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Milan - Duomo

Milan & Lakes

Lake Como

A prosperous region with fertile soil, a temperate climate and, for the tourist, the spectacular lakes Como, Garda, Maggiore (shared with Piemonte) and Lugano. As in Piemonte, the Po Valley is the site of much heavy industry. High mountains in the north, marking Italy’s frontier with Switzerland, provide excellent skiing and climbing. Lombardia’s most famous culinary inventions are minestrone soup and osso buco – literally ox knuckles.


is Italy’s most sophisticated city, a financial and commercial centre of world importance and a rival to Paris in the spheres of modern art and fashion. Its international character is marked by a concentration of skyscrapers found nowhere else in Italy, contrasting and competing with the landmarks of historic Milan, but built in the same boastful spirit of civic pride that, 500 years ago, gave the city its splendid Gothic Duomo. Even today, this is the world’s second-largest church, yet despite its size, it creates an impression of delicate and ethereal beauty due to its pale color and the fine intricate carving that covers its exterior. The whole fabric of the city – its many palaces, piazzas and churches – speaks of centuries of continuous prosperity. The Castello Sforzesco, in the west of the city, is a massive fortified castle, begun by the Viscontis and finished by the Sforzas. It was the political and social bastion of the ruling Sforzas during Milan’s peak as a political/cultural centre and many of the Renaissance elite were entertained in its luxurious domains. Its court artists included Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante and it now houses a number of museums. Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco, The Last Supper, may be viewed at the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. The Teatro della Scala remains the undisputed world capital of opera and is well worth viewing for its magnificent opulence.


Just south of Milan is the town of Pavia, the ancient capital known as ‘the city of 100 towers’. One of these, the Torre Civica, suddenly collapsed in 1989, killing four people. The town also has many interesting churches, including the Renaissance Duomo, thought to have been worked on by Bramante and da Vinci, the Romanesque San Michele, with an elaborately carved facade; and the 12th-century San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, with a magnificent 14th-century altarpiece. The Broletto, Pavia’s medieval town hall, and the 14th-century Castello, housing an art gallery, archaeology museum and sculpture museum, are also worth visiting. Though sedate and resting in an air of dusty elegance by day, Pavia bursts into life at night when its people come out for their evening promenade and the streets seem to buzz with activity. The Certosa di Pavia, 10km (6 miles) outside of town, is a monastery famous for its lavish design. Originating as the family mausoleum of the Visconti family, it was later finished by the Sforzas and became the dwellings for a Carthusian order of monks sworn to deep contemplation and for whom speech is forbidden. However, a chosen few are allowed to give visitors a guided tour and tell the story behind their palatial surroundings.


The birthplace of the Stradivarius violin, is a charming haven of historic architecture. A walk around the medieval Piazza del Comune offers various architectural treats: the Torazzo, one of Italy’s tallest medieval towers; the Duomo, with its magnificent astrological clock; and the Loggia dei Militia, the former headquarters of the town’s medieval army. There are also two interesting museums: the Museo Strativariano, housing a wealth of Stradivarius musical instruments, and the Museo Civico, with more Stadivari and some interesting bits and pieces belonging to Garibaldi.

Mantua was another Lombardia bastion of the ruling dynasties of the Viscontis and Sforzas. It is also the birthplace of a number of renowned Italians, ranging from Virgil (a statue of whom overlooks the square facing the Broletto, the medieval town hall) to Tazio Nuvolari, one of Italy’s most famous racing drivers (for whom there is a small museum dedicated to his accomplishments). Its churches, Sant’Andrea (designed by Alberti and the burial place of Mantua’s famous court painter, Mantegna) and the Baroque Duomo in the Piazza Sordello are both important works of architecture. However, the most famous sites of Mantua are its two palaces: the Palazzo Ducale and the Palazzo del Te. The Palazzo Ducale, once the largest in Europe, was the home of the Gonzagas family, and has a number of impressive paintings by artists such as Rubens and Mantegna. The Palazzo del Te was built as a Renaissance pleasure palace for Frederico Gonzaga (known as a playboy) and his mistress, Isabella. The decorations by Giulio Romano are outstanding and well worth viewing.


, nestled at the foot of the Bergamese Alps, is made up of two cities – the old and once Venetian-ruled Bergamo Alta (upper Bergamo) and the modern Bergamo Bassa (lower Bergamo). The old city is well appreciated for its ancient Venetian fortifications, palaces, towers and churches, including the 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione, the Torre del Comune, the Duomo of Bergamo, Colleoni Chapel and the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The modern city’s main attraction is the Accademia Carrara, one of Italy’s largest art collections, with paintings by Canaletto, Botticelli, Mantegna, Carpaccio, Bellini and Lotto, amongst others. The two cities are connected by a funicular railway.


The great northern lakes lie in a series of long, deep valleys running down onto the plains from the Alps. Lake Garda is perhaps the wildest and most spectacular, Como the most attractive and Maggiore the most elegant (and populous). Lake Lugano lies for the most part in Switzerland.

Resorts on Lake Maggiore include: Pallanza (where the Villa Taranto has a fine botanical garden), Stresa, Arona, Intra and Orta; on Lake Como: Cadenabbia, Cernobbio, Bellagio, Tremezzo and Menaggio; and on Lake Garda: Limone, Sirmione, Desenzano and Gardone.

The major mountain resorts, winter and summer, are Livigno (duty-free area), Madesimo, Stelvio, Santa Caterina Valfurva, Bormio, Aprica and Chiesa.

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