrian Empire for one hundred and fifty years (1706-1861) has given Lombardy and Milan a certain stoic Germanic characteristic that it cannot shake off.

I checked later and wasn’t surprised to discover that Milan has never been considered for European Capital of Culture and I got the impression that people here don’t really care.*

Although Milan is a large city much of it, it has to be said is rather uninteresting and the historical centre is a surprisingly small area right in the middle.  As we approached we came first to the Opera House, Teatro alla Scala, one of the most famous in the World but just as the streets we had walked along I found the building exterior to be sadly underwhelming…

La Scala Milan

This by contrast is the Scala cinema in Ilkeston, Derbyshire which is where I used to live (Ilkeston not the Scala) which seems to me to a lot more attractive.  Ilkeston may have borrowed the name for its cinema, maybe Milan should copy the design for its opera house and I think that it would be an improvement…

Scala Cinema Ilkeston

Beyond La Scala was the first really interesting building that we had come across in nearly an hour of walking and it turned out to be a shopping Mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.  It is a fine building, four storeys high, built in the grand manner of the mid-nineteenth century with extravagant tiled floors, soaring marble columns and a decorative vaulted latticework roof of glass and steel with a central cupola one hundred and sixty feet high.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

This was more like it, I liked this place even though the interior avenues were lined with shops that I have heard of but never used, Gucchi, Prada, Tiffaney, Coccinelle and Versace all with merchandise displaying price labels that had been attached by someone with a grotesque sense of humour.  I mean, who buys this stuff when you can get perfectly good replicas from TK Maxx back home or from a Looky-Looky man on the streets?

Milan Doumo

The main entrance to the building opens out onto what is undoubtedly the finest part of the city, the Piazza del Doumo with an imposing equestrian statue of King Victor Emmanuel II (first King of United Italy) at one end and the magnificent marble Doumo at the other.  There was a very long queue today to visit the Cathedral so we thought that we might save that for another time.

We satisfied ourselves today by circumnavigating the exterior of the largest Cathedral in all of Italy and the third largest in the World and then resumed our walking tour of the city which took us through a large park where we stopped for refreshment and then to the modern business quarter, all polished concrete, shining glass and gleaming steel where we didn’t linger long but instead after eight miles of walking made our weary way back to the Hotel IBIS.

In a fortnight’s time we would be back in the city with plans to visit the Cathedral but the next day we were starting our journey by taking a train to Como in the Lakes and for the time being I was glad that we weren’t spending longer here.  One day in a big city is generally not enough to scratch the scratch on the surface but to be honest it was long enough for me in Milan.

Milan Business Quarter

* Florence (1986), Bologna (1999) and Genoa (2003).